October 18, 2006
Pan's Labyrinth, 2006
During the Q&A for Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro commented that he conceived the image of Pale Man, a child-eating creature who could only see by raising his hands up to his face (as if paradoxically covering his eyes), as an allusion to the perverted image of stigmata - an affliction often associated with enlightened grace and saint-like piety - an acerbic, tongue-in-cheek commentary on the destructiveness, corruption, and myopia of institutional authority that the Church (and Fascism) represents. The evocation proves particularly relevant within the context of the incestuous alliance between the Nationalists and the Catholic Church during the Spanish Civil War that installed, and subsequently enabled, the repressive regime of General Franco. Set in 1944, the year that the annals of history have officially annotated as the year that the Republicans were defeated, thus marking the end of the civil war, reality proves less than neatly conclusive as the insurgency rages on (and would continue for nearly two decades), the resistance fighters fortifying their strongholds in the mountains with the covert aid of sympathetic villagers. It is against this turbulent, isolated environment of unresolved battles and nebulous allegiances that a ruthless officer named Captain Vidal (Sergi López) has been sent to establish an outpost and stamp out the mountain insurgency campaign - a strange, remote, and verdant rural region that a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) also reluctantly enters when Vidal sends for his new wife, Ofelia's mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) from the city so that his anticipated son and heir may be born in the house of his father. From the introductory images of Ofelia preciously holding her fairytale books and her curious sighting of a wasp-like insect that she believes is an actual fairy, Ofelia's inevitable confrontation between the harsh reality of adolescence and the escapist fantasy of childhood seems inextricably connected. Shuttered in an old, gloomy, and mysteriously creaking house with an adjoining derelict garden labyrinth, and left to her own devices after her mother becomes bedridden with complications from the baby's imminent birth (except for the attention given by the housekeeper, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú)), the neglected Ofelia embarks on a heroic quest at the behest of the inscrutable, mythical fawn, Pan (Doug Jones) in order to prove herself as the reincarnated princess of the labyrinth, and consequently, fulfill her destiny of immortality. Evoking the early, metaphor-laden cinema of Victor Erice in manifesting a child's fear and uncertainty through the gothic figurations of the imagination - not only in the overt parallel of the metamorphosed, humanized monster of Spirit of the Beehive, but also in the mythification of an absent father in El Sur (note the fetishized pocket watch that Valdez retains as a souvenir of the moment of his father's death) - Pan's Labyrinth is an intelligently rendered, provocative, and incisive cautionary tale on barbarism, repression, narcissism, rigid ideology, blind obedience, and inhumanity.