Thursday, August 13, 2009
Pan's Labyrinth, a review
So I watched Pan’s Labyrinth.
It’s difficult to sum this up in a single sentence; calling it a beautiful film just does not seem adequate. A couple of things really stood out for me, though – the theme of obedience in the film, and the visuals.
Capitán Vidal: You could have obeyed me!
Dr. Ferreiro: But captain, to obey, just like that, for the sake of obeying, without questioning... that's something only people like you can do, Captain.
One of the themes in the film is that of choice – summed up perfectly in the Book of Crossroads and the concept of a labyrinth, where the difference between a safe way through and an unending trap depends on which path you take. Every character has a choice, from the doctor to Mercedes to Ofelia to the tortured rebel (he chooses to try to count to three, and fails. Then he decides to escape Vidal’s game, in the only way left to him).
And what’s interesting is that the theme of choice is first introduced by Vidal, the finicky and sadistic antagonist. At his dinner party, he makes it clear that they all have choices, and that turns out to be very true. All the characters hold their own destinies in their decisions, as the Latin legend over the entrance of the maze says. And I love the fact that Ofelia triumphs because she doesn’t blindly obey authority, but trusts her own judgment instead.
The symbolism in the film is deep and layered, but what stands out the most is what the director, Guillermo del Toro, points out in his commentary on the DVD. He mentions the parallels between the real world and the fantasy world, and for me that’s expressed the best in the measurement of time. In the real world, Vidal constantly checks his pocket watch. In the fantasy, there’s an old-fashioned hourglass and the natural phases of the moon, but all three show that time is running out.
There’s so much else – the girl eating fruit in the underworld (an echo of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds), the two laden dinner tables (both with a monster at the head of the table), the cold colors of the real world contrasted with the bright fires of the rebels and the golden glow of Ofelia’s true home… the motifs are extremely well chosen and presented.
This film is beautiful and brutal and unforgettable. I loved watching it.