Have been sitting on some notes for way too long, now. Since they won’t turn into the well-crafted essays I had planned, some disjointed thoughts will have to do. First, then, is Pan’s Labyrinth. It was clearly the most imaginative film of 2006, and pretty much all the credit apparently goes to Guillermo del Toro who, along with fellow Spanish-speakers Alfonso Cuaron and Pedro Almodovar, dominated that year in cinema.
The use of foreshadow and repetitive theme was striking in PL. Early in the film, Ofelia finds in the road a piece of stone with a strange design. It turns out to fit into the face of a nearby ancient statue – and it’s the missing eye. For one thing, this is the first of multiple scenes depicting fragmented faces. Later, the creature Ofelia encounters in the banquet room is apparently without eyes. Once it awakens, it places two eyeballs sitting on a plate into empty sockets in the center of its hands. At the film’s end, the antagonist is shot in the eye. Further, these scenes give particular attention to the eyes of the characters. This is a theme that extends beyond the merely physical. Sight plays an important role. Because of the illicit nature of the resistance fighters, their success depends on evading the sights of the Captain and his men. Without giving a long list, the film has numerous scenes with one character in the dark, hiding behind something while an evil character operates nearby unknowingly. The narration confirms this theme, stating of Ofelia, “She left behind small traces visible only to those who know where to look.”As for the fragmented faces, they recur later when the Captain destroys a man’s face with a glass bottle and then has his own face split open at the mouth, trying artificially to suture it through a backwards reflection (i.e. a false view) of his face in a mirror.
Related to the above, blood plays an important role. The beginning and end of the film feature it prominently and explicitly. The examples in the above paragraph obviously portray a shedding of blood. Ofelia is forced to prick herself, giving her own blood for her unborn brother’s survival – another foreshadow of spilling her own blood for him later to a much greater extent. More subtly, Ofelia and “hermano” are connected as siblings, where the image of blood illustrates the theme of identification. The identification of evil is fought – such as the creature who kills and eats children. The unborn child is identified with the root when the root is cared for and when it is thrown into the fire. Mercedes and Pedro, the resistance members, are brother and sister. Ofelia and Mercedes are given keys that give them access to salvation, and each has a knife that they are forced to use.
Choice and obedience are also major themes – obedience out of compulsion or for its own sake vs. free obedience. The Captain demands obedience from the doctor for its own sake, but the doctor, freely, disobeys orders for the greater cause of human life. Ofelia learns from her disobedience toward the fawn and chooses to give herself for her brother. I wish I had more time to expound and develop this, but I don’t, so this is just serving to record these thoughts.
Finally, I was struck by the similarity of this film with Cuaron’s Children of Men from the same year. Despite obvious differences, both told stories of sacrifice for the sake of unborn and newborn infants. I’m not sure the significance of this fact, if any, but it’s at least interesting. Just as Theo gave himself completely for the prospect of a live child, the first in eighteen years, Ofelia proclaims, “Yo sacrifico,” for what the Captain describes as that “brat you barely know.” All of the cinematic observations aside, there is something unspeakably beautiful about this, and it’s something that occurs all too rarely in films. But to see it coupled with such aesthetic competence raises it to the sublime.
UPDATE 6/20/08: For Wim, and everyone else who wants to read a truly good apologia for this film, you can find it here.