June 26th marks the final Sunday in June and my last installment of my Guillermo Del Toro month. This provided me with a hard task: what movie from the vast and magnificent filmography should I end with, what film completely encapsulates what Del Toro is capable of? After asking myself these questions, the answer became very clear. Please enjoy my Sunday’s with… “Pans Labyrinth”.
Release Date: May 27, 2006
Run Time: 119 minutes
Starring: Ivana Baquero
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Robs Score: 9.7/10
“I’ve had so many names, old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce.” – Pan
Pans Labyrinth opens with the narrator telling us the tale of Princess Moana, who is the daughter to the king of the underworld. One day the princess traveled to the human world where the sunlight blinded her and erased her memory. With no recollection of her roots the princess is trapped in the human world where, like humans, she becomes susceptible to illness and dies. The king holds onto hope that one day the princess’s spirit will remember its heritage and return to him in the underworld. Set a few years after the Spanish civil war we meet Ofelia and her very pregnant mother who are traveling to a northern village to live with Ofeila’s new step father Captain Vidal. Captain Vidal is a loyal member to Francisco Franco (who rose to power during the Spanish civil war), and is tasked with hunting down the rebels living in the area. Ofelia has a love of books, especially fairy tales and when they arrive at the village she follows a flying insect, which she believes to be a fairy, to an old over grown labyrinth. It is here where Captain Vidal’s house keeper Mercedes finds Ofelia and brings her back. Mercedes is in fact a spy that is bringing food and information to her brother and the other rebels in the area. Mercedes also becomes a sort of nurturing figure for Ofelia as her mother deals with a complicated pregnancy. That night Ofelia is visited by a faun who explains to her that she is a princess, and if she can complete three tasks they can all return to the land of her father to live forever in peace. As Ofelia embarks on these tasks we see the true terrible nature of Captain Vidal as he makes it very clear that he really has no love for Carmen (Ofelia’s mother) or Ofelia; all he wants is the unborn son that Carmen is carrying. As Ofelia completes the first task, the next tasks become more dangerous and confusing. Carmen falls very ill, and the camp is raided by the rebels. Captain Vidal suspects that he has an informer in his midst. As all of these things come to a head Ofelia is faced with the horrifying question of is this Faun really here to help her or are there other reasons behind these tasks. Guillermo Del Toro served as writer, director, and producer on this film.
Pans Labyrinth is an absolute masterpiece. It is hard to pick a jumping off point so I’ll start with the main character Ofelia. Children are pure, and children for the most part represent all that is good in life. Ofelia exemplifies all of this. She is wide eyed and curious about the world she lives in, but also loves to live in the world inside her head and the books she reads. She is loving and loyal to her mother and unborn brother even though she has every right to be resentful of her mother having a child with and moving to live with a man who makes no effort to pretend to love or even care for Ofelia or her mother. This film beautifully plays the line between the innocence of being a child with the horrible realities of the real world. Taking the main protagonist and making her a female child and back drop it with the atrocities of a village dealing with the fall out of a civil war is perfect. We get to see firsthand how Ofelia is forced to deal with her mother’s sickness and the very real threat of death and play it off this notion that she is on a magical quest that can bring her eternal happiness. We were all children once and every single one of us can relate to having an escape, whether it be movies or video games or toys or comics or books. Whatever your escape was you knew that no matter how hard life or school or whatever became we could find solace in these things. Ofelia has that with her books and stories and it is amazingly relatable to every single person. It is hard not to love, and cheer for this girl because she in fact represents every single one of us. We want to live in a magical world where troubles and evils do not exist and this film merges the two perfectly.
If Ofelia is to represent everything that is good and the fairy tale aspect of the story Captain Vidal represents the polar opposite. From the get go Vidal is a cold hard man, who very clearly does not love Ofelia or Carmen. He brought them to his village under the guise of wanting to protect them, but the truth of the matter is he wants to ensure that his son is born where he is. He often insults Carmen, and when she falls very ill quickly tells the doctor to keep the child and let Carmen die if having to make the choice. This is heart breaking for Ofelia to hear, but in some horrible way that line perfectly captures the cruel and unjust world we live in. Sometimes new life comes with the price of killing the one who is giving it. To a child it is incomprehensible; to a world weary man it is simply a fact of life. Vidal is the perfect yang to Ofelia’s ying. He does not believe in fairy tales because he has not only seen and lived through the horrors of war and the real world, but he relishes it. Throughout the film we see Vidal do terrible things, and it is no question as to who the antagonist is here, but we are forced to ask ourselves is he really evil or is he just a man doing and fighting for what he believes in? That question lasts all of about ten minutes until we see him perform his next atrocity but that is a great example of the power of the script. Vidal is a truly reprehensible man, but the scariest part about him is the he is just a man. He is not some monster from a fairy tale he is a man that has been shaped and molded by the things he has seen and done, and that is more terrifying than any magical monster could ever be.
The fairy tale aspect is really the driving force behind the movie. Are the stories and what Ofelia is experiencing real, or are they simply the manifestations of a lonely girl trying to cope with the sickness of her mother and the war going on outside her door? That is one of the beauties of this film as that it is truly left up to the viewer’s interpretation. A great way to find out if someone is an optimist or a pessimist is to ask them if they thought if the fairy tale in this movie was real or fake! One thing that Del Toro does better than I would say any other main stream director is pen and present modern fairy tales for the audience. Not fairy tales in the Disney sense but fairy tales in the brother Grimm sense of how they were originally intended. His stories have a message and not all of these messages are pleasant or end happily ever after.
Pans Labyrinth was the culmination of twenty years worth of drawings and writings by Del Toro. It was truly a labor of love and you can see that in every aspect and detail of the film. It was filmed beautifully and the difference between the “fairy tale” scenes and real life scenes are obvious. When Ofelia is on her quest every shot and background seems grand and big. From the frog king to the hall of the pale man we have a bold rich color scheme of reds, and gold’s. Royal colors that represent the grand nature of what she is doing. However for the war scenes and the compound scenes we have a variety of blues, greys, and browns. These colors dictate the dreary and almost hopelessness of what is going on in the real world. As to expect with Del Toro films we are introduced to a variety of original and sometimes horrifying creatures and monsters. Pan for example represents her father’s kingdom come to return her soul to him. He is huge with over extended features and markings the portrays both his willingness to help, but also the fact that he may not be the most trustworthy, or that he has ulterior motives.
Aside from Pan, probably the most memorable monster was the terrifying pale man. Words cannot describe how creepy this creature is. In one single scene and without any dialogue we are given his background and how evil he is. His design was in part inspired by the real life troubles and weight loss that Del Toro was experiencing during the filming of the movie. The sagging skin representing the toll this movie had on its creator. Doug Jones, (Hellboy 2) portrayed both of these creatures. The team of David Marti, Montse Ribe and Xavi Bastida, helmed the prosthetics on this film and truly came up with some amazing work. For the most part this film used animatronics for the creatures and effects, a fact that makes the film even more impressive.
Every aspect of this film is important; from the color schemes to the creatures and details everything is important and vital to the story. This is equally as true for the haunting score by Javier Navarrete. The entire score was based around a lullaby that Mercedes does for Ofelia in order to relax her. The lullaby is absolutely haunting as it combines a mystical element mixed with a deep sadness that resonates and exemplifies the entire film. His work on this film led to an Academy Award nomination for best score.
The film was led by Ivan Baquero who portrayed Ofelia, and as mentioned before was absolutely captivating. Sergi Lopez played Captain Vidal. He is venomous and evil and will really make you hate this character; in short he was absolutely wonderful in this role! The third standout here was Maribel Verdu who played Mercedes. Verdu was stellar portraying a woman struggling with a double life. Having to smile and serve the man who is trying to kill her brother and friends and all she believes in. Her facial expressions will leave you breathless as they convey so much emotion, that she does not need much dialogue.
Pans Labyrinth opened up to absolutely amazing reviews, and stands as Del Toro’s highest and most critically acclaimed film. From a monetary stance the film has grossed over $83 million dollars, as compared to its $19 million budget. However the lasting legacy of this film will not be how much it made but by how loved and well received it was. It topped or was included in over 120 best of lists for the year 2006, including the best film of the year according to Roger Ebert. It was nominated for 6 Academy awards, walking away with three of them, including best art direction, best cinematography, and best makeup. It was also nominated for a slew of other awards at shows all over the world, winning 28 awards before everything was done.
Pans Labyrinth is Guillermo Del Toro’s magnum opus. It is a breath taking, beautiful film, and one of my favorite movies. I cannot recommend this movie enough.