Last night, Puff and I went to see Pan’s Labyrinth, a stunning film combining magical realism with very real and unpleasant history. We both enjoyed the movie greatly: in addition to simply being good, it has a compelling story and it was hauntingly beautiful. Guillermo del Toro did a stunning job: he richly deserves a position of fame among Mexican film makers. The acting is superb, the sets are gorgeous…everything about it is great. If you enjoy the work of directors like Alfonso Cuaron, and you like movies like The Cell, you will probably love this film.
For people who don’t know much about the movie, it is set in Spain during the last days of the Second World War, when the Spanish resistance was being weeded out by the Fascists. The film takes place on a remote mountain top post, and centers around a little girl who is brought there with her mother, who is about to give birth to the commanding Captain’s son. The girl eagerly awaits the birth of her half brother, and spends her time reading fairy tales to escape into a world far from the war.
Almost immediately, the girl is sucked into a real life fairy tale which is dark, mystical, and exciting. While the evils of the human world go on outside, the girl battles demons of the underworld and ultimately is forced to make a difficult choice. The film also chronicles the revolutionaries, who have spies inside the military post and must resist torture and make difficult choices of their own. I am, I admit, kind of a sucker for movies about revolutionaries, and I fell hard for one of the characters in particular.
Parts of the movie are uncomfortably graphic: Pan’s Labyrinth is most certainly not a fairy tale for children. It is a very adult film, and uncomfortable and gory things happen to characters in it. Scenes of brutal violence are juxtaposed with decadent feasts while our heroine wanders the underworld. It is also a vaguely frightening movie—the lighting, the scenes, and the music kept me faintly on edge, waiting for something awful to happen.
The beauty of the film was what initially drew me to it. The sets are lush and complex, and even when twisted and bizarre, the images on the screen are elegant and glorious. Sometimes terrifying, to be sure, but also so rich that I kept my eyes wide open to drink in the whole film. The movie includes an assortment of fantastic creatures which the girl encounters along the journey, and all of them have a faint air of menace that keeps the viewer uneasy, hoping that the girl is on the right path after all. The lighting is also highly complex—dark in most of the film, to be certain, but there are individual rays of light that bring hope to the viewer.
I was also deeply satisfied by the ending of the film, which I’m not going to discuss here because I want you all to go see it. But I felt it ended perfectly, rightly, and beautifully…leaving us sitting stunned momentarily in our seats before we rose to return to the outside world.