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Pan’s Labyrinth (2006 Spanish Movie) – The angel and the tyrant

As a child, we would have read a lot of fairy tales. We would have been astounded by the various creatures, angels, demons and sorcerers walking around in those stories. We would have also dreamt we are a part of them, and would have lived in the fairy world for some time. Imagine such a story becoming real. Imagine that we are in fact living amidst angels and demons and the story revolves around us, making us the central character. What would our reaction be? Would we accept the new world or would we deny the fantasy?

El Laberinto Del Fauno – Pan’s labyrinth- is one such beautiful film about a little girl and her fantasies becoming real.

The film begins in 1944. We see Ofelia, the little girl, lying in the ground, bleeding. We hear a voice telling us the story of Princess Moanna of the underground kingdom, escaping to the earth above one day, curious to see the outer world. She gets blinded by the sun, and gradually becomes sick, forgets her past, and dies. But the king of the underground, Moanna’s father, hopes that she will return to him one day, and keeps waiting.

We cut to Spain, just after the Spanish civil war. We see Ofelia’s step father, Vidal, a Spanish military Captain belonging to a fascist organization called Falange, whose main assignment is to hunt down the Spanish guerrillas, revolting against the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Ofelia’s mother is pregnant, and is becoming increasingly ill day by day. She travels to her husband’s military post on the mountains along with Ofelia, after an order from Vidal. Ofelia has a liking towards fairy tales and we see her gripping her favorite fairy tale books, sitting along with her mother in the car.

At the mountains, Ofelia sees an insect. It comes to her frequently and she realizes that a message is being conveyed to her through the insect. So she follows it, and it leads her in to a labyrinth near her house on the mountains. Inside the labyrinth, Ofelia gets to meet a faun – a spirit belonging to think forests. The faun is very old, and it believes Ofelia to be none other than princess Moanna herself. To ascertain Ofelia as Moanna, the faun gives three tasks to be completed before the full moon, so that she can return to the underworld kingdom to be with her father forever.

The first task is to get back a key from the belly of a huge Toad living inside the roots of a tree nearby. The tree gradually is being eaten from the inside by the toad, and so Ofelia must stop the frog by recovering the key. Ofelia completes the task successfully. On that night, her pregnant mother becomes too ill, and Ofelia is worried. The faun gives Ofelia a root and asks her to place it under her mom’s bed in a bowl of milk, so that she will be pain free.

The second task is to recover an ornate dagger from the lair of the pale man. The pale man sits absolutely still in front of a huge table with a lot of delicious food items, and he is a child eating monster. Using the key she took from the toad, Ofelia opens the lair. Albeit after being warned, she eats two grapes from the table, and this wakes up the monster. It eats the two tiny fairy accomplishes of Ofelia and starts chasing her. Ofelia finally escapes by using a magical chalk and drawing a door and escaping through it. The faun becomes angry since she didn’t succeed and since she was responsible for the death of the two fairies and refuses to give her the third task.

Meanwhile, Captain Vidal captures a guerrilla and tortures him. The doctor who attends the rebel is an accomplice of the guerrillas, and he kills the guerilla by an injection (euthanizing). The captain kills the doctor. Ofelia’s mom goes in to labor but she throws away the root placed under her bed by Ofelia, and as a result, dies at childbirth, after delivering a baby. The captain discovers that Ofelia’s servant is also a guerrilla accomplice, and he locks Ofelia in the bedroom, captures the servant. The servant stabs him and tries to escape and the rebels arrive and take her with them. Her brother plays an important role among the rebels.

The faun now comes to Ofelia locked in the bedroom, and gives her the third task, to prove herself. The task is to take the new born baby in to the labyrinth. Ofelia draws an escape door with her magical chalk and she drugs Vidal, and escapes with the baby to the labyrinth. Vidal chases her. In the labyrinth, the faun tells that the door to the kingdom will only open with the blood of an innocent. Hence a drop of the baby’s blood is needed. Ofelia refuses, as she is unaware of the faun’s intentions. As a result, the faun rebukes her and disappears. The captain arrives at this exact second, shoots Ofelia and takes the child back. Ofelia falls to the ground, badly bleeding.

When Vidal comes out of the labyrinth, the guerrillas are waiting for him outside, to kill him. He hands the baby to Ofelia’s servant, asking her to tell the baby its father’s name in the future, but they tell him the baby will never know such a father existed. Vidal is shot on his face. He dies.

The rebels enter the labyrinth, and they find Ofelia dying. The opening scene. We see Ofelia’s blood dripping on to the altar, and instantaneously, in a dream like sequence, we see Ofelia getting reunited with the king of the underground and the queen. The faun is present along with the dead fairies. The king tells Ofelia that since she sacrificed herself instead of the baby, the gates of the kingdom have opened for her and she has succeeded in the final task, proving her as the princess Moanna and achieving immortality. Ofelia smiles, and at the exact instant, in the outer world, Ofelia dies. The film ends.

El Laberinto Del Fauno – Pan’s labyrinth- is a wonderful film about the fantasies of a child. It beautifully unites the fairy world with the real world, as we see Ofelia’s three tasks combined together with the attacking of the guerillas by the captain. The cinematography is excellent, to say the least, accompanied by brilliant music and acting.

This Spanish film was released in 2006, and is directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy 1 and 2). It won three Oscars (Best make up, Cinematography and art direction). This film received 22 minutes of applause at the Cannes film festival, when screened.  This movie is an example of grotesque creatures beautifully being portrayed (as like Hellboy 1 and 2), the craftsmanship of Guillermo Del Toro.

The movie wonderfully links the deaths of the tyrant and the angel – the captain and Ofelia. Guillermo Del Toro tells, “I always think of that beautiful quote by Kierkegaard that says the tyrant’s reign ends with his death, but the martyr’s reign starts with his death. I think that is the essence of the movie; it’s about living forever by choosing how you die.”

Written by Scorp.

Scorp alias Rajesh Giriraajan is a blogger with a flair for movies, music and comics from different parts of the world. He has reviewed several movies in his world movie series. You can read more of Scorp’s writing in his blog.

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3 Responses

  1. What a brilliant story! I like fantasy movies and this seems like a superb one.

    I completely agree with this: the tyrant’s reign ends with his death, but the martyr’s reign starts with his death

    Death is for mere mortals, whose ordinary lives and fear of death kills them slowly every moment they live. On the other hand, there is simply no death for martyrs and idealists who give up their lives for just and noble causes – death may take away their bodies, but death is a mere speck of dust when compared to their immortal, courageous spirits!

  2. Shree says:

    Good Review. I got to see the movie and loved every moment of it. The trauma a young child goes through when her mother asks her to call the Captain as “Father” is very heart breaking. It painfully shows how the young kid still has her “dad” in mind and can’t accept a replacement. The way she loves her mother and her unborn brother is beautiful…
    On the whole, a movie any fantasy lover would cherish.

  3. S c o r p says:

    Yeah.. it will definitely be worthwhile to watch.. see it in a night, with all the lights switched off, and all the doors closed, sitting alone in front of the TV!!!

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