The dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth is a fascinating example of creative story-telling. This film focuses on so many aspects between Ofelia’s imaginary world and the real world, including her stepfather fighting for the Francoist regime. This little girl is uprooted to a military outpost in Fascist-ruled Spain commanded by her new stepfather, the Captain. The reoccurring contrast between Ofelia’s world and her stepfathers world stood out to me, through elements of brutality, innocence, war, imagination, disobedience, and choice.
The tests Ofelia must face are chilling and nightmarish, they mirror not just the cruelty of the battles between the army and the rebels, but equally the deep loss and insecurity which Ofelia faces. Del Toro brilliantly intertwines between the two stories, so that we easily follow the action in two worlds simultaneously. The film brings together a lot of mis-en-scene elements that are necessary to the audience and viewers. Creating the appropriate set and designing costumes, models and props are all an essential part of the story on film.
In Pan’s Labyrinth this is particularly important as it helps the audience to believe in the world that we are seeing. The various elements of the art department had to be involved with working with the director to generate a consistent imaginary and nightmarish look for this world. I was lost in Ofelia’s imagination and truly scared for her at times, when the director pays close attention to details like this it connects the viewer to the film.
The director realized if the movie was going to be two stories intersected, then along with the beautiful fairy tale prologue in the narration, the viewers should also see images of a ruined Spanish city torn by the war. This is a contrasting difference to the fairy tale narrative, so the stories would start to juxtapose from the very beginning. He wanted to show how the brutality of the real world is compared to the girl’s fantasy world.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, storytelling or fantasy is something that provides Ofelia with a sense of control as we see she participates in the tasks and has goals to achieve, we share the point of view of Ofelia so we can see all that she sees and know how she think and acts about it. The imaginary world of the Faun and his strange tasks, which is not imaginary to her, is essential to the narrative as it provides Ofelia with motivation for her actions and moves the story along in a way that stands in sharp contrast to her other reality where she is told what to do by Captain Vidal.
The structure of the world that Ofelia is in is similar to her step-fathers. She meets characters that set her tasks that she must complete, just like her father who is a commander that must follow orders. Another element that links Del Toro’s films is the manifestation of evil in the story. Captain Vidal’s marriage to Ofelia’s mother means that her life will be very different, and this is where Ofelia’s imagination kicks in.
Captain Vidal’s relationship with Ofelia is very similar to the ‘wicked stepmother’ character to be found in Cinderella and other fairy tales. Evil comes in the shape of Fascism in this film, as the Spanish Civil War provides the backdrop, and is a specific context for the actions of Captain Vidal in reality and for Ofelia in her imaginary world. Del Toro felt it was important to include the banquet in the time of 1944 when most people, or close to few had food. But the Captain is hoarding food and medicine to make rebels come to him.
In the dinner party scene, we see the dining table full of food and a chimney and all in a much ridged position that is for shadowing the Pale Man scene, with the monster sitting at the head of the table. For example, one task that was given to Ofelia by the Faun was to retrieve a golden dagger, however Ofelia is warned explicitly to not eat any of anything from the enormous feast that she will find laid out on a table. To juxtapose back to reality, since Vidal had decided to starve out the rebels by keeping all available food and medicine locked up in the mill’s storeroom.
Mercedes and Dr. Ferreiro are performing a task like Ofelia by secretly aiding the group of rebels hiding in the woods and endangering themselves in the process, because they must smuggle the goods silently in the middle of the night. Both are all too aware of the violence Vidal or the Pale Man inflicts upon those who disobey them. The violence of the real world appears fully-shaped in the Pale Man, which juxtaposes Vidal’s dining room and the “facelessness” of fascism. Del Toro designed the Pale Man like an old man who lost a lot of weight.
It was like a concentration camp feeling, with shoes piled up in corner; this horrifying monster has all this food in front of it, but only eats innocent children. The director feels it is important that disobedience has different outcomes. Ofelia disobeys and picks the right door with the dagger, then she disobeys (because she’s hungry) and eating the grapes gets her in trouble. But no matter what, she follows herself, at the end of the movie, she learns to trust herself. No matter what dangers she went through, she still doesn’t distrust her instincts.