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From Under A Rock: Pan’s Labyrinth

July 21, 2018 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Pan's Labyrinth
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From Under A Rock: Pan’s Labyrinth  


We’re over 150 editions into this column, so we’ve kind of run out of “these are our favorite movies and we want to share them with one another” and we’re in a different, but equally interesting territory: “These are movies I remember feeling strongly about a long time ago, but not much else. Let’s rewatch them and see what we think!”

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Before Midnight. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Pan’s Labyrinth.

Pan’s Labyrinth
Released: December 29th, 2006
Written & Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Ivana Baquero as Ofelia/Princess Moanna
Sergi López as Captain Vidal
Maribel Verdú as Mercedes
Doug Jones as the Faun and the Pale Man
Ariadna Gil as Carmen / Queen of the Underworld
Álex Angulo as Doctor Ferreiro

Michael Ornelas: Guillermo del Toro has stunning vision for the practical art in his productions, and that’s what I remembered most. Upon rewatching, I noticed that while Ofelia certainly lives in these fairy tales, the majority of the movie is spent in a sobering reality.

Aaron Hubbard: This is a movie that’s been on my bucket list for a long time, and I’m actually kind of mad that I hadn’t seen it before now. But on the plus side, I get to write about it with Michael, and that’s a fair trade-off.
A Coping Mechanism
Michael: My viewing experience was actually very similar to Ofelia’s reality: I needed the fantastical elements of the film to survive it. My heart was breaking at every turn, and I needed something to frame it all in a way that made it less painful. Her fairy tales gave her hope, and without them, this is a bleak, depressing look at fascism. If you believe in “la magica”, this movie’s ending is magical. If you don’t, you’ll be enraged. I like to believe in the magic. For Ofelia’s sake.

Aaron: Or just heaven. I definitely expected to be taken in by the fantasy elements, and I certainly was, but I found myself much more invested in the “real life” drama going on. Del Toro is one of our great living directors, and it isn’t just because he’s got a love for practical costumes, stylish cinematography, and imagination that most of us can only wish we had. He’s also a guy with a lot of thoughts about the world, with a lot on his mind, and he uses movies to send messages. Almost everything in this movie has a secondary meaning; the faun is about how fascism is attractive in some ways (think Tyler Durdan), the Pale Man is a representation of the church (which sided with the fascist regime of Spain at the time), the frog is about the rich upper class gorging itself while nothing else can grow. It’s all fascinating and an example of what separates Del Toro’s passion projects from his grunt work like Hellboy and Pacific Rim (both great in their own rights).

Michael: He has a way of projecting his ideas into stunning metaphors that take us on a journey all their own in the context of the story. And then makes a movie in which the mere presence of these metaphors is a metaphor for civil disobedience. It’s meta. Phor.
Disobedience in the Face of Fascism
Aaron: If there is one idea that is constantly brought up in this movie, it is how disobedient Ophelia is. She disobeys her mother, the Captain, and the faun, often to disastrous effect. Like eating grapes from the table of a monster that will ruthlessly devour her. So… why is this such a trend? Well, it’s simple. If the Captain is the face of fascism in the movie, than Ophelia is the spirit of Spain, rebelling against the rule no matter the potential consequences. It causes great harm, to be sure. Her mother (Spain’s past) can’t survive the fascist rule, and neither can Ophelia (Spain during the time of the Spanish revolution). But maybe her brother can escape the oppression, and maybe there is hope for Spain’s future. Del Toro’s message is clear; civil disobedience in the face of tyranny may be dangerous and even deadly, but it is necessary.

Michael: And it’s not easy. Ofelia pretty much literally went to Hell and back to accomplish her goal, and still ended up a martyr. Her disobedience was pervasive in the film, and often frustrating, but ultimately I was on her side the whole time. She was disobedient at times where the smart thing would have been to just keep her head down and go unnoticed. But if you do that, you comply with fascism and it only gets stronger. Sometimes “Live to fight another day” is a luxury that you can’t afford. Rebel. Fight. Resist. Del Toro’s message is a strong one, and one that rings loudly and truthfully on a global scale at any given point. Sadly, it’s a timeless message.

Aaron: And in case anyone is reading this and thinking we’re projecting… this movie is actually pretty damn unambiguous. Ophelia is far from the only one to disobey orders. Mercedes is working against Captain Vidal the whole time, and proves that you can score some pretty big victories if you know the right time to strike. The scene where she gives Vidal the Glasgow smile was a “stand up and cheer” moment for me, as was the ending where she lets Vidal know his son will know nothing about him. And then there’s Doctor Ferreiro, who tells the Captain that only men like him can blindly obey orders without asking questions. He states the theme of the movie, point blank to the man representing all of the evil in the film. Not exactly subtle.
Those Effects, Though!
Michael: This movie came out in 2006, so the CGI was a bit dated. But luckily, Del Toro is a master of the practical and there was a lot to ogle at in this movie for a practical effects lover like myself. First and foremost: the faun. The costume was incredible. I was captivated every moment he was on screen (in no small part due to the amazing performance by Doug Jones, Del Toro’s go-to costumed thespian). This movie lived in a drab, rainy, and depressing Spain but had glimpses at a ruinous fantasy land that was fully (and practically) realized…and it deserves all the credit in the world for its immersiveness.

Aaron: I could gush forever about Del Toro’s aesthetic sensibilities. Partly because I love monsters and fantasy elements, but also because he’s dedicated to using practical sets and costumes unless absolutely necessary. I also have to give a ton of credit to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. This movie never ceases to be gorgeous even when it is showing decidedly ugly scenes, which is most of the movie, to be honest. The execution is what makes the difference. Del Toro and his team are master illusionists, while most other filmmakers are still figuring out card tricks. Oh, and did I mention that Doug Jones’ Pale Monster is the stuff of nightmares? Because it is.

Michael: This film is a visual masterpiece, short and simple. Storytelling is perfect as well. But cinema is a visual medium and, to an extent, “artistry” is rare than it should be in Hollywood. Del Toro is doing his best to keep it alive and I appreciate that immensely.

Aaron: Pan’s Labyrinth is almost comically suited to my particular tastes. I love fantasy movies and period pieces and monsters and unapologetic social commentary, I love totally despicable villains getting their comeuppance and bittersweet endings. It would have had to actively try to make me dislike it. But setting aside my personal biases, Pan’s Labyrinth is an exceptionally well-crafted movie from one of cinema’s most talented directors and, having now seen it, is one of my favorite movies of this century so far.


Michael: What Aaron said.


Aaron: So, I’m honestly having trouble deciding whether this or Children of Men is the best movie of 2006. What say you?

Michael: They both have a case, and both very different reasons. It comes down to taste. I think Children of Men is “cooler”, and has a more interesting premise (as is par for the course with science fiction), but Pan’s takes reality and puts it in a fascinating perspective. Don’t make me choose.

What’s the best dark fantasy movie you’ve ever seen?

Next week:

Aaron: This is another movie that was on my Bucket List and really struck a chord with me. It’s summer, most days are over 100 degrees, and it seems like the perfect time to review the best movie of 1989.
Michael: This will actually be my first exposure to Spike Lee, so that alone is enough of a reason for me to get excited. Any first experience with a notable director excites me.

Aaron: Well, it’s definitely unambiguously and authentically Spike Lee, that’s for damn sure.

Are there other Spike Lee films we should consider reviewing for this column?

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The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
Guillermo del Toro's fantasy masterpiece gets a perfect score from both of us, and it's no mystery why. Pan's Labyrinth is as good as dark fantasy gets. It has compelling performances from actors telling a grounded story about fascism and revolution, but also a wondrous, imaginative second plot about a girl solving tasks to earn her freedom and become ruler of a magical land. Del Toro is one of the greatest talents working in the movie business today, and if you've wondered why people consider him to be that good, then watch this movie.