Pan’s Labyrinth Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro delivers a unique, richly imagined epic with Pan’s Labyrinth released in 2006, a gothic fairy tale set against the postwar repression of Franco’s Spain. Del Toro’s sixth and most ambitious film, Pan’s Labyrinth harnesses the formal characteristics of classic folklore to a 20th Century period. Del Toro portrays a child as the key character, to communicate that children minds are not cemented. Children avoid reality through the subconscious imagination which is untainted by a grown-up person, so through a point of an innocent child more is captured.
The film showcases what the imagination can do as a means of escape to comfort the physical trials one goes through in reality. The protagonist of the film, a twelve year old girl named Ofelia avoids the problems she faces by embarking on a dark and puzzling journey that requires her to fulfill three dangerous tasks in order to reveal the truth of her lineage as the long-lost princess of the underworld similar to that of a person trying to escape a labyrinth and the challenges they face and overcoming them.
This was the case for Ofelia who had to go through many challenging tasks that tested her in order for her to realize her true nature: love, respect for life and honor. The film explores the imaginative journey through the eyes of a child by the use of visual effects and techniques used to capture scenes, along with foreshadowing and the creative use of symbolism in human or object form. Ofelia uses her imagination as an escape because there are no feelings inclining her to stay in the real world. Del Toro creates the change in the imaginary world using a variety of film and visual techniques.
The changes in lighting occur when a transition from the imaginary world to reality are evidently seen. When exposed to the corruption and violence of the insensitive reality, the lighting is presented in a cold harsh light that is grey and feels cold in contrast to the warm, radiance, heroic light Ofelia is flooded in as she boldly faces the evil monsters. The language of the film is in Spanish, adding to the enmity as a foreign language to English speakers. The use of subtitles draws in the audience’s attention making them cling on to every word being said because of the intensity of the movie.
There is also a lot of disturbing visual effects in the pan’s labyrinth which also captures the audiences attention such as the scene where Captain Vidal must stitch his own cheek sliced open from the mouth adds to the realism of the film, leaving the audience to squirm in their senses, imagining the pain. The use of close ups and tracking shots emphasize the hysterical, tragic mood of the story. This causes the audience to feel maudlin and affected. An example is the frame of a close-up high angled shot when we see Captain Vidal shoot Ofelia.
We realize the gravity of the crime, watching Ofelia fall to the cold stone floor as her blood drops down the entrance of the Underworld realm. The uses foreshadowing by Del Toro also plays in as a technique in depicting a predictive or predetermined conclusion for the protagonist and what is in store for her later on in the movie. In one scene when her mother is on the bed and the baby starts kicking she tells Ofelia to recite a fable to her unborn brother to calm him down, her story is about pain and loss and the reward in the end granted be eternal life.
The fable she tells foreshadows the imagination she has for hardships she faces in reality and her conclusion towards it. Del Toro’s film reflects the journey of free will and link between destinies and the choices we make in overcoming the obstacles we face. Del Toro conceived his film in a rather opposite perspective than other typical movies. In Pan’s Labyrinth everything becomes a symbol from the actor to the background set-up. Del Toro is an erudite creator to whom the images and icons of past ages are the manifold fragments of an occult and mystic truth.
In his point of view, directing a film is the art of putting together those fragments in a coherent discourse. Hence, in Pan’s Labyrinth a broken watch can speak to the viewer with the same power as the acting does. Del Toro’s filming transforms statue into actor and actor into statue, because the lineament of the image and the meaning they convey are worthy of dramatic emotion. Del Toro’s mise en scene process, rather than writing then applying spectacular cinema technique, is to write with symbols and icons.
An example of that would be the classic symbols of fairy stories are also used to represent the imaginary world in which Ofelia travels. The labyrinth symbolizes the choices she has to make in her journey and the obstacles she has to face. The cast of mythical characters; those of fauns and fairies, and giant toads that niche under fig trees and how they are located deep in the dark, mystical forest Akin to a writer, Del Toro finds the appropriate symbol as much for its meaning as for its beauty and assemble them into relevant and aesthetic cinematographic syntax.
The fairy tale, significant in its ambiguity leaves us wondering if, after all her endeavors proving her lineage as the long-lost princess of the underworld realm, she was in a fairy tale pit against the conscious allegory or was she escaping the paramount sadistic lack of empathy in reality? We are left with unanswered questions but I think that was the director trying to get at and make us believe in what we want to believe in, so each person uses their own imagination to make their own conclusions wheatear it’s good or bad. Making us question our imaginations and see whether we believe in magic or logic.