A Magical Realism Masterpiece

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Adam Matos, Staff Writer

War. Adventure. Good. Evil. Destiny. Determination. Fantasy. Truth.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantasy masterpiece from Spanish director Guillermo del Toro, released in 2006. The story is half-rooted as a ruthless 1900s Spanish war movie while the other half features a dangerous monster-filled fantasy world. The beauty of this movie comes in the interaction between these two plot lines, as we, the viewers, start to blend fantasy and reality. Evil runs rampant in both plots as well. The eleven-year-old protagonist, Ophelia, is put in danger by a magical faun who sends her on three quests while simultaneously being put in danger in the real world by her stepfather, a fascist murdering Captain in the war. 

We are told that Ophelia’s fantasy world, led by the faun, is all in her imagination, but at times the threats seem extremely real. For instance, her first quest is sent to retrieve a key from the belly of a giant toad. Yet, in the process of entering the toad’s lair, Ophelia completely ruins her dress which is true later when she returns home in the real world. This was del Toro’s vision: to blend the lines between reality and fantasy. That is magical realism.

Another instance of this could be in Ophelia’s second quest: retrieve a dagger from the lair of The Pale Man. The monster in question is in a deep slumber as Ophelia enters his lair with three fairy helpers to watch her back as she searches for the dagger. However, on the way out of the lair after retrieving the dagger, Ophelia is enchanted by The Pale Man’s black magic and is drawn to eat a grape off of his table of fresh food. Ophelia was told multiple times by the faun and the fairies to not touch anything on the table, but this is another point of intersection between reality and fantasy. In this time of war, Ophelia doesn’t have access to food that is as delectable as the Pale Man’s feast. Added to this is the monster’s enchantment that called her to eat the grapes. But, you still can denounce Ophelia’s actions because on the walls of The Pale Man’s lair are multiple illustrations of him eating children alive after maiming them with the aforementioned dagger. As a result of Ophelia’s appetite getting the best of her, The Pale Man awakens and creeps behind Ophelia without her knowing. Is this a good time to mention that The Pale Man is disturbingly disfigured and his hands are on his eyes? Ophelia barely escapes The Pale Man’s grasp by creating a hole in the ceiling with magic chalk given to her by the faun. 

However, even with such a horrendous monster stealing the attention of the audience, viewers are still encapsulated by Pan’s Labyrinth’s other selling points. The Pale Man might have the award for one of the most disturbing scenes from a fantasy adventure movie, but that’s not to say that he’s the scariest monster in the entire film. The true monster is Captain Vidal, Ophelia’s stepfather who abuses the power he has in war. Although he claims to protect and attempts to appear empathetic when his facade fades he is the evilest character of all. He murders war hostages for no reason and expects blind loyalty from all of those around him. Ophelia doesn’t fall into his desire to be respected at all times, continuing her breaking of all the rules. The Pale Man may have had the rule of don’t eat the food on the table and he won’t awaken. Captain Vidal, on the other hand, has no rules. He decides who lives or who dies at his beckoning. The movie shows the horror of war intertwined with a fantasy world. This intersection allows us to see that even though Captain Vidal tries to represent a clean image to his followers, behind that mask hides a terrible man who, like the Pale Man, will kill anything to get what he wants.

Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just a horror film. It isn’t just a fantasy film. And it isn’t just a war film. It’s a beautiful conglomeration of all three. There is no compromise between the aspects of the film; all ideas are fully fleshed out. One of the best fantasy movies I’ve ever seen and an extremely underrated film, there’s truly not enough good to say about Pan’s Labyrinth. I highly recommend you watch it!