Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth - A Tale of Two Worlds

August 09, 2007

All of us have seen movies and read books that we love despite our disagreements with them: Guillermo Del Toro’s exquisitely shot Pan’s Labyrinth is such a film for me. Actually, it isn’t as much of a disagreement as a childish demand on my part that such a beautiful movie would conform entirely to my worldview (I don’t buy that “objective” review stuff. I review movies because I’m passionate about them. I’d rather be fiercely subjective, as long as I’m completely honest).

The plot is ingenuous and quite extraordinary: Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother join her stepfather (Sergi Lopez), a Captain in Franco’s army. Ofelia is a die hard fairy-tale buff and lives in her own universe, hobnobbing with fauns and fairies. Like Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), the guerilla mole in the Captain’s labyrinth, Ofelia too is fighting for a better world; only her fight takes place in that world of fauns and fairies. She is, we are told, a princess who must undergo some tribulations to unite with the king and queen in the underworld-the faun’s labyrinth. Ofelia and the Captain are cleverly introduced: she extends her left hand for a handshake, he corrects her. What a way to pit the creative mind against convention! You can’t help but cheer the doctor who mocks the Captain, “Obeying for the sake of obeying is for men like you”. Ofelia’s assignments parallel those of Mercedes. Mercedes, too, holds the key to a better world, and has to destroy the greedy monster at the root of Spain, so her country can flower.

Del Toro’s execution is remarkable; for the most part, he leaves room for viewers like me who don’t want to read the obvious religious subtext. But walking the tightrope between the real and the imaginary is never easy. And the couple of occasions (the priest’s affirmation of God when Ofelia’s mother dies, or Ofelia eating the forbidden fruit and being denied paradise) when he trips stand out-like one color smudging into another across a fine boundary. (This is almost a mirror image of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Makdee, where the reality smudged onto the imagination.)

It is to Del Toro’s credit that I could still see Ofelia not as Jesus (or Uncle Tom), sacrificing herself for the world, but as a little girl who possessed that rare gift: the power to imagine. In that light, Ofelia looks like Azar Nafisi, desperately clutching her fiction to make sense of reality, and Pan’s Labyrinth becomes a wonderful paean to human imagination, the escape it offers from reality (Ofelia warning her unborn half-brother that it’s bad out here), and the possibilities it creates to improve reality.

A telecom engineer with an incorrigible itch to write.
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Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth - A Tale of Two Worlds


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