Honestly, I’m still sort of amazed that Pan’s Labyrinth was sold out at the first screening we attempted. Not that it didn’t merit it — it was stunningly beautiful — but I just didn’t expect it.
Since then, I’ve been reading a lot of bitching about how it wasn’t what a lot of people expected, which I just don’t get at all. Admittedly, that’s partially because marketing-wise, I only saw full-length trailers as I almost never watch television. Also, I like being at least somewhat aware of what I’m going to see. I was expecting to see a dark fairy tale in the vein of del Toro’s prior film, The Devil’s Backbone. That is, it would deal with both the fantasy/horror world of the child and the real horror of the Spanish Civil War. And, whoah! That’s exactly what I saw! Crazy.
I’m reading the IMDb message boards — always a mistake.
There is a lot of discussion about the violence. Is it necessary to tell the story? Is there too much? And then I got to a comment that almost made me wonder if there wasn’t enough (but really, I think it just means that the OP was an idiot): “The initial world she [Ofelia] is escaping consists of a stepfather that is not too fond of her. That premise might have sufficed for an average fairy tale but doesn’t cut the mustard for a film as serious as PL.”
That blew me away. It is the biggest understatement I have read in some time. The Captain was more than “not too fond” of her. He was a sadistic, misogynous murderer, and he was in a position of power over a bit more than just a little girl. Sounds serious to me. (Of course, if he had “just” been a sadistic etc towards -her- I would still have thought that sufficiently evil of a world to want to escape from. What with me being opposed to child abuse and all.) And to bring this back around, though there were horrific things, I never felt that we saw more than we needed to.
Also in the realm of violence control is the question of why Mercedes didn’t kill the Captain when she had the opportunity. I thought the answer to that was pretty obvious. First, to take a human life, even of one as destructive as the Captain, is a profound act, especially for a character as conscious/aware as Mercedes. It would put her on a different level, though still not as low as him. Second, to be flippant, it would have been a whack-a-mole sort of situation, where he clearly would be replaced, but by what? Someone worse? Someone new, anyway, the horror of the unknown quantity. Plus, what would his death have meant for Ofelia, who was clearly on her mind at that point?
(By the way, Maribel Verdú? Just wonderful in that role, and vastly underappreciated in the commentary I’ve seen so far. I think previously I have only seen her in Y Tu Mamá También, which was certainly a different sort of role, but definitely one that had the sadness del Toro spoke of here, an article worth the reading that I linked in another journal earlier this month.)
Conclusion? I would very much like to see it again.