[Pan’s Labyrinth]

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.

6 Replies to “[Pan’s Labyrinth]”

  1. Newsday has non-professionals review some things and one was Pan’s Labyrinth. I was disappointed that three out of five gave it a C or worse. They commented on how it wasn’t what they expected. Like you it was exactly what I expected. It is a crime it wasn’t nominated for best picture.

  2. It’s so frustrating. I’m sure I’ve had poor reactions to films myself in the past because they weren’t what I expected, but with this one it just seems relentless.

  3. I’ve been thinking a bunch about this movie and to me, the thing that sets it apart and maybe makes it hard for some people to like or get is that it’s basically Ofelia’s story, but point of view of the adults around her gets a huge amount of screen time. I mean, most of the terrible things the Captain does, Ofelia doesn’t know about — she’s escaping from something even worse than she realizes.

    Sort of on the same tack, on my way out of the theater, some of the other people there were discussing the inevitable, “Was it real? Did she really go to the other world or did she just die?” But I felt like, what does it even matter? Mercedes doesn’t know she went to this other world and is still going to grieve for her, her brother is going to grow up without her, she did what she needed to do and put into motion the things that had to be put into motion regardless of whether the faun was real or not. And I don’t mean that in a cynical way, just in a that’s-the-way-it-is kind of way.

    The movie wasn’t quite what I expected, either — I knew the very basics of the plot going in, but I don’t think I even knew the rating, and I haven’t seen any of del Toro’s other films. So I wasn’t expecting it to be so violent, but really, the movie tells you where it’s going pretty early on, what with the face-stabbing and all. I really enjoyed it anyway, though.

  4. I read on the IMDb boards — possibly the only insightful comment there ever — the suggestion to look at it as a film with two leads: Ofelia & Mercedes. Which is one of those things that’s obvious to me after someone else points it out, and one of the reasons I’d like to see it again.

    I’m trying to think if we even discussed the was-it-real question on our way back. I don’t think so. I remember discussion of why didn’t she kill the captain, Spain and how much of that might be lost on this audience, and the translation of the title. Hmm. The question rarely occurs to me, and when it does, I don’t like to make a decision!

    I’d recommend The Devil’s Backbone. Actually, I think -it- wasn’t quite what I expected at first either, but I’m easy 🙂 I read somewhere he’s got a third in mind to complete the vague thematic trilogy. But I’m excited to see whatever he does next.

  5. find the fresh air with terry gross’ interview with del toro, either today or yesterday, cause it was podcasted to me today.

    find it & listen to it. it’s awesome.

  6. Awesome! I can’t find it as a free podcast, but they have a realaudio archive, so I will be checking it out. Thanks for the heads-up!

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