What I want you to know. Which is everything.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Amanda and I saw Pan's labyrinth yesterday. First of all, it was by far the most gruesome, violent movie I've seen in a long time, and certainly the most violent movie I wasn't expecting to be violent. With that said, it was also one of the most jarring and creative movies I've ever seen. Director, Guillermo del Toro mixes visual imagery and stunning camera work to take the viewer between World War 2 era Spain, who have just undergone a civil war, and the super-real world of Ofelia's mind. Ofelia is a little girl whose mother has remarried after losing her father. The mother is pregnant and Ofelia's stepfather, a Captain in the military, has insisted that they make a dangerous trek to where he is stationed to quell communist uprisings. On the way Ofelia's mom becomes sick and it is thought that she might lose the baby and even her own life.
While stopped to let her mother rest Ofelia spots a large bug looking object that she takes to be a fairy. An avid reader of fantasy stories, Ofelia has a vivid imagination and uses this imagination to escape and dream of fantastical lands that are unknown to the human world. We soon find out that her stepfather is a cruel and heartless fascist, who is obsessed with finding and killing a group of communist rebels. He's very Hitleresque in his approach, killing based on nothing but suspicion or disloyalty, with little regard for even his own wife. To him his wife is simply a carrier of his son, an heir to carry on his name and legacy. Much like his own father was, Captain Vidal is a brutal military man, with little to no patience for any opposition or insubordination. What I liked about this character was the depth of his villainy. He wasn't simply a man out for personal glory and use of his own goals as fuel for his sadism. Vidal is a Captain haunted by the memory and death of his father, like him a prideful authoritarian who believed that his family alone was destined and had rights to power, no matter the cost. Some of the most complex scenes take place with Vidal shaving in a mirror, contemplating suicide. In these moments where we get to witness his true demons we realize that he is simply a man more at war with himself than any communist rebels or dissidence.
Ofelia's fantasy world, in steep contrast to her reality, is a world where she is a princess, lost in the human world who is being drawn back to her true home in an underground kingdom where there is no pain or sadness. Del Toro takes us so seamlessly back and forth from the real world and Ofelia's that we begin to wonder if what Ofelia sees isn't, in fact, real. Her life in the underground world is introduced through the fairies who lead her to Pan, a Faun who looks more like a giant grasshopper than the half-human, half-goat creatures from the Narnia books. Pan sends on a number of quests to prove that she is the true princess of this underworld, and hasn't become too human in her time on earth.
Besides being beautifully filmed and extraordinarily acted (particularly by 12 year old Ivana Baquero), the story is as captivating as I've ever heard, and true down to the last moment of the film. You find yourself realizing that this film will actually go where most won't out of sheer obligation to honesty in story telling. Many will find that this isn't the typical fair because the bad guys are not necessarily going to get theirs while the good guys win. Pan's labyrinth is as sad, awesome and unbelievable a story as you will find in filmaking today.