Reflections on Del Toro’s Movie 'Pan’s Labyrinth'

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Foreign movies have been transporting us to different worlds, since the beginning of cinema and a lot of these films use their fantasy worlds to comment on the real world that we all live in. I love foreign movies as it exposes you to an entirely new culture. This is what ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ has done for me. Filled with original imagery and drawing on folklore and fantasy traditions, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ takes us on a journey to a place as violent and cruel as it as beautiful and compassionate.

Guillermo Del Toro was an already established filmmaker by the time he released ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ in 2006. He’s known for embedding rich, sympathetic characters – especially children and otherworldly creatures – in larger-than-life stories. With ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, Del Toro wanted to portray his defiance of Fascist Spain during the 1930’s and expose its brutal origins in hopes it shall never be repeated.

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The movie tells the story of the little girl Ofelia and her mother Carmen as they go to live with hyper fascist Captain Vidal, five years after the Spanish Civil War. Vidal is trying to snuff out the last reminisce of rebellion in the mountains awaiting his child’s birth by Carmen, while Ofelia becomes ensnared in a magical quest after a faun tells her that she is the lost princess of an underground realm. From 1936 to 1939, Spain saw the most brutal civil war in its history. Often considered a struggle between democracy and fascism, general Francisco Franco's right-wing nationalists eventually triumphed over the democratic Spanish Republic in hopes of turning the country into a dictatorial state much like Hitler’s Germany.

He presents this cold-blooded dictatorship through the menacing character of hyper fascist Captain Vidal. Vidal isn’t one of those conflicted captains, torn by the twisted ethics of war. He wants to get his hands dirty. He loves blood n’ guts. He charges up the hill after the rebels when he certainly doesn’t need to be on the front line. “I choose to be here because I want my son to be born in a new, clean Spain. Because these people have the idea that we're all alike, but there's a difference. The war is over, and we won. And if we need to kill each one of those motherfuckers to agree on it, then we'll kill them all. And that's that. We're all here by choice”. Said like a mad man, right?

Del Toro not only embodies Spain’s brutal past through its spine-chilling dialogue, but he also shows this through the frightening imagery and representation of the daunting ‘Pale Man’. The Pale Man is a paled skin humanoid monster with his eyeballs menacingly placed in the palms of his hand with the eerie legend of devouring innocent children.

Del Toro was very much against the catholic church and its ties between the fascist society. He confirms this is in interview stating, “When I was researching, I found the absolutely horrifying participation of the church in the entire fascist movement in Spain. The Pale Man represents the church for me, you know? Represents fascism and the church eating children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them. There is almost a hunger to eat innocence. A hunger to eat purity”. He conveys this through the Pale Man’s appearance and silver plate of eyes being a reference to Catholic Saint Lucy, who is often depicted with her eyes on a plate. The fireplace referring to the gates of hell, the church-like murals of devoured children and Ofelia being tempted by the Pale Man’s ‘forbidden fruit’.

Del Toro positions the monster at the head of the table with a full banquet that would have been very tempting for children who at the time would have been starving. Much similar to Vidal’s banquet and through the use of audio, setting and juxtaposition Del Toro alludes to the audience that both the Pale Man and Captain Vidal have similar qualities in which they are both parallel representations of Spain’s fascist rule during the 1930s. If Captain Vidal and the Pale Man come to represent fascist rule, then Ofelia serves as a stand-in for the Spanish nation and those who suffered at the hands of the Franco regime.

General Franco is said to have used propaganda to create a ‘personality cult’ where the struggle and injustice of Spain was swept under the rug and Franco himself was raised to ‘legendary’ status. The director portrays this though the scene where Spanish civilians are told while uniformly waiting for their food rations: “This is our daily bread in Franco’s Spain, kept safe in this mill. The Reds lie when they say there is hunger in Spain, because in a united Spain, there’s not a single home without fire or bread”. A line repeated by one of the army’s top officials to the line of starving citizens. Del Toro shows us this scene to illustrate the lifestyle and struggle of a Spanish citizen during the civil war. In which people with power lead starved citizens to believe that there is no ‘hunger’ or ‘fire’ within Spain when in fact they are being held by an iron grip for labor from the ruthless guards and dictatorship of Captain Vidal. He portrays this through the families and citizens poor clothing and emotionless facial expressions.

Now, obviously this would cause an uprising and Del Toro presents this through the many scenes of disobedience. There is the disobedience of the rebels who seek to free Spain from the grip of fascism. The disobedience of Mercedes and of course the disobedience of Ofelia who by turns questions and disregards the demands of her mother, Captain Vidal and the faun. Del Toro makes the conflict between disobedience and obedience clearly evident through the rebel fighters and Francisco’s Franco fascist rule. He really emphasizes the use of color within the scenes between Vidal’s army and the resistance. The mood completely changes. As shown here, Vidal and his army are presented by Del Toro in a dim, dark and misty light. Whereas with the resistance he uses vibrant and vivacious colors to represent a positive light within the resistance that could shine through the darkness and depression of the fascist regime.

By the end of the movie, Del Toro’s position on Franco’s leadership becomes apparent; it was a regime that relied on unnecessary violence and fear to keep its citizens in check. Through the use of Spain’s real-life and fantastical villains like the Pale Man, Del Toro shows audiences how Francoist Spain crushed the Spanish nation's innocence, imagination and freedom. Del Toro has described ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ as ‘Esperanto’, which he believes is the universal language that could mend the problems of communication between cultures. As a movie, it provides us with both. Its fantasy-woven tale of rebellion and dictatorship, but on a deeper level it shows us what to do when faced with the coming of evil. Wicked men must never be given an inch; they can be defeated. All it takes is a little bravery.

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Reflections on Del Toro’s Movie ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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