Humans are the Real Evil in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro is the master of dark fantasy and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is no exception. If you are like me and did not realize that Pan’s Labyrinth was a different movie than Labyrinth, I’m here to tell you they are two separate movies, so you’re welcome for the clarification. I have still not seen the latter, but this was my first time viewing Pan’s and I was incredibly impressed, but I should have expected that given that I am a huge fan of del Toro’s other films. 

This movie is del Toro’s critique of the Spanish Civil war and the fascism that reigned before World War II even began. It combines the story of a young girl, Ofelia, the reincarnation of an underworld princess, as she is swept up in the fantasy world of an abandoned labyrinth while trapped at the home of her new stepfather, a fascist war leader. Del Toro has stated that the fantasy world that exists in the film is real, and I would like to think it is as well. Ofelia is given tasks to complete by a mystical faun (Doug Jones) who tells her about her origins as the princess Moanna. 

As she is visited by the faun and completes her tasks, she encounters monsters such as a large toad who is destroying the forest’s trees and the Pale Man (also Doug Jones), a monster who eats children. Despite all of the magical elements surrounding her, the real evil lies in her stepfather Capitan Vidal, who her mother marries to financially support her family following her husband’s death. Vidal is the leader of the fascist regime who is trying to defeat the rebels who live in the forest. The rebels are working to overthrow the fascists in the process of all of this. 

Vidal’s actions towards the rebels include senseless torture and murder, actions so heinous they don’t seem real, yet we know that fascists have existed that have done the same. Vidal also treats Ofelia’s mother Carmen in violent patriarchal manners with no regard for her life. Carmen is pregnant with their son who will carry on the family’s name, so while she experiences incredible difficulties in her third trimester, Vidal insists that if the complications continue, to save the son instead of her. Ofelia is aware of who he is and what he is capable of and must endure the torture of her family. Her mother does die in childbirth and Ofelia is left to her own to save herself and her baby brother.

In the end, Ofelia poisons Vidal, capturing her brother to bring him into the labyrinth at the request of the faun. When she arrives, the faun demands that she give up her brother as a sacrifice and she refuses, doing all that she can to protect her only remaining family. Vidal finds her, takes the baby, and shoots her. She is left to die in the labyrinth, but she is saved in the afterlife when her blood is returned to the portal. 

The plot is complicated, that’s for sure, but what is not complicated are the morals that del Toro captures within his fantasy land. This world, though it is intended to be a fairytale, is not too different from the horrors of any land at war or under violent leadership. The gore and brutality in the film is not subtle and goes to show exactly what is happening in these times. The humans who are enacting the rule in this war are human beings who willingly chose to terrorize families who were just trying to live their lives. The evil within them was not born in them but instilled for their own self-gain. This evil is much worse than the mythical demons who live beneath the surface of this world. 

The women of Pan’s sacrifice themselves and do what needs to be done to save their loved ones. Within this patriarchal time, it’s the only thing that they can do in order to escape fascism. Carmen wants to provide a better life for her family and Ofelia wants to carry on as the matriarch, with the intent of continuing in rebellion of all that she experienced. Vidal is the form of pure evil with no will to change and is willing to kill a child before he gives up his power. He is not saved after his actions, being killed by the rebellion, but Ofelia is able to live for eternity with her birth family in the underworld. Fascism is more horrifying than any fairytale could ever be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *