It’s a faerie tale, straight up. All the elements are there: journeys, a princess, a magical helper, questing, stories, truth, lies, death, blood, sexual taboos, babies, fathers and sons, monsters… the list could go on, and I could write about 500 pages of analysis.
But the one thing that I love is that it does not EVER shy away from the horrible aspects of faerie tales. This is the Cinderella where the sisters cut off their heels or toes to fit into the glass slipper. This is the Sleeping Beauty where the Prince rapes the Princess while she’s still asleep.
This is a faerie tale that completely embodies Rilke’s concept of Terrible Beauty. You are drawn in to the fantasy world of civil war Spain, to a castle in the middle of a forest where a terrible Captain rules. The hero is his new step daughter, and she can see what no one else can: magic. She is a child, and as such still believes in it. Her name is Ofelia and she comes to believe she is the long lost faerie daughter of the King of the Dead. In order to claim her throne again, she must complete three awful tasks that will take her though the challenges of fear, temptation, and sacrifice.
Helping her are a faun, the last servant of the King of the Dead, and Mercedes, a woman who serves the terrible Captain and has lost her faith in magic.
In the end, the faerie tale and the “real” tale are woven so tightly together that it’s hard to decide what you’re supposed to think. (I argued with a couple of the people I first saw the movie with quite vehemently about our differing interpretations.)
In some ways, Pan’s Labyrinth is like an urban fantasy, in that it juxtaposes industrial, modern life with the dark mysteries of magic and the forest. It puts Order and Chaos against each other.
And of course, as with so many faerie tales, what it all comes down to is the hero and the choices she has to make.
Every inch of the film is splattered with mythic references and faerie tale symbols. You can’t get away from the colors red and green, there are secrets and hidden pathways everywhere (even in the walls of the Captain’s castle). The smallest gestures, like a handshake, have mythic meaning. And yet you can also watch it without HAVING to understand the tiny details – I’ve watched it several times and always find more depth, more parallels with faerie tales. THAT would be an awesome story to write.
Instead of an in depth analysis of the whole movie, I guess this is just me saying – WATCH THIS MOVIE if you want to learn about telling and re-imagining faerie tales. You won’t be sorry.
(ps. It isn’t for the littlest eyes, though. There are some brief moments of intense violence. And a pixie gets its head eaten off, complete with dripping, goopy pixie blood.)