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I think it's okay to start my analysis of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth with a spoiler.
Ofelia, the main character, she... dies at the end.
I feel fine doing that because del Toro does the exact same thing with his movie.
The first shot of Pan's Labyrinth is the ending.
And it's also the first way in which del Toro complicates that ending.
But before we get into that: a few things about fairy tales.
For most of us the authoritative source for fairy tales is Walt Disney.
And that's no accident. Disney set out to claim that authority when he made films like:
Snow White, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty,
by adapting folk tales in the public domain and copyrighting the adaptations.
Still, because film was a relatively new medium
capturing the authority he wanted required Disney to remain faithful to the original versions of these stories
popularized by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.
He made the transition from print to cinema as smooth as possible for the audience.
Even going so far as to begin his movies with the opening of a book.
Disney was smart. His films are now regarded as classics.
And yet, by remaining so faithful to the stories' 19th century antecedents,
he inherited - and furthered - their 19th century morality
a conservative, patriarchal, value system,
in which the prince always comes to save the helpless heroine.
A value system that was antiquated even then.
In this way Disney limited the kinds of things a fairy tale can do.
In Pan's Labyrinth Guillermo del Toro attempts to explode these limitations
and he does so by re-contextualizing these stories.
Instead of pulling from a single authoritative source
del Toro pulls from a huge number of sources, giving none precedence over the others,
and letting them all play against one another to create meaning.
The film tells the story of the little girl, Ofelia, and her mother, Carmen,
as they go to live with the hyper-fascist Captain Vidal five years after the Spanish Civil War.
Vidal is trying to snuff out the last remnants 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 she is the lost princess of an underground realm.
From here the story spins out into two parallel narratives,
the magical quest and the political drama.
Crucially, neither of these narratives becomes reduce-able to the other.
del Toro makes a point of this by entwining them in ways that makes any totalzing explanation problematic.
At the end of the film, for example, we get what seems to be the nail in the coffin for the magical quest
Vidal approaches Ophelia speaking with the faun, and when the camera cuts to his point of view:
The faun is not there.
This appears to be solid evidence for those that read Ofelia's quest as a coping mechanism for her sad life.
But if we back up we can see how del Toro complicates that reading by remembering that Vidal
has just been drugged with a heavy dose of sleeping medication.
In other stories drug-induced hallucinations are used to explain away why people see the supernatural.
But in Pan's Labyrinth it's the opposite.
del Toro uses the device to destabilize our trust in Captain Vidal's point of view.
Here - and elsewhere - the film refuses to obey our desire
for an all-encompassing explanation.
Of course disobedience is a major theme in this film.
Whereas in many fairy tales disobedience is the act that sets the story in motion
here disobedience is framed as a vital and important quality.
There's the disobedience of the rebels who seek to free Spain from the grip of fascism,
The disobedience of Mercedes who works with the rebels,
and - of course - the disobedience of Ofelia.
Who, by turns, questions and disregards the commands of her mother, the Captain, and the faun.
But the most effective and - I think - impressive disobedience here is that displayed within the very text of the movie.
And this is where del Toro's intense referencing comes into play.
The name of the game here is multiplicity.
Undermining a single authoritarian master narrative, like those championed by Vidal and fascism in general
by setting up a network of intertexts that make meaning a matter of choice.
Think of all of the linking references in the pale man scene, for example,
you have the ogre himself, nodding to other child-eating ogres in other mythologies, like Krampus,
it also refers to the Greek Titan Kronos who devoured his god children in order to -
like fascist Spain - keep the young from replacing them and coming into their own.
Also it should be noted that Cronos is the title of del Toro's first film. One of many things that links his body of work together.
The table itself links back to the banquet scene earlier in the film,
putting the pale man in the same position as Vidal,
who'll go on to kill a child.
The pile of shoes link forward and will go on to re-contextualize Ofelia's red shoes,
itself a link to the Wizard of Oz,
and the 1948 film by Powell and Pressburger.
Re-contextualized as images reminiscent of the piles of clothes from Nazi concentration camps.
And the scene itself functions as a metaphor for how
beauty, like, say, the beauty of old fairy tales, can enchant us into certain lines and ways of thinking
that may not be in our interest.
Here you have constructed a vast network of citation that reaches elsewhere in the film and, outside of it.
The lines of that network are for the viewers to follow as they see fit.
del Toro laces these references together with camera work and editing to achieve a narrative momentum
that's undeniable when you watch his movies.
It was the purpose of Vidal, like it is the purpose of all authoritarian regimes, or patriarchal, moralistic, fairy tales
to limit the number and kind of stories that can be told from a set of facts or events.
Indeed limit it to one story.
The only thing for it is to disobey.
In old fairy tales the stories were closed out and contained by two words:
The End.
del Toro's genius is to use - perhaps - this most formulaic genre of all
and disobey our expectations of how it should unfold and how it should end.
The rebels capture and kill Vidal, but Spain will continue
under authoritarian dictatorship for thirty years.
Ofelia is murdered,
but completes her quest
and returns to the underground realm.
You can read that as a poetic ending to a sad story,
a happy ending to a fairy tale
or Ophelia's final choice of the story she wants to tell for and about herself.
Of course, she doesn't have to choose at all.
No single story could contain her.
For even when she returned to the world of magic, it is said, she left small traces
of her time on Earth.
Visible to those who know where, and how, to look.
Hey everybody, thanks for watching!
Pan's Labyrinth has been one of my favorite movies since I saw it in theatres, so this was just a blast to make.
If this is the type of content that you don't think you're seeing anywhere else on YouTube or the internet
you can support this channel by pledging to my Patreon page right here, everything helps you guys have been amazing!
with that and that really is what makes this channel possible and keeps it going.
I'm going to Paris for the next couple weeks. I might miss a week, I'm talking to you from the past right now.
But if I don't see you next Wednesday I'll see you the Wednesday after that.
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Pan's Labyrinth: Disobedient Fairy Tale

560 Folder Collection
irene Hu published on November 15, 2018    irene Hu translated    Evangeline reviewed
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