Pan’s Labyrinth (del Toro, 2006)

It’s hard to think of another film from 2006 that’s gained more immediate attention and devout love than Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillerrmo del Toro’s fantastical creation is indeed inventive, shocking, and beautiful throughout, specifically for it’s haunting score and fascinating creatures. But it’s faults are numerous and vastly more fascinating than the film’s layered special effects or graphic violence/fairy-tale dichotomy which most critics have focused. Looking past the epic and brutal surface of Pan’s Labyrinth, one can find a sporadic, deeply flawed character study aching to attain some sort of narrative clarity. Now, fantasy films do grant a certain amount of leeway in terms of non-linear storytelling, meandering plot, and whimsical characters. Del Toro uses all these genre traits to a great extent, but the story suffers underneath. The point of view of the film never fully becomes clear. Is this Ofelia’s story, the young girl who enters the Labyrinth to escape the war-torn world around her? Or is this Mercedes’ story, the maid to Ofelia’s sadistic step-father Captain Vidal, both characters whose presence clutters the story? It seems del Toro can’t decide, so his screenplay and direction include them all, the result a decidedly mixed bag. It’s too bad, because Ofelia’s love for her mother, her newoborn brother, and the creatures she meets, is film’s most original aspect. But her fantastical journey’s into the Labyrinth are few and far between, instead forced to parellel Vidal’s continuous brutality and Mercedes’ quest to help the Spanish resistance. Even worse, certain characters are so one-note (Vidal’s sadism becomes incredibly monotonous), it makes Ofelia’s absence that much more apparent. We yearn for Ofelia’s imagination, her whimsical nature, her incredible ability to observe. If Pan’s Labyrinth consumed itself in Ofelia’s POV, outlining the other characters in terms of her quest, del Toro’s vision could have consumed itself in a complex fantasy worthy of it’s young heroine’s passion and sacrifice.

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