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Labyrinth weaves complex tale of fantasy, reality

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Few films are able to meld the everyday world with a fantastical, mythical dream world better than “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This film tells its story through the eyes of a little girl who finds herself undergoing Herculean tasks at the bidding of a seven-foot faun while dealing with the after effects of the Spanish Civil War.

The grittiness of the war is clear in the violence, the fantasy of her hidden kingdom is clear in her awe and the way these two worlds mirror each other is undeniably clear in the brilliant parallels director and screenwriter Guillermo del Toro weaves into this film.

Few films this year will be as lush and beautiful as “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This, in relation to the story it tells, is the strongest aspect of the film. The lighting is beautifully done, especially during scenes shot at night. The proper amount of eeriness and fantasy is inserted into the film, which brings the war-torn real world together with the fantastic underground kingdom, a place described in the prologue as a world without pain or sadness.

The central driving force of the narrative revolves around a young girl named Ofelia who travels with her mother to live with her mother’s new husband, Captain Vidal. Vidal is a captain in the Nationalist army that has just overtaken control of Spain. He’s been assigned to a rural outpost to quell any opposition posed by Republican forces hiding in the forests.

The actor behind the vicious and ruthless Captain Vidal is Sergi López, who puts in the best performance of the film. He is exacting and unbending in his quest to destroy the small Republican force and raise his son under his militaristic guidance.

Vidal’s bloodthirstiness is matched by one other character in the film – the Pale Man, a fearsome antagonist young Ofelia faces in the second task she is given at the labyrinth near her house. Only the imagination of a first-rate filmmaker could have thought up the nightmare that is the Pale Man, whose eyeballs are embedded in his hands. The only way to truly experience the character is to see his inspired design on the big screen.

The makeup in “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which was recently nominated for an Academy Award – is incredible. The fantasy elements are impeccable because they are not life-like. This may seem an odd assessment, but the makeup helps sell these creatures in exactly the way a young child might imagine them. The fantastic characters here do not attempt to be real in the way those in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” do.

The faun and the denizens of Ofelia’s fantasy world exist in her world, not in ours. This makeup also extends to some of the most gruesome bloodshed in a film to date. There is not much blood, but the mutilation some characters endure can be unnerving even for the strong of mind and stomach.

However, this mutilation has a purpose, unlike that found in the rash of torture/horror films that have been released recently. The real world is full of tenderness but also war, bloodshed and pain and the fantasy world of “Pan’s Labyrinth” reflects this. The two worlds are separate yet identical.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” can best be characterized as very sad and heart-rending, yet life-affirming and hopeful. It is not only a beautiful film to look at but also a beautiful story that transcends language. Del Toro’s vision shows how those who are young at heart can dream to rise above the mundane and cruel aspects of an everyday world.