Pan's Labyrinth - One Take
The advantage of living in New York is that when a new bright n' shiny film comes out that happens to get a 99% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you're in the right city to go out and see it. Husband of mine suggested we watch this lauded beauty and I, having duly read enough reviews to know what I was getting into, agreed. Off we set to the Loew's at Union Square and the theater was packed to brimming. Now the movie was gorgeous, through and through. I loved it, brutal, violent, and downright bloody as it was. My husband, on the other hand, disliked it intensely. Just as I like to avoid reading book reviews until after I've read a novel, he likes to avoid reading movie reviews until after he's seen a film. He went in expecting what he saw in the movie's trailer (which is to say, a delightful fairy story). What he got was torture, pain, and people getting their faces removed by the ends of broken bottles.
The film, in case you haven't heard of it, is the tale of a girl by the name of Ofelia. Her mother has just married an officer in Spain and, badda boom, we are right smack dab in the center of 1944 fascism. As Ofelia starts spiraling into a dreamworld entirely of her own, the landscape around her grows more dangerous and unpredictable with every day. Reality and fantasy intertwine until Ofelia distinguish the "real" from what is in her mind.
Obviously, I was drawn to the kidlit references sprinkled merrily about this film. Ofelia meets a faun in the center of an old labyrinth hidden behind her stepfather's home. Unfortunately for me I couldn't help but shake a line from The New Yorker review of the film that mentioned that, "He bears about as much resemblance to Mr. Tumnus, his fellow-hybrid from the pages of C.S. Lewis, as the late Jack Palance bore to Woody Allen." Then the references start coming hard. An insect that becomes a fairy? Felt like Spiderwick to me (though Spiderwick does it better). A man who carries around a clock, fixed meticulously after it marked the hour of his father's death? Fear of time = Peter Pan. There's Ofelia's party dress that looks like a green version of Alice and ends with a trip down a hole (for a toad rather than a rabbit). And tropes like drawing a door in chalk and walking through it, never eating delicious food from a bountiful spread, or selecting which of the three offered doors hides the prize. And then there are the classic fairy tale creatures, like the faun and the mandrake root (oh, that poor little mandrake), that are realized so beautifully on the film. The CGI is often perfect. I could watch that faun forever.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, I'd seen Hellboy before, so the violence was expected. From reviews I knew that there would be a torture scene shortly before a rainfall, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the director would cut away so that you never actually witness anything but psychological torture most of the time. I mean, a guy might sew his own cheek up, but at least he's doing that to himself. There is gore, no question, and a person would do well to walk into this film knowing that. My husband felt that the book glorified the very violence it was aiming to condemn, and you could make a case for that. Is this yet another example of our gradual numbing towards films of violence? A lot of reviews allude to the blood, but few think it excessive.
There was also some interesting Catholic imagery throughout the movie, particularly in one of the final scenes. Was that a good idea or a bad one? Husband and I also had a brief debate over whether or not you could see this as a coming of age film, but it doesn't really apply. Plus I couldn't really discuss that aspect with you without giving away the ending as well.
Monica Edinger had her own look at the film in her piece Lyra, Ofelia, and Alice that, fortunately for me, I read before seeing the movie. Cinematical had some input as well. I'd love to hear what the kidlit community thinks of this puppy, but I may just have to wait until it gets a national release before that happens.