Sunday, January 21, 2007

Courage of Convictions (contains Pan's Labyrinth spoilers)

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I didn't mean to be away from the blog so long, but I hurt my back playing soccer and found it uncomfortable to sit at the computer for a few days. But I'm back, and the big cinematical event of the weekend was seeing Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth as it expanded to my town.

You SHOULD NOT be reading this if you haven't already seen the movie. (Go see it)Pan's Labyrinth is, it seems to me, a movie about the difference between obedience for the sake obedience and free will. Also, the moment when the games and fantasies of childhood are cast away and one's life has real world consequences. Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), the fascist obsessed with a "clean" Spain, demands unquestioning obedience from everyone at the rural military outpost he commands. Vidal's arrogance extends to believing he can order a doctor (Alex Angulo) to make sure his new wife (Ariadna Gil) delivers him a son.

At the same time, 12-year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) encounters a faun (the remarkable Doug Jones) who tells her she may be the lost princess of a magical world. Ofelia, who we learn early on is obsessed with fairy tales, is set certain tasks the meanings of which aren't immediately clear. Del Toro pulls off something great here, which I didn't appreciate until further reflection. The "magical" and realistic strands of the story don't connect until quite late in the film, but even though the audience is in the dark the film is still riveting.

In the climactic scenes, rebels attack Vidal's outpost as Ofelia flees with her infant brother into the labyrinth at the faun's instruction. With Vidal in pursuit, Ofelia must choose between obeying the elaborate rules that have been set up for her and making a practical, real-world choice that affects the life of another person. (I'm going to try to do this without giving away the ending, if you've seen the film you know what I'm talking about)She chooses correctly, and the moment marks an irrepreable rite of passage to adulthood.

But Ofelia's choice has consequences; don't they all? Del Toro pulls a switch with the ending, suggesting that the fantastical world of the faun may outlive death. I went back and forth on this ending in my review (which I'll post next week), and almost downgraded the film because of it. I think the choice is defensible, but if Del Toro had followed the logic of his world to its conclusion the ending would have been much darker.

Let me be clear: despite this objection, Pan's Labyrinth offers one of the greatest pleasures any work of art can give. Del Toro puts us in a place we've never been before and leaves us there to fend for ourselves.

1 comment:

detroitdog said...

Pan's Labyrinth is about the reign of Francisco Franco and fascism for decades in Spain. (you note obedience, etc.)