Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: An Apology

Pan's Labyrinth is a great movie. If you haven't seen it, don't read any further as this post contains SPOILERS.

Right. So Brian wrote a little post on movies he saw and mentioned how he loved Pan's Labyrinth. I agree with him, but (like him) have also noticed that many people were disturbed by the movie, or just didn't like it. I am here to propose a defense of the movie, to the best of my abilities.

First of all, I'm not going to talk about the acting, cinematography, directing, and all that normal stuff. It was all really really great and everyone seems to agree on that point.

The first thing I'm going to talk about is maybe the most important character in the movie: The Faun.

I'm not going to go into the mythology of fauns or Pan, but you must have an understanding of that mythology to understand this character. When Ofelia first meets the faun, she asks him who he is. His response is important:

"Me? I've had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am... I am a faun."

The faun represents nature. Not good or evil. The faun is used to present tasks to Ofelia, not to be a friend or redemptive figure. It is important to remember that the faun must remain ambiguous. If he were purely good, it would be too easy for Ofelia to trust him. Her actions would have no meaning and she wouldn't have to think for herself. The same is true if he were purely evil. The same would be true in this world, if things were unquestionably good or evil. Our actions would have no meaning. Make sense? And the faun is freaking awesome.

The first scene I want to point out is Ofelia's second task with the Pale Man.

This scene is important because it's the first time Ofelia disobeys the faun's instructions. The important thing to note, is that she disobeys twice: first, when choosing the door and then when eating the grapes. When she chooses the door, she ends up being right. When she eats the fruit, she brings about death. So, even though she disobeys both times, her disobedience doesn't bring the same outcome. It is important for Ofelia to learn to trust herself, regardless of the results. And the Pale Man is freaking awesome. (This info can be found in the director's commentary, which I highly recommend)

An interesting emphasis on that theme can be found in the doctor's last words:

"But captain, to obey - just like that - for obedience's sake... without questioning... That's something only people like you do."

The next thing that is often discussed is whether or not this world of Ofelia's is real or just imaginary.

I always want to believe it is real, in every fantasy story I read (e.g. Narnia) and I was happy to hear that the director agreed with me. Some people argue that every scene where the fantasy world interacts with reality can be explained through reality. For instance, the mandrake root that she uses can be seen in the kitchen. Or the fairy really is just an insect. However, there is no explanation for how she got into the captain's quarters in order to steal the baby. Not only that, but the captain finds and crushes the chalk. So, that scene is a pretty strong argument for the reality of the fantasy world.

Along with that (and this will be my last point since this is getting so long), this fantasy world obviously helps Ofelia cope with the reality around her. The same thing happens to the audience; as we watch more and more graphic violence surrounding the true evil in this movie (Captain Vidal), we beg for more scenes from the fantasy world. Many people argue that religion is just our way of coping with and explaining our reality. This fairy tale was Ofelia's religion.

In the end of the movie, she reaches her heaven. She trusts herself to know what is right- even though it risks losing everything she has dreamed and believed in. Many religious people do things for the sake of their religion, without questioning whether or not it is a good thing. I think that's the point of this movie (or at least an interesting topic that arises as a result). Ofelia is willing to die, because she knows it's the right thing to do. In the end, she finds that this is what was necessary; not blind obedience.

I could say a lot more about this movie, but I'm running out time and this post is long enough. Perhaps more will come out of the comments. I didn't have time to even touch on the non-fantasy aspects of the movie. Anyways, please leave a comment if you agree/disagree with anything, or if you have any thing else you want to talk about from the movie. I'm interested to hear more.


Reel Fanatic said...

I too thought for a long time about whether Ofelia's fantasy world was indeed real, and I have to believe it is also ... To me, it unfolded like a hero's quest, an elaborate world she created to accomplish what she knew she couldn't do all alone in those harsh surroundings ... And this was easily the best movie of 2006, and many other to boot

Arthur said...

Reel fanatic- Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

For anyone who's interested, you can read Reel Fanatic's brief review here.

jonathan said...

Art-You have some great points here. I had never thought about that being the main point of the movie: blind obedience (without thinking or arguing as to why) or doing what *you* know/believe is the right thing. Viewing it in that light, I think it makes more sense to me. And it also makes her ultimate choice that much more meaningful. Hmmm...

Brian said...

I, too, was looking forward to this film more than any I had looked forward to in a long time, as Reel Fanatic says in his review. And I, too, wasn't disappointed.

Sounds like I need to watch the special features on the DVD. Guess I'll have to buy the movie for that to happen (rent it? what does that mean?)

Her world has to be true in order for her to get into the captain's quarters, you're right. I also like what you said about the fawn representing nature, neither good nor evil, and that if he was too easy to trust or too obviously evil there would be no choice involved for the protagonist.

Chris said...

Here's my problem with your view on the faun: He is not inanimate.

Nature is just stuff. There is no mother nature, or anything of the sort.

Also, there is no such thing as a neutral being in the universe. You are either with God or you are against him.

Now, if this faun were pretending to be "neutral", that is, not with or against God, then he is really just against God.

My gut tells me that the faun is evil. My gut tells me that God would not have chosen this fate for that girl, even if she did go to heaven at the end, it didn't have much to do with her choices about what the faun told her to do really.

Now, I can however say that I can not clearly remember the end of the movie. I seem to recall the faun asking her to kill the baby. If so, I think that the faun really did want her to kill the baby. I think the faun's goal the whole time was her's and her mother's and brother's deaths. I think the faun's goal was to cause her pain and anguish. To me, the faun was Satan.

I think God shone down on her and was with her through it all, but I don't think that God wanted any of it to happen. I don't think God's goal is ever our un-necessary death. I think that the girl easily could have lived and been ok. I think if God were choosing, she would have. I think that God took the evil twisted tormentations of the devil, and bent them to his will at the last second by bringing her into his kingdom.

I guess that's just what my gut tells me.

I don't really know though, I guess I need to watch the movie again... Because the more I think about it, the less I realize I actually remember...

mike said...

I thought it was a parable of redemption through suffering. Not just Ofelia, but nearly all of the major characters.

Ofelia was an innocent who sacrificed herself so that her brother could live and found redemption herself.

I could watch Pan's Labyrinth time after time and not get tired of it.

Joshua said...

Chris, I agree with most of what you’re saying. I’ve heard Fr. Thomas Hopko say on several occasion how men and angels are always moving towards God or away from Him – we are always either loving Him, or hating Him – and that there is no such thing as being neutral in relation to God. In fact, many of the psalms, hymns and canticles speak of how all creation (including the inanimate) praises God.

That’s my problem with “the Faun”. If it weren’t for the last little scene in the film where “the Faun” is shown to be a servant of the King, I’d be convinced that “the Faun” was evil – a deceiver… And if it weren’t for the director coming right out and saying that Ofilia’s fantasy world was in deed real, I would have assumed that the last scene was just Ofilia’s imagination showing her what she wanted to see in the last seconds of her life. So my feeling about “the Faun” are mixed.

What I liked about the movie (besides the cinematography, costumes, music, etc.) was that it held the archetypal elements of good verses evil (even if the archetypes don’t neatly translate into direct Christian allegory), ie., redemption through suffering, like Mike said.

Arthur said...

I agree with both Chris and Rab that there is no such thing as "neutral" as far as your actions toward God. I suppose in this sense, since I believe the faun represents all of nature, I therefore believe he is inherently a servant to the King (God) and "good."

I don't think that just because the faun is not inanimate means he doesn't represent nature. He is an allegory for all of nature; and not necessarily nature in the sense of "mother nature," but nature in a sense of your own paradigm, or how you view the world. For instance, my nature is being a white male in Indianapolis with a Christian upbringing, etc. The faun is an allegory for all of that. He presents tasks to Ofelia, just as we are presented with tasks and problems from our world that we have no control over. We only have control of how we will respond.

The tasks he presents to Ofelia are not evil or good. What's important is how she responds to them. Just like you can't say Hurricane Katrina is evil. However, the choices that were made by the people affected by Katrina were "good" or "evil."

That's probably the best I can do to describe my take on the faun. I'll try to explain further if necessary, but I honestly can't view the faun outside of this allegory and don't see him as a "creature" at all. Despite the fact that he is a creature.

Chris- just to clarify: in the end the faun asked for the baby, because the blood of an innocent was needed to open the labyrinth (or something similar). He never specifically asked Ofelia to kill the baby; just to hand him over. Or at least, that's my memory of it.

You said, "I don't think God's goal is ever our un-necessary death." I would disagree with that. I think all death is necessary. I do agree that Ofelia "easily could have lived and been okay." The fact that she chose to die for the sake of goodness is what makes it so powerful.

I agree that God would not have chosen this fate for the girl. In fact, I would argue that His intention (and now I'm speaking of God as in the King) was for her to remain in the kingdom forever. When she "escaped," she disobeyed the laws that were set for her and "forgot who she was." The only way for her to return is to learn to deny the world (faun) as she knows it and learn to die to her desires.

By the way, I think you just invented the word "tormentations." I think that's genius, because I knew exactly what it meant.

Also, the Lit major in me can't let the fact that she is named Ofelia go unmentioned. If you don't know, Ophelia is Hamlet's love interest who kills herself by drowning. Characters named Ophelia are usually referenced in literature and elsewhere as being connected to suicide, love, and sometimes mental illness. A case could be made for all three with this Ofelia.

Chris said...

Man... I just don't know.

I understand what you mean about him being nature now, but I still... I just don't know.

I need to watch it again.

Maybe part of my problem was that from the second I saw the faun I felt that he was evil and not to be trusted, and then everything afterwards stood to confirm that feeling culminating in the moment where he asked for her brother.

I just don't feel this movie is founded in a Christian mindset, and is therefor susceptible to fallacies.

It just didn't vibrate on a true wavelength to me. It was like I heard a chord before I was born, and every note I hear thereafter is measured against that chord. Some notes are a part of that chord, or harmonize with it. Others are either slightly off-key, or mere mockeries (perhaps the same chord played on a different clashing scale), and some are just in complete denial of that chord all together. I just felt like this movie was a note that, though beautiful alone, was not founded on that true chord, and when measured against it, clashes. I know this is not even an argument, and might not even make sense, but that's the only way I can think of to explain it.

But like I said, I need to watch it again so I can see things I missed the first time (I went to the bathroom a couple of times, and a few times didn't read quickly enough because I was too busy looking at the pretty pictures) and pay closer attention.

Oh, and as much as it would please me to have invented a word as cool as "tormentations", there are 534 results for it when you search on google. :( Too bad, because that would have been sweet...

Oh, and on a different note, I don't agree that God wants us to die. If He did, then why would He deny death to three extremely important people in the Bible? Why raise Lazarus from the dead, only to have him die again later (or all of those other people that rose from their graves when Jesus died on the cross, that I am assumptively assuming died again)? And why would He have a second coming? Why not just smash the earth into the sun or something?

Like I said before though, the more I think about the movie, the more I know I need to watch it again, so I'll just stop until I do. Then maybe I'll put an "unapology" for it on my blog, or else an "art was right" post.

Luke Beecham said...

Ummm...yeah, so I was going to say something about the sacrifice of oneself to save another, and about the Faun not being evil and all of that. But that's already been said so well, that I will simply say that I agree with Art on this. Very well put.

Of that though, I will say these things...

Chris, I have to disagree with your ascertation that "nature is just stuff." I think I get what you're driving at, but i wouldn't go as far as to say that Nature is just stuff. I think there is far more there than that, and I would venture a guess that God originally intended there to be much more of a relationship between man and his environment (i.e. The Garden/Nature) than man domineering and destroying it. Probably something more akin to the Native American view of Nature.

Also, when reading through this, (and I write this at the risk of being redundant) I think Art hit on a very important point - that we must be careful in our own "reasoning" of what is or is not an "un-necessary death." I don't think her death was unnecessary at all. In fact, it was very necessary for her brother to live, probably even moreso given that there is much more to what we physically see when someone dies. I think J.K. Rowling defines it well in the Harry Potter series about why Harry was able to withstand Voldemort's attack on him as a baby - simply because his mother gave her own life to save his. I thought the director's use of Ofelia's death mixed with the death of the Colonel and the fact that her brother now has the potential to become something other than the legacy presented by his father and grandfather was brilliant. There is much there to unpack.

I understand your point about death and God not desiring that. I don't think that's what Art is getting at. I think, as with many things, it's not an either/or but a both/and type of thing. Death is unnatural and a result of the Fall of man. When someone dies we can feel the grief and sorrow and the very "wrong" about it. But it is, in a mystery, also a great gift. Christ himself had to die in order that man might live. I think there is something in death that we cannot fully comprehend. If it was uncalled for then why didn't Christ just blast the hell out of the Devil and be done with it? Man is saved and all is well. Instead, He Himself becomes man and dies like any mortal would. He even begs God the Father to "let this cup pass from Him" but then resigns to "as You, not I would have it." So there was something in Him actually succumbing to death that had to happen in order to put things right - that shows that truly He is God of all things, even over Death itself, and thus conquered death by death.

Art's interpretation of the allegory rang very true with me. The faun struck me more as a guide than either a specifically evil or good entity - although I also believe he was good. I can easily see how he would appear evil, but I think that is based upon his words and actions at face value. Any "guide" (replace with "spiritual father/priest) worth his salt will never give explicit instructions that take away our own reasoning. Obedience is key, but if to obey means to listen to, then really Ofelia was being asked to listen, both to what was said and what was unsaid, and also to what her own heart told her. A good guide will occasionally get angry or push us, much like a parent, but it is usually precisely that good anger or fear that causes something to turn in us that gives enough light for the next step. I think this is why Christ spoke in parables instead of just blurting out - here, go and do this, this, and this and you'll get this. God wants us to choose Him and to follow the "rules" that He sets because we ourselves understand that they do in fact lead to life, love, and true happiness - and to the Kingdom we fled when we were young and naive. Taking responsibility for my own actions is so much more difficult and annoying than just saying, "I was being obedient." "Just tell me what to do!" doesn't cut it.

If I remember correctly, at the end when she refuses to give her brother to the Faun, he simply says, "Ok, as you wish..." or something to that effect. I believe he even grins - which I took to be a knowing grin, thankful for her choice. She was neither handed the key to the Kingdom nor told to enter it.

What she did was done out of free will, and she did it regardless of the consequence of her actions. It was that fact that stood out to me most of all, and will be the last thing I note in this already ridiculously long comment.

I consider myself cowardly and too strategic, always trying to see what will happen if I make this choice, or this choice, and plan out my life accordingly, afraid to take certain risks because I don't know if I'll like how they turn out. The older I get the more I think this is backwards. Sometimes you have to take risks and make decisions based upon what you believe to be right. You may be dead wrong, but you'll find that out in the end. And ultimately, you will have done whatever it is that you decided to with innocence and courage and faith - and mostly because you believed in it. I don't understand yet why this is so important, but I believe that it is. And I have an inkling that in this there is a clue as to why free will is so important and ultimately what makes the Most High God so different and Paradise actually attainable.

Scruff said...

Just saw the movie last night and thought it was good. However after reading these comments and thinking about it more, I start to like it even more. In regards to the faun, i think Mercedes said something about how she never trusted the faun or something to that extent when Ofelia asked her if she liked fairy tales. I don't know if that had any meaning in the movie or not, but thought i'd throw it out since it sounds like people are on the fence in regards of what to think of the faun.

Also, the scene will the pale guy might be one of the most intense scenes i've seen in a movie in a while. I guess you could say the pale guy has good hand/eye crowd.

Lastly, and most importantly, I doubt anyone will even read this because this post was written like a year ago.