tek's rating: ½

Pan's Labyrinth (R)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 2006, but I didn't see it until 2017. I was always quite eager to see it, since it seemed like something I'd really like, and it received critical acclaim. And it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who's done other things I liked, such as the Hellboy movies. But... I want to say that before I watched it, I thought I'd probably put my review under "fantasy," though "scary" was also a possibility, or maybe "period" (since it's set in 1944). But I ended up filing it under "weird," because... well, honestly, the genre I most wanted to call it was "fantasy," but I feel like I can't do that, because I'm really not sure whether the fantasy elements of the film actually happened, or were only imagined by the main character. (Del Toro might say they were definitely real, and objectively I'll take his word for it, but... I still believe that based purely on what was actually shown in the film, it is impossible to know whether it was real or not. In fact, I'd say if one had to guess, the movie made it seem more like it probably wasn't real.) Anyway, I did enjoy the movie, but not quite as much as I'd hoped I would. I'm sure there's some great allegory at work here, but I still felt like too much of the movie was set in the real world. And while part of me likes the idea of ambiguity, another part of me (possibly the autistic side) really wishes it were clearer whether the fantasy elements were real or not.

Well. It takes place shortly after the Spanish Civil War, which I'm sorry to say I know nothing about. Apparently someone named Franco had won control of Spain, but there were still rebels trying to take it back. And I was a bit confused, because I think the rebels were referred to as "red," which to me means "communist," but either I completely misread the subtitles (the movie is in Spanish, btw; English wasn't even an option in the DVD setup), or the word meant something different, in this context. Because the Francoists were definitely the fascists. Anyway, there's a pregnant woman named Carmen, who comes to a Francoist outpost run by her husband, Captain Vidal. She's accompanied by her 12-year-old daughter from her previous marriage, Ofelia. And soon after arriving, Ofelia is befriended by one of Vidal's servants, a woman named Mercedes. And Mercedes has a brother named Pedro, who is one of the rebels in the hills outside Vidal's outpost. She's secretly helping the rebels, as is a doctor named Ferreiro, whom Vidal has brought in to attend to Carmen.

On the way to her new home, Ofelia saw a stick insect, which she thought was a fairy. (She really loves reading fairy tales.) When the insect shows up in her room one night, she shows it a silhouette of a fairy in one of her books, and it transforms itself to mimic the shape of the fairy. She then follows it into a nearby labyrinth, where she meets a faun (Doug Jones). (He says he's gone by many names, which aren't pronounceable by humans. "Pan" certainly isn't among them, so it's unclear to me why the English version of the film calls him that in the title; the Spanish version is called "El laberinto del fauno." So properly, he should simply be called "the Faun.") He tells Ofelia that she's actually the Princess Moanna (which is certainly not to be confused with the Disney Princess Moana). In fact, I should have said earlier, the movie starts... well, it starts with some text about the war, but then there's some narration of a fairy tale about the princess who had lived underground, but was fascinated by the world of humans. So she went above ground, but the sun blinded her, erased her memory, and then she died. And her soul was supposed to be reborn into someone who might return to the underground kingdom of her father. So, from the first moment we see Ofelia, we're prepared to assume she is the reincarnation of that princess. And the Faun seems to confirm it. Although I must say, he's pretty creepy, and I'm not sure I would have trusted him. Oh, also I should mention he had a couple other fairies who joined the first one (though why they already looked like fairies instead of insects if the first one only took that form because of Ofelia's book, I have no idea).

Anyway, the Faun says Ofelia has three tasks she must complete before the full moon, and gives her a book with blank pages, on which images and text will later appear, to tell her what she must do. Her attempts to complete her tasks are intercut with scenes in the real world, as Vidal and his men try to find and kill the rebels, and the rebels make plans against him, with Mercedes and Ferreiro caught in the middle. And meanwhile, Carmen deals with her pregnancy, which to say the least, is not going well. And of course she's also concerned with Ofelia always running off without telling anyone what she's up to. (Or rather, the few times she does say anything, of course no one believes her.) And Ofelia also worries about her mother, and just wishes they could leave this place. Because Vidal is pretty horrible. (Though at least he's not as horrible to people who are ostensibly on his side as he is to his enemies. But it's clear he cares more about his unborn son than he is about his wife or stepdaughter. And incidentally, there's no reason to suspect he was necessarily right in his belief that the baby would be a boy; he simply seems incapable of believing he'd produce a female offspring.)

Well, I'm leaving a lot out. I suppose I should say Ofelia performed her first task well enough. But on her second... first of all she made a decision that ignored what the fairies were indicating she should do, and I'm a bit confused about that. I feel like it wouldn't make any sense for her choice to be right unless they were trying to mislead her, but in the end, it seems like they weren't. Which to me just lends credence to the idea that all the fantasy stuff was in Ofelia's head. But whatever. There's also a creepy creature called the Pale Man (also Jones), but I don't want to say anything about him. And I'll say that Ofelia makes a second choice that also ignored the Faun, the book, and the fairies. And that, at least, was clearly a bad move. But while she never gets a chance to even learn what the third task will be, she does eventually face it, and she makes the right choice. But of course... the question remains as to whether any of this is real or not. And whether it is real or imagined determines whether or not the movie has a happy ending. (Or rather, whether the movie is partly happy and partly tragic, or just completely tragic.) So, I dunno. I prefer to think it was all real. But that still leaves me with mixed feelings.

Gah, whatever. I'm happy to have finally seen the movie. It was really good. The acting, the effects, the emotions, everything was good. Even all the real world stuff. I mean, it was terrible, but in a good way, storywise. And... you know, it shows how horrible real life can be, how humans can be monstrous, and all that. As if we were in any danger of forgetting. I just feel like... a purely reality-based story can be great, and a purely fantastic story can be great, and a mixture of the two can be great. And if anyone sees greatness in this particular mixture, I'm not inclined to disagree with their assessment. It's an assessment I very much wish I could share. I kind of hate myself a little bit for not sharing it. And I don't want to give the impression that I disliked the movie. Because I liked it a lot. I'm just disappointed that I couldn't manage to love it. So... I'm happy for anyone who did love the movie, because I'm sure it deserves to be loved.


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