Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth

“It is only a word, only a word,” says the mother in Pan’s Labyrinth urging her daughter to call her new stepfather “father.”

But of course, nothing is merely a word. Not the word “father” And especially not when Vidal, the stepfather in question, can be patriarchal but is never fatherly. Words have to fit.

Although many things are, admittedly, beyond words… sumptuously Gothic fairytales, say--or intensely re-created histories of fascism. Pan’s Labyrinth manages juggles both brilliantly, and frighteningly. With unforgettable visuals. With inimitable words. With terrifying simplicity. And unreality. Who’s to say that a fascist tyrant pulping a peasant’s face with a heavy glass bottle is less fantastic--or, indeed, more gruesome--than a mantis that changes into an (ugly) fairy?

There is nothing simple in Pan’s Labyrinth. Even the beautifully pure and vulnerable face of its protagonist, Ofelia, verges on pubescence; is clued to a forthcoming awareness of imminently sexual fauns; is limned with a presciently adolescent disobedience and distrust of authority. And everything is serious. In fact--and this is extraordinarily atypical of an experience I count enjoyable--there wasn’t *one* humorous moment in it. Which is perhaps why despite the duality of the resolution, I reacted, with horror and dissatisfaction, purely to the ending that seemed more authentic to reality, and discounted the other.

Pan’s Labyrinth interweaves images and texts from a variety of childhood images and texts--The legend of the cunning Pan and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and C.S. Lewis; Ofelia’s strangely Alice in Wonderland-ish headband, pinafore and frock, and her Princess and the Goblin ensembles of nightgown and robe. The cumulativeness of this collective familiarity has the effect of nostalgically speaking to our personal childhoods. And so the loss of the child, prophetically named Ofelia (Ophelia), hurts. It recalls our loss of individual childhood, of security we once enjoyed within the fabric of family and certainty, of our inadequacy in the face of inexorable events controlled by mammoth historical fates. Or inscrutable fauns.



Ganesh said...

i really loved this movie -- especially the end. my friends found the ending sad, but i found it both inevitable and also uplifting.

the quests the faun provides her are intended to prove that she's faerie (and not human) yet, in the end, the best way to prove that, in striking contrast to the human misery around her, is by doing something so beautifully human, for which she is rewarded. i really loved that -- in addition to the obviously beautiful cinematography and skillful acting.

what was interesting to me was the word _pan_, since in the spanish only the word _faun_ is used. it made me wonder if the inclusion of the word _pan_ was simply an american marketing device, that perhaps _pan's labyrinth_ just sounds better and is more evocative than _faun's labyrinth_.

Bengali Chick said...

Wow. I'm going to have to see this. Where did you see it?

maya said...


I totally agree with you! Translating "Faun" as "Pan" is actually quite misleading!!

Perhaps it is a marketing ploy or, as
Big A suggests, because English-speaking audiences aren't familiar with the mytology of fauns and may have confused it with "fawn" (either noun or verb).

Bengali Chica,
Do see Pan's Labyrinth! (i notice that you list a few South American Magical Realists among your favorite books and i'd definitely say this is an allied in genre.)

It's showing all over the place now--we saw it at a Clearview place.

maya said...

And Ganesh,

I reacted like your friends to the end. I was weeping torrents. There was something so heart-wrenchingly obscene about her lying there stripped of family and all her rich potential. The next time i see it (for of course there will be a next time!), i'll try to flow with the other side.

Chai said...

damn it, now i have another movie to add on to my list.

maya said...

Chai has lists?

:b (just kidding!)

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