Film Review Pan's Labyrinth Film Review

Published on January 15th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review: A Confusing Film That Got Lost In Its Own Hype

Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review

Director: Guilermo Del Toro
Cast: Ivana Baquera, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil and Doug Jones.

Here is Yellow Magpie’s Pan’s Labyrinth film review.

The much acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth has received many rave reviews such as the prolonged standing ovation at Cannes. However, it is hard to justify such praise upon seeing the film. There are many good set pieces but taken in the whole context, the film falters in its delivery.

‘she is forced to deal with her highly insecure mother, who externalises her angst upon her daughter’

Pan’s Labyrinth centres around two worlds. One is set in the harsh reality of Franco’s Fascist Spain and the other is the escapist fantasy world of the young protagonist, Ofelia. A young girl on the cusp of womanhood, Ofelia finds herself in the unpleasant situation of moving  to the house of her mother’s husband, the sadistic and psychopathic, Captain Vidal.

There she is forced to deal with her highly insecure mother, who externalises her angst upon her daughter, and a tyrannical step-father who is charged with subjugating the local population.

Pan's Labyrinth Film Review Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) And Pale Man (Doug Jones)

Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) And Pale Man (Doug Jones)

To alleviate her onerous existence, Ofelia retreats into a fantasy world where she has to undergo three tasks in order to prove that she is worthy to enter her deceased father’s ethereal kingdom. Ofelia is guided through this process by a Faun who may or may not be trustworthy. Meanwhile all of this occurs next to the backdrop of a rebel resistance who are fighting against Franco’s regime.

This introduction is carefully built upon in some marvellously well-conceived set-pieces.

The film has several flaws that detract from the overall experience. Initially the characterisation seems spot on and highly accurate. Ofelia is a strong-willed young girl who independently sets out on her own adventure. Yet she also comes across as being conscientious and considerate.

This introduction is carefully built upon in some marvellously well-conceived set-pieces. Ofelia’s initial encounter with her ‘fairy’ is visually impressive and easily sets her up as an independent spirit with a fondness for adventure.

Pan's Labyrinth Film Review Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) And Ofelia (Ivana Baquero)

Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) And Ofelia (Ivana Baquero)

However, later on her careful characterisation inexplicably breaks down when she acts as a spoilt brat when undertaking her second task. This is something that does not sit too well with her character and appears to be self-indulgence on the director’s behalf allowing him to bring a fearsome creature to life. This problematic approach creates further headaches.

‘There is also an underlying implicit theme of sexual awakening throughout the use of the fantasy elements in the film that rests quite uncomfortably with the viewer.’

Puerile self-indulgence appears to be the only reason for some of the graphically violent images. Most film directors have an inherent understanding of using implicit ideas. Violence, fear and other strong emotions are not directly shown on screen. What happens as a result is the viewer creates the sequence in her or his own mind. Whatever image the viewer creates will always be much more powerful than any explicit image the director provides.

There is also an underlying implicit theme of sexual awakening throughout the use of the fantasy elements in the film that rests quite uncomfortably with the viewer. This is far from being atypical of most horror films. It is clear that Ofelia is quite close to womanhood. Pan, from which the film’s title is derived, is a god associated with sexuality.

One scene sees her crawl through a tree and in the process she gets covered in mud and slim in a horror fantasy sequence. This is consistent with other female protagonists being coated in slimy substances in horror films.

Pan's Labyrinth Film Review Ofelia (Ivana Baquero)

Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review Ofelia (Ivana Baquero)

Evil is not presented just in the form of Vidal’s cruelty and capricious understanding of life

The film also explores the nature of evil. Captain Vidal, aptly played by Sergi Lopez, is truly a malevolent figure who kills people mercilessly on whim. He evokes tension and fear in every scene in which he is involved in. Captain Vidal provides a constant shadow over Ofelia and virtually every character on screen. Evil is not presented just in the form of Vidal’s cruelty and capricious understanding of life, rather it is the apathy of people who do nothing to thwart the Captain. This says more about the Franco’s army than it does the locals.

However, Ofelia’s mother is a weak woman who does little to protect her daughter. Like so many people who are unwilling to confront their own problems, she contemptuously isolates Ofelia for her ‘bad behaviour’. She is but one person who fails to stand up for justice.

The film’s exploration of Franco’s Spain and the cruelty and control that was inflicted upon the local Spanish inhabitants is unconvincing. There is never enough depth to satiate the viewer. What one gets is little more than a backdrop. The rebels who are fighting Franco’s regime are relegated to having no more than peripheral roles. Their real job is to provide the contrast against evil.

They are associated with action and empathy while those who facilitate Vidal are on the side of indifference and apathy. Their roles appear to be to provide a voice to the nature of goodness which is neatly summed up as fighting against injustice no matter the odds or the consequences.

Pan's Labyrinth Film Review Fauno (Doug Jones) On Pan's Labyrinth's Movie Poster

Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review Fauno (Doug Jones) On Pan’s Labyrinth’s Movie Poster

There is no explanation as to why Captain Vidal is obsessed with having a male child seemingly at the expense of everything else.’

It is also the rebels which highlights the flaws of the film that seems to be the central problem with Pan’s Labyrinth – a central trust. What we get are nicely woven vignettes however the film lacks cohesion. Things are never fully explained. For instance, one is not aware of the significance of any of the tasks Ofelia undertakes. There is no explanation as to why Captain Vidal is obsessed with having a male child seemingly at the expense of everything else. Likewise the viewer is never told the true motivations of the Faun and he remains quite an ambiguous character throughout. However, there is also an odious aspect to him that makes the viewer’s skin crawl and one is not quite sure to which side he belongs, good or evil.

There could be several more examples alluded to also. None of the above by them selves are worthy of complaint. It is perfectly reasonable for a film not to explain and patronise the viewer. Nevertheless, when you have a plethora of explained phenomena you have an unsatisfactory film.

Obtain The Film From Amazon

If you want to watch Pan’s Labyrinth you can do so here from Amazon.

Amazon.co.uk

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access Pan’s Labyrinth here.

Amazon.ca
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain Pan’s Labyrinth.

Amazon.de
For Germany: Pan’s Labyrinth.

Amazon.fr
For France: Pan’s Labyrinth.


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6 Responses to Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review: A Confusing Film That Got Lost In Its Own Hype

  1. Cynthia says:

    Oddly, I saw this movie not long ago on late night TV. I also found it rather confusing. I went into it having vaguely remembered hearing something good about it, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. It’s not that everything needs to or should be clear cut, mystery is good, but there just seemed to be too many things that didn’t gel for me. I didn’t feel I would want to watch again.

  2. Author says:

    Yes Cynthia, it had too many loose ends. No, there is nothing wrong with mystery at all. Yes everything doesn’t have to be explained but a compromise must be reached. Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated. We look forward to hearing from you again.

  3. Jesse Nicholson says:

    I just found your site trying to find answers to all the questions you’re left with at the end of the film. My biggest question was, was everything she imagined real or fake? The film itself left me believing absolutely that it was all in her head, and she simply used it as an escape from reality. However, apparently on the “extras” of the limited edition DVD or something, the director clearly says that there were “hints” put in to deliberately make you see that the “magic” or things that pan saw were actually real. In that case I have to say now the movie wasn’t just disappointing but just plain terrible. Although there were indications of it being real, they were not concrete enough to counter the opposite hypothesis, especially when you watch the little girl struggle to get one last smirk on her face after “imagining” and then dying in a pool of her own blood. I feel really let down by this movie.

  4. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jesse.

    Ambiguity is heavily used in films. So the answer is open-ended, no one view is correct.

    As for what the director says that doesn’t really matter because as soon as something hits the cinema it is out of the director’s hand and the audience can have a say. This is called reception theory and applies equally to film and books. So if you believe that she is imagining the events your interpretation is just as valid as the director’s.

    The nature of watching films, the same with reading, is that some films will let you down and others will excite you. Hopefully, you will see more films you enjoy than those you dislike.

    Thanks for commenting.

  5. Jazmin says:

    Actually, Pan is not even related to the movie. Del Toro originally named the movie “El Laberinto del Fauno” which is in spanish. An engilsh, they renamed it to “Pans Labyrinth” because Pan was a faun like creature. Del Toro even stated in the movie commentary that the faun is not Pan and Pan has nothing to do with the movie. Many other countries changed “Faun” from the original title to “Pan” like the UK, France, and Germany.

  6. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment and explanation, Jazmin.

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