Pan’s Labyrinth

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A few words about the Spanish fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth.

It’s extremely pretty, well made and finely acted.

It’s very violent, enough to gross me out, and unsuitable for anyone under the age of 20.

The plot is driven entirely by the pointless cruelty of a psychopath. Pan’s Labyrinth is thus a story of pointless suffering and cruelty, which is a genre I loathe. That’s what the real world is like, I don’t need that in fiction as well.

Oh, and the title’s mistranslated. It’s actually El Laberinto del Fauno, “The Faun’s Labyrinth”.

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12 thoughts on “Pan’s Labyrinth

  1. In the UK, it was rated 15 (minimum age to watch); its a pretty bloody strong 15! I had to turn away from the screen a couple of times, particularly the pistol whipping scene. It made the pistol whipping in Goodfellas look like Barney the big purple dinosaur.

    I really enjoyed it though, one of the best films I have seen in a while. I’d also argue that despite the violence and pointless cruelty, it ends on a curiously optimistic note, in amidst the sadness and suffering. I’m attracted to that kind of thing in art.


  2. It ends on an optimistic note in the same way as a religious martyr’s life: he may in fact be tortured or bombed to death, but he believes he’s going straight to heaven.

    I prefer optimism in primary reality.


  3. I loved this too and you’re certainly right, it’s not meant for young people. In Canada, I believe it was rated “R-Restricted” so no one under 18 (theoretically) would have been able to see it.


  4. Watched it yesterday.

    I disagreed with you on Perdido Street Station, and I disagree with you here. 🙂

    What is “pointless cruelty”?

    Unmotivated? Surely it isn’t unmotivated in this case, at least not from the point of the character of the colonel?

    Not fulfilling a point in the structure of the story? It can’t be this, either.

    No cathartic release? You could argue that against PSS, but not in Pan, surely?

    Then I don’t understand where the cruelty is pointless.

    By the way, I would have preferred an ending that left it ambiguous whether Ophelia’s experiences are real, but the ending scene drives the reality home pretty thoroughly.


  5. Captain Vidal’s cruelty is as unmotivated and impersonal as that of a force of nature, as seen most clearly in the film’s final scenes where he should by rights have been incapacitated or at least discouraged. To me, both Perdido Street Station and Pan’s Labyrinth amount pretty much to a story where the main character is suddenly and randomly hit by a meteor. Like the Hannibal Lecter stories.

    The only stories of implacable cruelty I like are the ones where the main characters outwit or defeat the bad guy, preferably against heavy odds and perhaps at the price of a few supporting characters or party trees. The way it hardly ever happens in reality.


  6. so you prefer stories to be escapes from reality, because reality is miserable. just say that then.

    i prefer stories to be escapes from reality, because reality just isn’t that bad – it could be a lot worse. I loved Perdido Street Station, I hate sappy movies with ridiculously happy endings.

    it’s a matter of opinion and nothing more. *shrug*


  7. Yes, all discussion of art appreciation boils down to matters of taste.

    I’m not very fond of ridiculous sappiness either.

    As for Pan the ancient deity, he’s named Pan in Spanish too — not “el Fauno”. So the film’s English and Swedish titles are mistranslations.


  8. I am a young person who enjoyed this movie, but the subject matter is definitely a little mature. I agree with Johan, however, that the violence is not pointless and makes the film far more emotionally potent. I also feel that the translation to “Pan” makes sense. I know in some languages (not Engish) the movie was shown in, they were unable to find the word’s equivalent. Pan makes more sense in English simply because he is a similar but far more known figure of mythology than fauns are. And as far as Ofelia’s martyr-like death goes, this is more of a political parable than a religious commentary, and I don’t think it should be given too much consideration. This is a fantasy movie – del Toro has talked about how he grew up thinking of monsters as a better alternative to the catholicism imposed on him by his grandmother, but I don’t think he takes it so seriously that he really thinks of it as a religion.


  9. I slightly agree.

    There was a lot of VISIBLE violence in this movie, but most movies have as much or even more IMPLIED violence and get away with it. And also most movies show you cruelty in passing (even Star Wars had torture and genocide but is seen as a kid’s film).

    Violence should never be used just to make the movie “cool”, like in Resevoir Dogs, but as a way to make you think. If violence on screen doesn’t make you feel for somebody, then it’s bad. Simply, bad feeling must generate more good ones.

    So a good deal of cruelty and pain is balanced by a lot of goodness, intelligence and love. And that’s a whole lot better than most Hollywood movies can manage…


  10. I found it quite unpalatable to see a number of supporting characters briefly introduced for the sole purpose of being graphically tortured and killed by the villain.


  11. True, the torture scenes were gruesome – I watched them through my fingers. But I guess they were there to establish Vidal as a “villian” – and to make it believable that he would kill Ofelia. A rather crappy excuse, I admit…

    But I happen to think that if violence is a part of a movie plot, it should be shown that it HURTS and not be just softened down to a “shoot the bad guys and they don’t even bleed” level. Maybe if people see that violence causes pain, we will be less likely to send big airplanes to other countries and tear civillians apart with “smart” bombs.


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