Thursday, August 18, 2011


Our notion of fantasy has mostly been restricted to movies like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings which transport us into a fantasy world and take us through a visual journey of adventures most often culminating in a battle between Good and Evil. But here is a movie that redefines fantasy for us by disguising a folk fairy tale in the form of a dark political fable in fascist Spain. Pan’s labyrinth creates a world where fantasy and reality seamlessly flow into each other through the yearning eyes of a troubled child who desperately tries to run away from her little miseries by shuttling between these 2 worlds only to encounter her worst fears in her journey.

The movie is set in dark times during the Spanish Civil war in the early stages of the Europe’s fascist nightmare. Ofelia is a dreamy child whose mother is remarried to an evil officer in General Franco’s army. She has to accompany her expecting mother to join her new husband in the war zone in a dark forest surrounded by guerrilla warriors.  She hates her new father and finds it difficult to see the pain of her ailing mother. So she retreats herself into a fantasy world of mythical creatures, magic quests and breath taking sceneries. But she eventually finds out that this new world is as brutal as the one she so badly wanted to forget.

Ofelia eagerly reads stories about fairies, princesses and magic lands, longing to believe that what she reads is real. This takes her into a grotesque, enchanted netherworld in which she is thought to be the long lost princess. Now she has to complete 3 tasks to earn her rightful place as the King’s daughter. What ensues is an intriguing mix of fantasy and tragedy that leads to 2 different endings for Ofelia, one in reality and the other in her netherworld. And the beauty is that you cannot tell one from the other. And yet, this fantasy world may only exist in the realm of Ofelia’s imagination. Or may be not! You will never know. In the end you are left with two ever lasting images that tease you to create your own fairy tale version.

There is sheer originality and brutal simplicity in Pan’s fantasy world. Be it the giant like faun with unique features, the ghastly child eating pale man whose eyes are in the palms of his hand or the ugly looking giant toad among many other curious creatures, they provide the little girl with dangerous adventures which seem to be her only escape from her fascist step-father. All these creatures are nothing you have seen before in other fantasy movies. They invoke fear, they terrify us, they make us squirm and squeak but they would be hard to erase from your memory. Magic here is not about flying objects and casting spells. It is as simple as drawing a door with a chalk and walking through it.

The film has some outstanding performances especially by the exceptionally talented Ivana Baquero who plays the beautiful Ofelia with a brilliant vulnerability. The scene where she tells her brother (who still is inside her mother’s womb) that he has hurt her mother enough and pleads him not to hurt her when he comes out will drench your heart. And in the scene where she pleads the faun to forgive her mistake and give her one more chance, she exquisitely portrays her desperation and makes us long for her to transcend to the fantasy world.  

The biggest strength of Pan’s labyrinth is its multilayered complex narrative which weaves the reality of power, corruption and resistance of a fascist fable inside a fairly tale created by the feverish imagination of a vulnerable child. You would not want to miss this one as fantasy has never been so real.

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