Sunday, January 28, 2007

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth

Rottentomatoes has rated Pan's Labyrinth at 96%. Not a single rotten review?? I have to discover why I skipped this in favor or Apocalypto (66%) and Borat (91%).. Off to Vivocity..

I deserve a good spanking. I almost missed what could've been the best movie, if not of the year, of the past few decade. Director Guillermo del Toro has created a masterpiece with this film. Rotten tomatoes was right - and the current string of nominations from the Golden Globes and the Oscars is a testimony to his terrific work. The movie is set in 1944, during Spain's Civil War and towards the end of Franco's Fascist regime. The official synopsis reads:

"Pan’s Labyrinth unfolds through the eyes of Ofelia, a dreamy little girl who is uprooted to a rural military outpost commanded by her new stepfather. Powerless and lonely in a place of unfathomable cruelty, Ofelia lives out her own dark fable as she confronts monsters both otherworldly and human.. But for Ofelia, fables of good and evil, magic and danger are more than simple entertainment. They are her window onto the world, awakening her to life’s everyday possibilities and mysteries."

Despite the gore of the film, it is still a fairy tale - after all, fairy tales are filled with dark elements - forests, dragons, wolves, and stepparents. A fairy tale seems to be the common man's opium when the world has gone mad and when life becomes too difficult to endure. In this case, Ofelia has decided to swallow the red pill and down she goes into the rabbithole because she can't bear her new Fascist stepfather.

The movie is not meant for kids because of the violent and graphic scenes. The graphic nature is reminiscent of Goya's Saturn Devours His Children. Even so, one has to see Pan's Labyrinth beyond its horrific visual brilliance. Del Toro has derived his story from a rich context, both socially and politically. Here are a few symbolisms from the film:

  • Ofelia (the main character) - Coming-of-age, she had to make a choice between the collective good and her own personal glory. Clearly, of middle class, where thoughts and revolutionary ideas flourish. Being the central figure of the story, Ofelia represents change, and how one individual's decision can shape the future.
  • Capt. Vidal (Ofelia's stepfather) - an idealogy without regard for any human rights personified.
  • Mercedes (Capt. Vidal's housekeeper who supports the rebels) - the common man. Eternally struggling. Her line "I am a coward. I feed the beast and I nurture it" was so eloquently stated in the film.
  • The Doctor - An individual from the intelligentsia, also of middle class, whose interests conflict between the extreme idealogy which he supports in and what is inherently right.
  • The Chalk - Education. Pan says: "Draw a door anywhere with this chalk and you can open it."
  • The Frog - Corruption. This character proved the ugliest in the film, and was most difficult to defeat.
  • The Pale Man - Blind idealogy. When one partakes of its feast, that's when it begins to see, and eventually will devour you.
Pan's Labyrinth has loads of other symbolisms - like any great myth, it encodes the message creatively, then conveys the message of these metaphors effectively. It strikes a chord in one's consciousness when an individual parallels the heroine(Ofelia)'s experiences with oneself. What makes the movie work is that in 2 hours, it has represented a vicious human cycle of idealogies working for a common goal, fails, and so the cycle repeats. A summary of humanity's evils, fears, and hopes.

Hmm.. this is probably my longest (and most didactic) movie review ever.. Go see this film, since it has induced me into writing this long. :) It is both disturbing and hopeful, haunting and sublime. And if there is any film near perfection - cinematography, effects, plot, engaging storyline, relevance - Pan's Labyrinth could be it.

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