The movie industry had delved with so many themes already that creating a fairy tale or a fantasy movie is not something new. These fantasy movies became mainstream attractions thanks to the new technology of 3D and animations that makes imaginary characters come to life and walk and talk like humans. In these fantasy movies, one can not help but question the inspiration for the story; the insight for the roles created; and the symbolism each character represents.
There would be parallelism with each fantasy story, as every good fantasy movie would be, since it mainly caters young audiences, like for example the eternal battle between good and evil. Pan’s Labyrinth is not any difference, it tackled the parallelism and many more, although some symbolisms were graphically demonstrated, to the point of disgust, it is still a fantasy movie.
These parallelisms between the symbolism in the movie and the myths would be analyzed and discussed in this paper. The liminality as every heroic tale should have would be pointed out in any way possible as it pertains to the Neo-Platonism idea of The One.
Summary of the Movie
Pan’s Labyrinth or El Laberinto Del Fauno in its original title in Spanish or literally translated as The Faun’s Labyrinth, is a fantasy film that delves in a young girl’s struggle to keep the reality beautiful by completing tasks in another parallel world. In so doing she will take the throne that was rightfully hers and become a Princess once again in the parallel world.
There were two worlds in which Ofelia, the protagonist was living. The real world where her mother is sick with the baby, where her ruthless stepfather Captain Vidal lives, and where there are rebels prepared to take offense against the Captain’s forces; and the second world, where Ofelia is the long lost Princess Moana, daughter of the King and she must get back to him as soon as possible. To be able to go back to her father, Ofelia was tasked to complete three tasks before the full moon rises, in order to ensure that her “essence” is intact. First she must retrieve the golden key from the belly of a giant toad that was living off the life of an old tree.
She successfully got the key and proceeded on with the next one, with the Faun’s guidance, to retrieve a golden knife from a pale man’s dwelling and she was successful again, but lost the lives of her assistant fairies. The Faun was so angry that he said Ofelia could never return to her kingdom. Meanwhile, the condition of her pregnant mother is getting worse, and the rebels who are against the fascist rule of her stepfather are building a plan of their own. Her mother lost her life in giving birth to her baby brother, her friend Mercedes was caught by Vidal for spying, and Vidal had caught Ofelia lying to him and imprisoned her in the attic with orders of shooting Ofelia first if the rebels attacked.
Taking pity on the poor Ofelia, the Faun appeared again and gave her another chance; all she had to do is take her baby brother to the labyrinth. After much hardship and running away from Captain Vidal, Ofelia finally reached the labyrinth where the Faun was waiting for her with instructions to “prick” her little brother with the golden knife and let his blood flow through the labyrinth. Ofelia refused to hurt her baby brother, this led to the Faun’s disappointment and left Ofelia on her own, as Captain Vidal finally caught up with her, killed her and took the baby.
Ofelia’s blood spilled in the labyrinth and Captain Vidal was met by Mercedes and her rebel friends and they killed Vidal. All the while, in another world, Ofelia rose and was called upon by her father as Princess Moana. She was astonished to find herself in a big castle with her father and her mother waiting for her. She had finally come home; while on the other end, Mercedes cradles the lifeless body of Ofelia.
Contrasting Concepts and Symbolisms: Good vs. Evil
As every fairy tale is supposed to have, the ensuing battle against the good and the evil, wherein no matter how much hardship the good guys had, the good will eventually triumph over the evil. In Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia represents the goodness in both worlds; the real world and the world underneath. The rebels signify the integrity and righteousness in the real world in their fight against the dark evil as manifested by the ruthless Captain Vidal. He is both the evil in Ofelia’s life as well as the rebels, and he had made their lives literally a living hell by torturing and killing the captured rebels, and later on, by taking Ofelia’s innocent life.
As Ofelia went through difficult times and losing her life in the process, she triumphed for she had passed the test and did not fall into an evil-like behavior by sacrificing her baby brother. It is the goodness in her heart that finally led her to where she wants to be, with her mother and her father (although they are all dead already), and the only way she could do that was to die herself, and be reborn as Princess Moana of the Underworld. Ofelia is the epitome of good while Captain Vidal is the utmost evil by killing her. However, the other symbolism for good is the rebels who took Vidal’s life. Although the manner in which they did is not really “good”, in reality per se it is an acceptable way to end a fairly evil man. In this sense, Ofelia’s objective of making both worlds a better place to live in was achieved – in the fantasy world by completing all her tasks and in the real world through her death.
Characters as Compared to Greek Myths
The title itself was a referral to the Greek god Pan, although the director and writer of the story denied having derived the Faun from Pan the Greek God. Perhaps, it is the similarity of the features that was compared to. The Faun personification of half man-half goat was first used in The Chronicles of Narnia as the trickster who wanted to kidnap Lucy but changed his mind later on. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the Faun was used as the guide with unknown objective – either the good or the bad. Is he telling the truth? Is he just tricking Ofelia to lure her into his trap? But we find out later that he was just testing Ofelia’s good heart if she could spill an innocent’s blood just to achieve her goals.
The pale man who was guarding the magical dagger was perhaps derived from the “Cycladic idols” that archaeologists found in the Cycladic Islands. These figurines have white bodies, featureless faces, and stiff, formal poses and were thought to represent death. Just like the pale man, who represented nothing but death of children (in the drawings and the mountain full of children’s shoes).
The stuffing of magic stones into the big toad’s mouth ended his reign thus giving birth to the key by tricking the toad into eating the magic stones when Ofelia placed a big bug along with the stones and held out her hand. This was perhaps derived from the Greek myth of the feud between Zeus and his father Kronos. Kronos had this habit of eating his children when they are born, and his wife Rhea, grew tired of seeing her children being swallowed by her husband that she tricked him into swallowing a rock instead of Zeus. Therefore, Zeus grew up and eventually killed Kronos.
a. As a belief System
The myth surrounding Pan’s labyrinth stemmed through Ofelia’s belief system that was encouraged by the Faun of her being “The One”. The lost Princess Moana of another world, and longing to escape the present reality in which she wants to save her mother and her unborn brother, she goes on to complete the tasks presented. Ofelia firmly believed that if she could pass the stages and fulfill the responsibilities given to her, she would finally be able to see her father, who was waiting for her for a long time.
Embodying a Social Conflict
Pan’s labyrinth was set in the Post Civil War Spain in 1944. Captain Vidal is the head of one unit somewhere in the province who still hunts and kills rebel guerillas who are against the fascist rule. Carmen, Ofelia’s mother, had submitted herself, Ofelia and her unborn son’s fate into the hands of Captain Vidal. Perhaps love? But the sternness of Vidal and the lack of amiability between supposed to be husband and wife (Vidal and Carmen) lead the writer to assume that perhaps it is a mother’s survival instinct. Widowed with one kid during the hard times, perhaps the best chance of survival is to go with a powerful man to protect her self and ensure a good future for her children.
Unknowingly, Carmen had entered a dark realm in which the man she though would rescue them, would be the sole reason of their demise. Confronted with the reality that Captain Vidal is a “bad” man, Ofelia tried to tell her mother who refuses to see the “real” Captain Vidal. Therefore, having no resolution and powerless to change the situation, Ofelia resulted into building her own world, from her imagination, through the fairy tale books that she was reading. It was through her mind that the blank book that the Faun gave her imprint instructions on what to do and how to do it.
It was also with the Faun’s help that Carmen’s health condition got better (for a while) by placing a mandrake root under her bed; although one person in the real world, through Mercedes, may have seem to have the courage to change things, but still powerless to help Ofelia and her mother during their suffering, eventually stepped up to change and had Captain Vidal killed, but it was already too late for Carmen and Ofelia, for both have already lost their lives.
The tasks performed by Ofelia in the parallel world are an allegory of her trying to escape and stop the cruel ruling of her stepfather Captain Vidal. Ofelia had pushed the stone that she found at the road to a mouth of a stone sculpture that started the chain of events – Carmen felt better to continue the travel. The Faun represents another entity that forces Ofelia to follow orders and be a good girl – just like Captain Vidal, he gives orders to his men and expects loyalty and respect or else he would kill them. The task of retrieving the magic key inside a giant toad’s stomach could be an allegory of Ofelia trying to find favor from Captain Vidal, but unlike the toad where she was successful; she was repulsed by Vidal and was treated just like anybody else.
The pale man in the long table with bountiful fruits and images of children being eaten and mound full of children’s shoes is an allegory of Captain Vidal seating on the same setting, eating delicious food while the rest of the townspeople fall in line to get their rations. The last task that is to sacrifice her little brother for her to be able to open the portal, but did not do so and in the eventuality lost her life; is an allegory of Vidal sacrificing Ofelia’s life, he did what Ofelia did not do, that is to kill, and the consequence of Vidal’s action was death in the hands of the rebels. All the while, Ofelia was pointed out as The One that would make a significant change in the real world, and as The One missing Princess Moana in the parallel world.
The movie was full of symbolism and parallelism that are subject to different opinions and interpretations by various scholars. The comparisons and allegories discussed in this paper may seem absurd or untoward by other scholars but myth interpretation is by itself subjective, and as a free and imaginative thinker, through a proper structure, the writer had expressed his/her opinions and views accordingly. There may be some that the writer had missed or other areas that were overlooked, but all things considered, this is a brief analysis of the movie Pan’s Labyrinth with regards to myth interpretation.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Powell, Barry B. Classical Myth. Fifth Edition
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