Pan's Labyrinth a film about escapism

Director Guillermo Del Toro blends fantasy and war

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Scene from Pan's Labyrinth

WHAT? IS THERE SOMETHING ON MY FACE? CAN YOU GET IT OFF FOR ME? Pan's Labyrinth follows a young girl as she creates a fantasy world in the midst of war.

Pan’s Labyrinth
Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi López

3 stars

Guillermo Del Toro’s action-packed, Academy Award-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth beautifully blends fantasy and war-thriller genres in an aesthetically pleasing film. It fails, however, to create any interesting new product by combining these genres.

In post-civil war Spain, starry-eyed, fairytale-loving Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) are relocated to an old mill where the evil fascist Captain Vidal commands a horse troop. As Carmen, pregnant with Vidal’s son, lies sick and weakened by her pregnancy, Ofelia is awakened by a fairy.

Spirited to a nearby labyrinth, Ofelia encounters a faun (Doug Jones) who tells her that her soul is that of a great king’s long-lost daughter. To reunite with her father, Ofelia must complete three magical tasks. She sets to work, battling a huge toad and a faceless giant, and nursing a humanoid mandrake root to life. While Ofelia faces fantastical creatures within the maze, republican guerrillas descend on the mill to square off with Captain Vidal.

Pan’s Labyrinth is entertaining and intriguing. It smartly combines a dark adult film with a fairy-tale story and a child protagonist. Its fantasy world is a welcome departure from quidditch and Frodo.

Jones and Baquero’s strong performances are refreshing. Their characters blend well with the film’s dichotomy between the real and the surreal.

However, the film’s central plotline is predictable. While Labyrinth touches on the meaning of death and the value of life, belief, and youthful innocence, it doesn’t elaborate on these themes.

Although the film’s 1940s-Spain setting is novel, its simply drawn conflict between good and evil isn’t. Vidal is a completely maniacal portrait of pure evil, making him as bland and one-dimensional as most of the film’s characters.

Ofelia’s labyrinth world is fairly intriguing, but it’s underdeveloped. Surprisingly, her fantasy-world tasks don’t parallel the film’s real-world action. Ofelia seems so unaffected by the real-world violence and so consumed by her alternate reality that viewers are forced to question whether the fantasy world is “real” or simply a form of escapism.

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