Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Rated: R Grade: ADBA=B

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro, who previously made Hellboy, Blade 2, and Mimic.

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, and Alex Angulo.

Summary: During Franco’s fascist rule in 1944 Spain, a young girl finds herself forced to submit to a sadistic stepfather who is a colonel in the army. As he fights the local rebels in a remote area, she enters a fantasy realm where she is the daughter of a great underground king and must perform several bizarre tasks to prove her soul has not been corrupted by being imprisoned in a human body.

Entertainment Value: A If by entertainment, you mean that you can’t stop watching it and want to see where it all goes, then it’s an A. If by entertainment you mean that you enjoyed it and it made you feel good, then it’s certainly not. I would prefer to call it compelling rather than entertaining, but I don’t give movies a score for compellingnessicity. Characters, plot, imagination, creativity, and acting are all outstanding here. It is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence F, Language C, Illegality NA. Though there is some harsh profanity in subtitle form, the real objection here is the gruesome violence and creepy images. Some Christians also won’t like the magic, but there’s not so much of it really. If blood, killing, and even torture are going to bother you, then this movie will bother you.

Significant Content: B But I’m not sure it’s fair to say this movie is even trying to teach anything. The lessons, such as there are, might be that power and ruthlessness are wicked and that the representatives of Franco’s Spain were downright soulless. But the unstated conclusion here is that when reality is a nightmare, even a nightmare you create for yourself is a welcome escape from it. Clearly the movie wants to endorse the value of imagination and fairy tales, but I’m not sure that it really does so in the end.

Artistic/Thought Value: A What is a real monster? That’s probably the question this movie is intending to answer. Is it a creature who chases disobedient children by holding eyeballs to his face and eats them with his teeth? Or is it a sadistic officer in a fascist army who doesn’t care whether his wife lives so long as his son is born? The only problem with such a discourse is that the actions of the captain are themselves so horrific that you don’t have to even ask the question. If he were a robber-baron or a pornographer or a corrupt politician, the comparison would have been left for the audience to draw. Fairy tales are valuable because they bring meaning and perspective to reality. But they have to help rather than just being weird to do so. My main complaint here is that I still don’t feel like I quite grasped why he made it in the end. I truly love a great art film, but I want it to render itself into something I can actually digest when it’s over, and this never did. But this is obviously an outstanding piece of art, and to give it anything less than an A would be unfair.

Discussion Questions:
  • Some people see the world as a place of conflict between the brutal pragmatists who only do what works or makes money and the creative artists who imagine all sorts of unproductive but wonderful things. Is this a fair assessment? On which side do you tend to fall?
  • Fairy tales almost always involve gruesome and violent and truly scary elements, but when we make them in America they become sanitized and then rated G or PG. Does this sanitization take away from the value of their purpose? Do gruesome fairy tales scare children to no purpose? Is this change a reflection of the general safety of a modern American child’s life? Would the scarier stories fill a need better in the life of a less safe child? What need is this?
  • Who do you think the eyeless monster is meant to represent? Consider the symbolism of a terror who has destroyed many innocents but who leaves you alone until and unless you take a small thing from his feast of plenty or break in a minor way one of his rules.
  • Why does Ofelia take the grapes? What does this represent?
  • Fairy tales usually end well. Why is this? How is our impulse for justice related? What about reality? Is it as neat and clean as a fairy tale?
  • Discuss the choice offered to Ofelia at the end of the movie.
  • Are there any elements of the Bible or the Gospel in this movie?
  • Have you ever wanted to believe that your real parents were kings in a powerful distant place? Do you think this is a common wish? How would you compare that with the story of God in the Bible?
Overall Grade: B I can’t recommend it, but if you like complex, gruesome, fairy stories…well, you’ve probably already seen this one.

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