January 18th, 2017. Wednesday. 10:45pm. Feeling insightful.
When thinking about the many films that I have watched in my lifetime, my brain consists of four categories:
Those I cared little for are simply “Basic”. This, to me, is the finest of insults; no man (nor woman) works tirelessly for sometimes years upon years to have their film branded as basic. It’s offensive. In all fairness, it is so rare for me to dislike a film that I see. After studying the art for so long, I have learnt to find the best of a “bad” film and appreciate it for what it is. There is only one film in this category.
The “Nomads” are films that I kind of liked, but they weren’t great. Usually these are those that I would have classed as basic if it weren’t for one tiny detail: good character development; good script; a particular actor who made the film so much more tolerable. They’re the films I might watch again if I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, but wouldn’t dare pick one out during movie night with someone I actually wanted to get somewhere with. Twilight and The Mortal Instruments stand out to me as Nomads, though ironically the TV rendition of the latter, Shadowhunters, would easily be a “Great” if I counted Netflix series as films. Which I don’t.
“Great” films are exactly as they say on the tin: great. Great plot; great acting; great everything. The Shining, Ex Machina, V For Vendetta, Regression… all great. The thing is, my definition of “great” isn’t synonymous with perfection. Perfection is rare, near impossible in fact, and it can only lead to a masterpiece.
I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a limited collection of masterpieces in my time. Harry Potter is one, of course. Colonia is another. Guillermo del Toro’s El Laberinto del Fauno, or Pan’s Labyrinth, is a third.
Laberinto is a masterpiece for so many reasons, too many for one blog. Its characters are developed to the extent that, if you watch it with enough scrutiny, you can become so emotionally attached to them as to feel completely involved in their lives. Its plot is so rich with Spanish culture that you might as well have transported yourself to Francoist Spain, and its balance between reality and fantasy is so intelligently executed that it’s difficult to forget that fairies and fawns aren’t in fact living among us all. My verdict: Guillermo del Toro is a true artist. He knows how to produce (and direct, and write) a cinematic masterpiece.
As a Year 12 Sixth Form student, I am currently studying El Laberinto del Fauno as part of my two-year Spanish A-Level course. I’ve seen the film four times now, once in class and three times since. It’s easy to see why I love the film; much like Colonia as discussed in my last blog, Laberinto is dripping with the darkest untold secrets of Hispanic culture. In Colonia, we are enlightened to the horror of the Colonia Dignidad and the corrupt, militant-based government of 1970’s Chile. In El Laberinto del Fauno, we see the valiant fight of the Republicans opposing the Falange during the Francoist dictatorship. And then, to top it all off, we are given a sprinkling of dark fantasy that is so Guillermo del Toro that it is frankly impossible to imagine any other filmmaker filling his shoes. I adore it.
Obviously, there is far too much to cover in one post, as El Laberinto del Fauno is a goldmine for an English, Media and Spanish student like myself; not only does it serve key points of Spanish culture up on a silver platter, but it is also so exquisitely created that I find myself discovering possible hidden meanings and incredible uses of media language by the gallon. So, in conjunction with my studies, I am going to write a number of essays over time discussing key questions regarding the film, alongside the reviews and essays I plan to write on other films.
For readers who haven’t yet had the chance to watch El Laberinto del Fauno and don’t want any major spoilers, I’d strongly advise that you stop reading this immediately. You’ve been warned…
I’m going to begin this series of essays with a question brought up in class today. One by one, we recapped the film by describing each of the protagonists and antagonists of El Laberinto del Fauno, in Spanish of course. It was only the starter activity, but it brought up a question so impossible to answer that I’m sure even Google couldn’t help me with. “¿Es el Fauno buen o malo?” Is the fawn good or bad?
The ‘Fawn’ I refer to is, of course, Pan, though he remains unnamed in the Spanish version of the film. That is likely due to Pan’s more prominent role in Greek mythology as opposed to Spanish history, or perhaps Del Toro simply intended for the figures to be entirely unrelated. This is possible, seeing as El Laberinto Del Fauno seems to be supported by the backbone of its own fairytale, that in which Ofelia is supposedly a princess. When I first heard of Pan’s Labyrinth, not knowing anything at all about its plot, director, or even Francoist Spain, I immediately assumed that it would tell the story of Pan. I pride myself on my knowledge of Greek mythology, having become fascinated by it after reading the Percy Jackson stories as a child (which, unfortunately, left much to be disappointed by in the films), and I know Pan to be the Greek god of the wild, the hunt, and the companion of the nymphs. Unlike other Greek gods, Pan is a fawn: half human, with the legs and horns of a goat. From seeing his depiction in the film, the likeness to the deity Pan seems genuine enough for there to be a real contextual link between the two. Perhaps ‘el Fauno’ in El Laberinto is not Pan, but an allegory for him within Del Toro’s own fairytale. This would surely mean that Fauno has the same morals and thus the same ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stance as Pan. Rather frustratingly, this poses a problem: there are two sides to Pan.
Firstly, there are many indications that Fauno in El Laberinto was a protagonist, perhaps even the leading protagonist alongside Ofelia. In terms of Propp’s narrative theory, Fauno would be described as the dispatcher: the character who first introduces the problem and sends the hero (Ofelia) off on their quest. Whilst this has an inevitably negative twist which I will return to later, we must remember that Fauno is acting not only for Ofelia, but for the good of his entire kingdom. He has travelled into an entirely different world in order to find his leaders’ daughter who they have been grieving for hundreds of years, and for what? He isn’t rewarded at the end of the film, when he finally succeeds in his task. Arguably, Fauno is the most selfless character of all, the unsung hero who spent centuries of his immortality finding a girl whose existence on Earth was not only ambiguous, but unconfirmed. Like Pan, as the Greek god of the wild, is a necessity to the smooth flow of nature, Fauno is vital in Ofelia returning to her true home in the fantasy world, reuniting her with her parents. This importance of his character thus makes Fauno a protagonist, as he is the driving force behind Ofelia’s quest and leads her successfully, however aggressively, to her goal. He even teaches Ofelia, and consequently the audience, a set of vital morals which tie hand in hand with that of the Republicans: think for yourself; practice caution; success is earned by the individual; don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Ofelia followed all four under (perhaps ironically) the command of Fauno, allowing her to be a princess. This introduction of morals is also key in setting the film aside as a fairytale, above all else.
Perhaps, however, this fairytale genre is what makes Fauno so evil. Every time I watch El Laberinto del Fauno, I can’t help but think: does Ofelia really live happily ever after? I mean sure, she returns to her supposed home as a princess, reunites with her supposed parents and supposedly gets to live amongst her own people, but it’s this supposing that makes me think that, perhaps, the end of Ofelia’s story really is just that: the end. To explain this, I am going to refer to J.K. Rowling’s Tale of the Three Brothers. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling writes about three brothers who, trained in the magical arts, were able to evade Death. Furious, Death tricked the brothers into thinking that they were being rewarded for their intelligence and bravery, when instead he was simply luring them back into his grasp. The first brother ended up being murdered and the second committed suicide, but the third passed naturally after years of hiding. Still, Death was successful. So was Fauno. The links between Fauno and Satan are clear just by looking at him – his horns and overwhelming size are nothing short of a giveaway – but there is also a vast amount of contextual evidence that supports this. If Fauno is the devil, then surely Ofelia has cheated him once already by dying and returning in another body. This, like Death in Rowling’s story, would anger him, causing him to seek revenge on Ofelia just as Death sought revenge on the brothers. Just as Death created the three Deathly Hallows, Fauno found Ofelia and gave her three deadly tasks, evading death during the first and second and making the ultimate sacrifice for the third: her life for her brother’s. The fantasy world she is transported to after being shot by Vidal isn’t fake as many people suggest, it just isn’t living. Fauno succeeds in his personal quest and brings Ofelia to her afterlife, alongside her parents who supposedly died in their endless wait for their daughter’s return. The portrayal of Fauno as the devil also links to the idea of him being an allegory for Pan, whose image has been used to depict Satan as far back as the Middle Ages.
Fauno will always be one of those highly mysterious characters who, whilst vital to the film’s plot, is never truly understood. For me, though, the answer is plain. He is the true depiction of a fairytale villain: a monster, in the flesh and in the heart. Like Captain Vidal’s corrupt leadership of the Falange, Fauno uses his brute power to manipulate Ofelia into bringing about her own demise, killing Carmen and countless other innocents in the progress. This, therefore, would make him an allegory for the Falange and one of the most malicious and manipulative antagonists of all time.