Top 100 Movies of All Time Pan’s Labyrinth

Top 100 Movies of All Time Pan’s Labyrinth
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Top 100 Movies of All Time Pan’s Labyrinth. We are working our way through the top 100 movies of all time based on this Hollywood Reporter list. Instead of doing low-budget mindjob movies for a little while, I figured it would be good to move through some “important cinema,” in order to see if we can learn something about what makes them great… or different from any other film. Interested in going back through the ones we’ve done so far? You can find them right here. And today we are marching forward with Pan’s Labyrinth.

First though – I think I need to turn in my geek-cred card when I tell you this, I’ve never watched Pan’s Labyrinth before. I’ve read detailed articles about the film’s design brilliance, and the ins and outs of the complexities of its allegorical meaning. But have never hit play on this one before. And I really, really… (insert many reallys here) enjoyed it. And I feel all the more small for having to admit this. It was so very good.

Quick Spain History Lesson

You haven’t been in school for years I’m guessing. And even if you happen to be in school right now, I’m dubious you remember the details about Spain’s involvement (or lack thereof) in World War II. No worries, this is a History-No-Judgement zone. The long and short of it is that Spain was officially neutral during World War II. The Spanish Civil war occurred from 1936-1939, so Spain was otherwise preoccupied. As a result of the Civil War, Franco, a pro-authoritarian won the day. And throughout WWII, Franco quietly support Hitler, and even allowed conscripted Spaniards to fight on the eastern front against Russia.

During the Civil War and the first decade of Franco’s rule, widespread political repression was carried out by the Nationalist faction, which included regular executions, and rapes. The list of “enemies” officially opposed by the regime included, Protestants, atheists, intellectuals, homosexuals, Jews, Romanies, Jews, Catalans, Basques, Andalusian’s, etc., etc., etc. And the reason for this was that Franco’s regime carried out a policy of Limpieza Social, or a cleansing of society. (Sounds eerily similar to Hitler’s Generalplan Ost – ethnic cleansing.) Well over a hundred thousand people were murdered under Franco’s rule. Significantly lower than Germany’s pogrom numbers… or even Russia’s, but 114,000 people is an enormous number of people to be murdered and buried in mass graves.

As the movie started, I personally had to pause it and get the history straight right away. Why? Because the movie kicks off in 1944 ……. uh, 1944? That seems fairly specific. No? And I had absolutely no idea that that was five years after the Civil War, and that it was firmly ensconced in the middle of the White Terror that Franco was rolling out to suppressed his opponents. So, yes, 1944, Spain? That is a huge component to understanding the larger context here for this “mythical” movie.

Top Movies of all Time Pan’s Labyrinth Walkthrough

The movie opens with a fairy tale. It tells the story of Princess Moanna, the daughter of the king of the underworld, who visits the human world. But when she sees the sunlight, she is blinded by it, and it erases her memory of her fantasy underworld. She’s trapped. But the king, who doesn’t give up hope on his daughter, builds labyrinth after labyrinth as portals from his world to hers, in the hopes of making a way for his daughter to return to him.

Spain – 1944 – a country ruled by a nationalist general, Franco, was in the firm grip of his rule as he continued to cozy up to Hitler. Ofelia, the ten-year-old child, travels with her pregnant mother as she goes to meet her new husband, Captain Vidal. Vidal, the son of a famous general who died in battle in Morocco, believes it is his job to hunt down and destroy the local rebels. And he takes up his cause with an almost religious fervor. (I believe it is literally defined as Falangism, but that is a topic for another day.) Upon arrival, Ofelia is lead to a labyrinth by a praying mantis, that Ofelia believes is a fairy. But she is stopped by Vidal’s housekeeper Mercedes. And Mercedes is actually a rebel, and is feeding her brother, Pedro, information and supplies from the Commander’s personal stash of food, medicine and other supplies that the rebels desperately need.

That night, Ofelia is visited again by the praying mantis, who transforms into a fairy, and leads her back to the labyrinth. There Ofelia meets a Faun who tells her that he believes her to be the incarnation of Princess Moanna… and that her rightful place is at the royal court in the underworld with her father the king. He gives her a book and tells her that three tasks will appear that will allow her to achieve immortality and return to her parents in her father’s kingdom.

Task 1 – retrieve a key from the belly of a giant toad, which she successfully does. But her pregnant mother’s health is getting much worse. And her stepfather only cares about the birth of his son. All other matters are secondary. But when the Faun gives Ofelia a mandrake root, it seems to help her mother to get better. Task 2 – is to use some magic chalk in order to retrieve a dagger from the lair of the Pale Man. But she was warned by the Faun not to eat anything on his elaborate table… but she eats a couple of grapes anyway. Learning of Ofelia’s disobedience, he refuses to give Ofelia the third task.

‘It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating,’’ said the Queen presently. ‘‘What would you like best to eat?’’

“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,” said Edmund.

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable. 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Ofelia has failed. Her way to the underground kingdom is irrevocably blocked by the Faun. He gave her a directive, to retrieve the dagger from the Pale Man, but to not eat anything from his table or she would be tainted.

Elsewhere, Ofelia (and the audience as well), begin learning just how cruel Vidal really is. And in the course of this realization we watch as Vidal murders two innocent farmers, whom he had assumed to be rebels. Then Vidal finds the mandrake root that Ofelia had been using to help make her mother better, and throws it in the fire. The doctor who had been taking care of Vidal’s new wife, and helped keep her worsening condition in check, is asked to take care of a detained rebel. But instead of stabilizing him after his torture, the doctor, who is also a rebel, gives him a drug to kill him. It’s then obvious to Vidal that Ferreiro, the doctor, is a rebel collaborator. So Vidal kills the doctor. Ofelia’s mother then goes into labor, and her half- brother is born. But Ofelia’s mother dies in labor without a doctor help save her.

Mercedes, who realizes she is surrounded and bound to be caught, attempts to escape Vidal’s home with Ofelia, but they are both caught. Mercedes is interrogated, but figures out a way to stab Vidal and flee, eventually rejoining the rebels. After this, the Faun changes his mind about giving Ofelia a chance to complete the third task. The faun tells Ofelia to bring her newly born brother to the labyrinth. Vidal is close on her heels, but the rebels, incensed by Vidal’s ruthlessness, launch an attack on Vidal’s home and the surrounding outpost.

At the center of the labyrinth, the Faun meets Ofelia and tells her that she needs to drop a small amount of the innocent baby’s blood into the well to complete the task. But Ofelia obviously refuses to harm the innocent child. Which allows Vidal time to catch up with Ofelia at the center of the maze. He then takes his son away from Ofelia, and then shoots her. She falls onto the wall of the well, and her arm falls over the side, bleeding into the well. The blood of an innocent…

As Vidal leaves the maze, he sees that he is completely surrounded by the rebels and so he hands his son to Mercedes and asks that she tell him the exact time he died. (A reference to his own father’s near mythical legacy.) But Mercedes refuses, and tells him that the boy wouldn’t even know Vidal’s name. Pedro then shoots Vidal dead. As the movie ends, we watch as Mercedes attempts to comfort a dying Ofelia. And as she does, drops of her blood fall down the well to an altar far below. Magically, we see Ofelia appear in the throne room, uninjured, and gloriously evanescent. And we learn from her father that by choosing to spill her own blood rather than that of her brother’s, she passed the final test. The Faun celebrates Ofelia’s choice, and refers to her as “Your Highness,” indicating that she truly is the lost princess that is now returned. The Queen then invites Ofelia to take her rightful place next to her father. We then learn through the epilogue that Princess Moanna (Ofelia) ruled for hundreds of years and permeated the human realm with small traces of her time in the human world for those that know where to look.

Thoughts on Pan’s Labyrinth

Magical. I absolutely adored this movie, and am really embarrassed that I hadn’t taken the time to watch it until now. The main reason I was so enthralled was simply in the setup. The movie was literally a myth wrapped in the trappings of reality. The base assumption was the underworld. A world of fauns, praying mantis fairies, and gods. And, layered on top of that “reality” is the world that was 1940, Franco’s Spain and the reality of World War II authoritarianism… oh, and Jews, gypsies, pogroms, and the snapping in two of morality as a whole. Can you say JUXTAPOSITION with me class?? What is happening here? Guillermo del Toro is basically setting a baseline of morality, of perfection, and dropping humanity onto that continuum so that we can see just how far we’ve fallen. It’s as if del Toro pointed out the glory that is Marilyn Monroe, and then… to our shock and dismay, handed us a mirror.

We can see this play out a couple of different ways. First, we can see the pure, the perfect, as symbolized in Ofelia, her baby brother, the fairies, and the mythological kingdom. More importantly though, del Toro has shown us pure evil in the face of the Pale Man. He’s also shown us pure evil coupled in the person of Vidal. I would argue that Vidal is just a stand-in for Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, and others that used their power to oppress, ghetto, and murder the weaker individuals in society. Is there anything more monstrous than murdering the most vulnerable among us? Murdering the old, the infirm, the handicapped, the marginalized? Literally the purest black of evil ever witnessed. And Franco wasn’t far behind Hitler as he went after the “rebels” in Spain. These fascists have come to power through the blind obedience of their followers. (Cough, this is all so relevant to today… but I absolutely refuse to turn this walk through into literal pablum.) Do what I tell you to do – yes sir! Thank you sir! Shoot those people. Figure out ways to stop using ammo to kill people… it’s too expensive. Gas! Perfect. But the movie turns on its head when Ofelia refuses to obey the Faun blindly. She thinks for herself, considers the life of her baby brother over her own. And sheds her own blood instead of his. And through this civil disobedience, Ofelia has broken the spell of authoritarianism and the unthinking masses there in Spain. (Heck, the world over.)

But there’s a layer deeper that we can go if you really want a mindjob of an explanation. Spain is an extremely religious country… Catholicism holds a wicked tight grip there. And if you look at the history of Franco and the Catholic Church you see there is a lot more to this twisted tale than might first meet the eye. Depending on how deep you want to go, we can talk about the Moors in Europe, and the Crusades to retake the lands ceded. And the spiritual justification of these wars were clarified under Augustus and his Just War theory. Regardless, the Church became a polarizing figure as political ideologies congealed in Spain throughout the early 20th century. The left saw the Church as the enemy of the state. And the right saw the Church as a protector of the state. The power dynamic dramatically swung back and forth in the 30’s as the monarchy of Spain was deposed. Power coalitions grew, and fell apart. Condensed, grew, then exploded. Then, in 1936-1939, came a horrible Civil War, which saw the nationalist, conservatives take power… a power collective backed tacitly by Hitler in Germany and Italy. It was a group backed by the Church. The Church. Capital C church. And during the Civil War, 6,800 of the priests (of which, there were 30,000) were killed. Some 22%. Half of the murders happened in the first month of the war. And so it’s pretty obvious that the Church had a really beneficial relationship with the Franco regime. Their relationship with Franco literally meant their survival. This is literally a life or death equation here… and the Church held tight to Franco as their protector. Makes sense, even as unfortunate as it is. The Church lent legitimacy to Franco’s step to power, and Franco restored and enhanced the Church’s privileges in the state. (In exchange the Church allowed Franco to appoint Bishops, plus a number of other wild twists.)

So with that, we then take a look at the spiritual symbolism throughout Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s literally everywhere. Ofelia’s invocations and summoning’s of the fairy and the faun could be seen as the penitent prayer of the saints. The Pale Man’s table of food could be seen as a perverted last supper. Ofelia’s blood sacrifice is a metaphorical refrain that reverberates throughout the Bible (Abraham’s offer of Isaac on the altar, being the closest literal imagery) but is most specifically mirrored in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When del Toro was interviewed by Terry Gross, he spoke clearly and honestly about the film’s connection to the reality that is Catholicism:

“For me, what she sees is a fully blown reality, spiritual reality, I believe her tale not to be just a reflection from the world around her, but, to me, she really turns into the princess. There is a point in our life when we are kids when literature and magic and fantasy has as strong a presence in our soul as religion would have in later days … it’s a spiritual reality as strong as when people say, ‘I accept Jesus in my heart.’ Well, at a certain age, I accepted monsters into my heart.”

We know that Ofelia died for her deeply held beliefs that only she really understood. She held fast to this deeper truth of morality and righteousness. It isn’t specifically an escape from truth. Actually instead, it is her mooring, her literal bedrock. This idea of the myth as reality, and it is this world’s inhumanity that are the temporal, and passing elements is the thing that really shook me personally. And as a Christian myself, it is the truth that resounds deeply for me. This time we have together? This is the fleeting myth. This is the ephemeral vapor that vanishes in the heat of the day’s sun. And it is my return home to the “mythical” court that I see as my true north star.

Most interestingly to me is that we see elements here of the dogmatism of the Catholic Church. The Faun says, THOU SHALT, and she does it. But eventually, after eating grapes from the table of the Pale Man, she is shunned. Banished as sinful from her ability to complete the tasks set out for her to prove her royalty. (Even the 3 steps are highly Catholic… sacraments, candles, ritualistically repeated prayers, all with the mind of penitent actions driving towards forgiveness. Which, is literally nowhere in the Bible. But is everywhere within the Catholic Church.) And it’s only through her civil/spiritual disobedience, and loyalty towards the moral truth that Ofelia transcends the bounds of the Church and achieves eternal life. She discards the scarred remnant of the historically tainted Church, and instead, deals directly with the divine. And it’s only then, with her self-sacrifice (a sort of Christ’s death and resurrection) that we see her finally cross (hahaha) over.

I had 3 more sections of unlayering and unpacking planned in my original skeleton outline for this movie. But after 3,000 words already, I’m done. Needless to say I loved this movie. I loved the historical narrative it clashed with, and the historical church it fought back against. I loved the simple ideas of innocence and purity and our desire for repentance and perfection in the face of our horrible sin existences. Our desire for salvation and need for a savior. I really loved everything about this film.

Want to see the other movies I’ve already covered in the top 100 list… check them out right here.

(Oh, did I mention that the same actor played the part of the Faun and the Pale Man? Hrmmm…. Two sides of our good and sinful natures? The dichotomy of good and evil? Man, I have to stop.)

Edited by: CY