FILM THEORY & CRITICISM

Pan's Labyrinth: Through Ofelia

As Ofelia continues to try to make sense of the unjust and barbarous world around her, events continue to take flight in reality and in her supernatural realm. Once Ofelia attempts stealing her baby brother back from the Captain and drugging his drink, incidents begin to quickly spiral downward, like the staircase Ofelia dies upon in the labyrinth. Through Ofelia's vivid and detailed imagination in Pan's Labyrinth, by Guillermo del Toro, of untrustworthy, mysterious creatures that reflect her outlook of people in her new home and bloodthirsty monsters which portray the cruelty of man, especially the Captain, the audience finds themselves wondering how Ofelia's traumatic adolescent experiences are influencing her make-believe portals to new worlds.

OfeliaFrom the audience's perspective, Pan's Labyrinth creates a mystifying aura about it because of the multiple ways the analyses could take off from the ambivalent ending. This "confusion yet fascination" (Corrigan 17) with the film is stemmed from how Ofelia creates the connection of man's cruelty to her fantasy's cruelty, representative of present life. Throughout the movie death is foreshadowed and presented with a lullaby that begins her narrative, horror filled, fairytale story. The themed music is angelic (angel's voice representing Ofelia's death in the end), dreamy, like her mind-always escaping to fairytales, and a little lonesome. The audience feels this haunting theme song from the establishing shot from which "we hear the sound of feverish panting... in close up we see the source of the labored breathing: as time runs backwards, a trickle of ruby-red blood retreats into the nostril of white-faced black haired Ofelia" (Smith p 2, par 4). We find that the nurse sings this lullaby to Ofelia in a time of stress and hopelessness, as the story progresses the song starts to take on those characteristics and plays whenever there is a time of tribulation.

Sound tends to be portrayed through Ofelia's mind, such as on her first sleep in her new room when she heard creaks and haunting floor noises beneath her bed. Those same noises coincide with her 2nd challenge of the non-human monster banging on the door she drew with her magical chalk. The mise-en-scene in the last scene of the film exploits the lullaby in its narrative cueing- depicting the motif of destruction and death with the following images of explosions, blood, running and gunshots. If we were to close our eyes and hear this all happening we would be able to picture the distress and horror in our minds eye from listening to the ambient sounds of the lullaby and angelic snippets of the song when there is an overlapping dialogue with the music. The gunshots, explosions, panting and hurried footsteps give away that Ofelia is being chased by Captain and the rebels are fighting for their freedom. When Ofelia runs into the labyrinth to fulfill her last task with her baby brother in her arms and where she also feels safe inside her imagination, to escape the in-closing, bloodthirsty and revengeful Captain, the music fastens to set a desperate mood for her pumping adrenaline. The cracking of the faun's branches represents his earthly characteristics and Ofelia's love for nature, as she approaches him with the same music in the background, only ambient to let the audience know all is not well for her yet.

As the Captain approaches behind Ofelia the music becomes its loudest yet and heightens for the climax when the camera is directed towards him for a close up and makes an eye-match with the back of Ofelia speaking to no-one in front of her, while we hear the faun continue to speak angrily at her. There is suddenly an offscreen sound as the shot/reverse shots stop between Captain and Ofelia and lingers on Ofelia for a long shot- hearing a gunshot and her mouth open to let out her remaining breath. The angle of the frame is canted to portray the immoral ways of his action and remains on the same long shot while Ofelia looks down at her bleeding hand which is iridescent compared to her dark figure, shadows around her and moon shining down on her for the only visible light, and relics on the same spot while Ofelia slowly drops out of the shot to the ground. The frame is then directed at Captain holding the baby and walking out of the labyrinth. From behind him the camera shows what he sees in front of him- the rebels. We see his scared face between the backs of the rebels heads cutting in and out to represent his solo walk and complete loneliness. There is a direct sound of a baby's cry from the gunshot and camera is angled at the whole scene of the rebels looking down upon his dead body with the nurse holding the baby in her arms, and slowly moves backward to dissolve to the labyrinth. Ofelia is hanging over the stairway to the bottom of the labyrinth where her story first originates and we get a close up of her open eyes and dripping (innocent) blood as the camera moves down to the bleeding hand. We hear the main lullaby again and her shallow breathing as the shot is slowly moving down from the hand to the dark walls of the labyrinth to the ripples in the water from her dripping blood (the full moon reflecting in the water). The shot is directed eye-level to Ofelia again and we hear her final breath alongside angels singing in the background with a bright light behind her. This gives a realism aspect to the film because we feel it is happening in her imagination as she descends into her "kingdom", however, there is a play on words because she is also entering God's kingdom as well.

The narrative cueing continues after viewing her beautiful kingdom and the voice over reveals how "the princess" left traces on Earth behind her, such as a flower that buds from the tree on her first task that finalizes as the closing shot, represents her name "Ophelia" from Shakespeare's Hamlet, meaning flower and beauty. It is ironic the audience feels Ofelia is simply being a child by fantasizing about her characters that only she can see, yet by the final scene, they want an escape from the reality of life by believing a happier ending as well. The characters in Ofelia's imagination greatly represent the people and feelings she has in her actual reality. Even through an adolescent's imaginary view, Guillermo was able to depict a strong sense for the ambivalence man can have in his evil ways and the ability to always rise above, though it may happen to be within oneself.

Works Cited:

  1. Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. University of Pennsylvania: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  2. Julian Smith, Paul. "Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)." Caliber (2006): n. pag. Web. 21 June 2007.

One Comment

By Tiel Lundy on April 29, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Katie, thanks for posting your wonderful essay on Movies in 203. I haven't seen PAN'S LABYRINTH in a few years, but I'm inspired to re-watch it. (At the time, I had little or no familiarity with Del Toro's filmmaking. I recall being stunned by the historical violence it represents!)

One of the things you point to is how the film depicts childhood (or pre-adolescence) as a grim (or should I say "Grimm"?) fairy tale, a perilous time in one's life; similarly, juvenile imagination is at once wonderful and horror-filled. It seems to me the film's aesthetics are so perfectly suited to its thematic interests. While the phantasmagoric special effects capture Ofelia's dark interior world, the realist sequences reinforce the story's historical context. I imagine that as a nanny, many of these ideas about childhood really resonate with you.

I hope to see more of you on Movies in 203 and perhaps in the UC Denver classroom!

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