Beautiful Decay, 22 January 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
*** This comment may contain spoilers ***
Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” begins with a transfixing opening shot that completely transports you into a dark and mysterious world. The film has the look and tone of Del Toro’s near-masterpiece “The Devil’s Backbone.” Whereas “The Devil’s Backbone” was a ripping good yarn and old-fashioned ghost story where the haunting served as a metaphor for the fractured relationships of the people living in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, “Pan’s Labyrinth” uses the same historical context to present a simplistic and damning Passion Play.
Much like the similarly well made but questionable “Children of Men” this film presents us with an array of characters who are nothing more than archetypes pulled out of the decaying mythology of both Paganism and Christianity. Del Toro attempts some character development by assigning each person a single detail to give them depth (i.e. the Captain’s father’s watch, Mercedes’ hiding of the knife in her apron, or Ofelia’s love of books).
Despite the lack of substance in the storyline, the film is not without its suspenseful and magical moments. Ofelia’s escape from the horrifying “baby-eater” and Mercedes’ escape from the Captain provide cracker-jack thrills and are expertly staged by the director. Del Toro masterfully handles the complex special effects, elaborate make-up and set designs, creating a hauntingly beautiful mise-en-scene that gives the viewer plenty of eye-candy without being overwhelming or reeking of hollow CGI design.
Unfortunately the film, saturated in Catholic overtones, becomes rather predictable once Ofelia’s imaginary friend Pan reveals a sinister nature behind his tasks for the young girl. Ironically, this film will probably appeal to the same people who found great comfort in Mel Gibson’s odious “Passion of the Christ.” Those who believe in redemption through torture and self-sacrifice will heavily identify with the archetypes on display here. Ultimately the film presents a sadistic task-master “god” whose sole design is to trick an innocent into sacrificing themselves for the “future” and gives us a notion of “heaven” that may only exist in the mind of a wildly imaginative young girl. A film (like Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”) that presents the horrors of the real world as something for a person to survive and overcome speaks truer to the human condition than a film like “Pan’s Labyrinth” that cloaks the real horrors of life in fantasy and myth and celebrates martyrdom over the innate will to survive. Del Toro dresses his falsity in beautiful garb, but the morality lurking beneath is rotten to the core.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database