Imagine Alice in Wonderland meeting The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
, then joined by The Wind That Shakes the Barley
with a sizable portion of The Brothers Grimm
You'll get...Pan's Labyrinth
(Original Spanish title: El laberinto del fauno
), a dark, modern-day fairy tale, complete with fairies
, Secret Tests Of Character
, and monsters — not all of them supernatural.
It's set in 1944, just after the Spanish Civil War
(a favorite period for Mexico-born Guillermo del Toro
, the film's writer and director), with Spain's democratically elected socialist government overthrown by Francisco Franco's Falangists (Spanish Fascists or "National-Catholics") and the new government attempting to weed out the last traces of La Résistance
. The story centers on Ofelia, an only child whose widowed mother Carmen has agreed to marry
the ruthless Captain Vidal to provide for them. In turn, he expects her to bear him a son.
Ofelia and her mother are taken to a villa in the mountains near an old labyrinth (the titular Faun's one) to be near Captain Vidal for the birth while he hunts down rebels. She is quickly taken into
a Changeling Fantasy
about how she is secretly princess
of the underworld fairy kingdom, lost to humanity for many ages. The Faun and his labyrinth were one of many made by her father, the King of the Underworld, as gateways in the hope she would return.
As she undergoes trials to prove her soul is uncorrupted
by living among humans
, so do the rebels, her mother, and her nursemaid and only friend Mercedes.
Warning, this film is a Tear Jerker
. A profoundly disturbing Tear Jerker
, as well as a great source of horror. For those of you who missed the R rating
...this fairy tale is very definitely not for children
It is notable that many squicks
and nightmares were induced by this movie due to it being advertised as "family friendly". Especially in Europe, trailers shown only mentioned the fantasy parts. The fact that it takes place during Franco's regime is completely ignored, as is every mention of gruesomeness. Rated everything from 12+ (France, Japan, Iceland, Taiwan) to 21+ (Singapore) in cinemas.
Now the subject of an upcoming musical adaptation
written by Del Toro himself, with Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel
, Brokeback Mountain
and The Last of Us
) and Paul Williams
composing music/lyrics, respectively.
This film provides examples of:
- Action Survivor: Ofelia. Though not for long.
- Adult Fear: For a film with supernatural terrors as scary as the Pale Man, it's an accomplishment that the most chilling moments in the film come from the very real evils of Fascism and the authoritarian, sociopathic figures that it attracts.
- For mothers: You die of childbirth leaving your little daughter with only your new husband, who turns out to be a sociopath wicked stepfather who has no qualms to kill her if she someday gets on his way.
- All Just a Dream: NOPE! Guillermo Del Toro states that everything in the film was real.
- Anyone Can Die: By the end of the film nearly every established character is dead, including the protagonist.
- Astral Checkerboard Decor
- Audible Sharpness: During the shaving scene and during the scene with the eyeless man, first a key, then the knife
- Badass: The rebels are replete with badasses, of course. Vidal is an inverted evil badass. And Mercedes is a more understated but no less determined badass when her moment to shine comes.
, don't you dare touch the girl. You won't be the first pig I've gutted."
- Berserk Button: If one is to hurt children, one will provoke a level of wrath one would not expect to see from Mercedes.
- The Faun really hates being disobeyed. Actually a subversion, since knowing when to disobey in spite of this is part of the Secret Test of Character. In his final scene, he's proud of her for disobeying him.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Mercedes, just before being rescued by the rebels, preferred to take her own life than give her pursuers the satisfaction. Or worse.
- Bittersweet Ending: Ofelia dies from her wounds on Earth but is reunited with her true parents of the Underworld.
- Big Bad: Vidal
- Big Damn Heroes: When the rebels save Mercedes from the Captain's henchmen right before they're going to
kill take her back and inflict Cold-Blooded Torture on her.
- Blood from the Mouth: Captain Vidal, though this is because he has a severe mouth injury.
- Blood Knight: Captain Vidal
- Blood Magic: The plant that the Faun gives Ofelia to heal her mother requires a few drops of fresh blood daily in order to work.
- At the finale, blood is supposedly needed to open the magic portal.
- Break the Cutie: Having fun yet, Ofelia?
- Brick Joke: The lottery ticket.
- Broken Masquerade
- Bulletproof Human Shield: Averted, when Vidal turns his gun on the senior hunter, who's being restrained by a soldier. The soldier sees what's about to happen, and quickly changes his position to holding the man at the side, rather than directly behind him as the man's body would most likely have not protected him from Vidal's close range gunshot.
- By the Eyes of the Blind: The Faun, even when in plain sight, can only be seen by those who "know where to look" and are ready to believe. Or so says Word of God Guillermo del Toro on the DVD Commentary.
- Changeling Fantasy: An early scene even emphasizes that Ofelia is left-handed, a feature of changelings from folklore.
- Chekhov's Gun: The knife Mercedes rolls up in her dress after cutting potatoes.
- And the sedative the doctor leaves on Ofelia's mother's bedside.
- The chalk comes up again, too.
- Child Eater: The Pale Man. This is made very clear just from looking at his lair, which includes among other things his collection of children's shoes. This is overt Holocaust imagery.
- Classic Villain: Vidal, who mainly represents Pride and absurd amounts of Wrath.
- Clock King: Captain Vidal
- Co-Dragons: Garcés and Serrano to Vidal.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Captain Vidal likes to do this on his captives, most of the time to extract information, but other times not.
- Kick the Dog: The scene with two farmers and a bottle of wine. This scene single-handedly establishes Captain Vidal as psychopathic sadist. Cut it and he could easily pass as a right-winged Unscrupulous Hero fighting terrorists/dirty commies.
- Kill Him Already: Mercedes should probably have killed Vidal when she had him at her mercy to avert the Bittersweet Ending, However, according to Word of God: Mercedes' knife was intended to be too small to inflict serious damage on as formidable an opponent as Captain Vidal. On a symbolic level, such a fearsome monster as Captain Vidal needed something equally fearsome to finish him off. Such is the nature of a fairy tale.)
- Kill the Cutie: Ophelia's final fate.
- La Résistance - The rebels of course. Overlaps somewhat with The Remnant, since by the time the movie takes place (1944) the Republicans had already lost the war, and there were only a few isolated pockets of resistance remaining.
- Let's Get Dangerous: Mercedes at first comes off as a gentle woman, and she considers herself a coward. This facade lasts right up until it comes time to have her Big Damn Heroes moment.
- Light Is Not Good: It's our bright world with sunlight that can feel pain, according to the exposition backstory. Also, the Pale Man lives in a place vaguely shaped after the interior of a church coloured in rich golden light.
- Living Labyrinth
- Lost in Translation: When the Captain welcomes Ofelia and the pregnant Carmen to the villa, he says "Bienvenidos" to them, the Spanish form of "welcome" that one would use in addressing multiple people when at least one is male (you'd say "Bienvenidas" to two women). This would instantly telegraph to a Spanish-speaking audience whom he really cares about (especially since the baby's sex is still unknown).
- Although del Toro gets the point across for non-Spanish speakers too by having the Captain wait until he's checked Carmen's pregnant belly before he welcomes them.
- The Faun (and later the Fairy court) use the vos (2nd person plural) form when addressing Ofelia, rather than tú. Not only does add a bit of atmosphere to the characters, since this sort of address was the norm in medieval Spanish, but it also overlaps with the Royal "We".
- The Lost Woods
- Magical Girl Queenliness Test
- The Magic Goes Away: The Labyrinth is one of the last (if not the last) of the portals the King of the Underground Realm opened for his daughter to return home through. When Ofelia messes up her second task, the Faun proclaims that the magical world will fade along with her eventual death. However, by the end of the film, it is said that the Princess left traces of her existence in places where people could find them if they looked carefully.
- Magical Realism
- Mama Bear: Mercedes near the climax, even more than Carmen, who actually proves to be a fairly weak person.
- Mauve Shirt: Garcés and Serrano are the biggest examples. Others, like Frenchie, the stuttering rebel, the Guardia Civil captain and the troop medic, either recur or are given slight characterization against the masses.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Are the fantasy creatures real, or the product of a lonely girl's imagination? Up in the air, although the director insists that he believes the fairies are real. And if they're not, that actually creates a few plot holes.
- Meaningful Name: Girls named Ofelia don't tend to have happy endings.
- Also, depending on your interpretation of the above trope, she may really be The Ophelia.
- Mercy Kill: Dr. Ferraro kills a wounded rebel soldier at his insistence, to spare him from more torture.
- Milky White Eyes: The Faun appears to be aged and blind when he first appears, but grows more youthful in appearance as the film progresses.
- Monstrous Humanoid: The Pale Man is a pale, skeletal, humanoid creature with eyes on the palms of its hands that usually sits at the head of a table laden with an enchanted feast. Anyone who eats the food wakes him up and, well...
- Never Say "Die": Also, never say "pregnant."
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers used for the US release 1) gave no clue that the actual film was in Spanish, and 2) made it look like a Narnia-type family fantasy. FAMILY FANTASY. REALLY.
- Driven home on the cover of the DVD, which promises that the movie is "on the same altar of High Fantasy as The Lord of the Rings trilogy", and throws another mention of The Lord of the Rings on the back of the cover, obviously trying to make whoever buys it believe that the movie is going to be just like it. If anything, it's more of an Urban Fantasy, and certainly not High Fantasy as TV Tropes defines the term.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The brutal deaths of those two fairies (and lots of other terrible things) could have been avoided if Ofelia had not eaten those two grapes.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: After Ofelia refuses to let her innocent newborn brother's blood to be spilled for her final test, she's shot by Vidal. As she lies dying, the blood from her wounds fulfills the test's requirements and she's finally allowed to reunite with her parents in the underworld.
- No Name Given: The Faun has no name; it is simply "The Faun." The English title seems to confer the name "Pan" on him, but that's just by way of sounding evocative. Del Toro has said the Faun is not meant to be Pan, who was far too sexual a character for this kind of story.
- Offing The Annoyance: If it wasn't just For the Evulz, this was the reason Captain Vidal killed those two farmers. He'd told them to be quiet and take their hats off a few times beforehand.
- Offscreen Teleportation
- Our Fairies Are Different: They disguise themselves as insects.
- Our Ogres Are Hungrier: Del Toro says that the Pale Man is his conception of the classic, child-eating ogre of fairy tales.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Pedro's killing of Vidal for the murder of Ofelia.
- Plucky Girl: Ofelia.
- Point That Somewhere Else: It doesn't actually work. Captain Vidal aims his pistol at a wounded revolutionary, who weakly pushes it away once, twice, then rests his hand over the barrel. Vidal just shoots him.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Captain Vidal was annoyed that he killed two innocent hunters he mistook for rebels-only because his men didn't check on them thoroughly, thus wasting his time, and killing innocent civilians would probably incite the townspeople to support the rebels.
- Precision F-Strike: "Motherfucker, don't you dare touch the girl. You won't be the first pig I've gutted."
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "He won't even know your name." -BANG!-
- Psycho for Hire: Captain Vidal.
- Rage Against the Reflection: Captain Vidal.
- Rags to Royalty
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Pale Man, adding to the already existing eye horror.
- Reverse Mole: Mercedes and Doctor Fereiro.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The band of guerrilla fighters in the hills are depicted as overtly heroic, though they do noticeably execute the fascist prisoners in a scene that mirrors the summary executions of their own members early in the movie.
- Rule of Scary
- Rule of Three: Three tests to prove her worth. Three items to be collected. Three times Ofelia goes to the Labyrinth, three times the Faun comes to her in her room. Three doors made with chalk. Three fairies. You get the picture.
- Scenery Porn: One of the most visually stunning movies in recent years.
- Secret Test of Character: In short, is it better to play it safe and obey or to take the chance and be disobedient when you don't trust the authority in question? This theme is foreshadowed, in microcosmic form, in Ofelia's bedtime story for her unborn brother.
- Schmuck Banquet: The Pale Man's cursed feast.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Almost certainly applies if you can't accept that the magic is real.
- Shamed by a Mob: Captain Vidal near the end of the movie.
- Shout-Out: In the commentary, Guillermo del Toro points out many shoutouts to Charles Dickens, Stephen King, several surrealist painters, and many others.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Mercedes won't even bother to let Vidal finish his speech at the end.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: This movie simultaneously pits the two ends of the scale against each other.
- Soft Glass: Subverted in a scene early on which has Captain Vidal smashing a man's face in with a wine bottle. The bottle doesn't break.
- The Southpaw: Ofelia, in that it is a subtle sign that she actually is a changeling. Also the first Kick the Dog moment for her stepfather, who tells her to use the right hand instead.
- Spiritual Successor: Word of God identifies this film as the second in a loosely connected trilogy started by The Devil's Backbone and to be concluded with a ghost movie set in the '70s.
- Theme And Variations Soundtrack: "Mercedes' Lullaby" is the dominant musical motif of the film. Other themes make an appearance, though.
- Theme Tune Cameo
- The Ophelia: Ofelia is very young, but shows signs of perhaps growing into this trope — she is keenly sensitive, adores stories and books, and is eager to chase after fantasies. To outsiders she may well look like a girl who is not all there.
- Too Dumb to Live: Ofelia, in ignoring the warnings of the fairies, during her disastrous face-off against the Pale Man. Though, in following the fairy tale motif, it was faerie food which is almost always glamoured to make it seem like irresistible, Impossibly Delicious Food. Not to mention she hadn't eaten in at least a day so she was probably starving.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The underworld on the other hand.
- To the Pain
- Torture Always Works: Vidal seems to think so, but it's ultimately subverted.
- Unperson: "He won't even know your name." Ooh, that stings...
- Vader Breath: The Pale Man.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Ofelia and the grapes.
- Wicked Stepmother: Father actually, Vidal to Ofelia. But "wicked" is a bit too mild.
- Would Hurt a Child: Captain Vidal.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The Faun, although he's pretty effective at playacting otherwise.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Almost all the real-world characters, but Carmen (Ofelia's mother) most of all.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When the giant toad pukes up its insides.
- You Watch Too Much X: According to her Wrong Genre Savvy mother Carmen, Ofelia reads too many fairy tales.