Follow TV Tropes


Film / Pan's Labyrinth

Go To

"You're getting older, and you'll see that life isn't like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you'll learn that, even if it hurts."

Imagine Alice's Adventures 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 thrown in.

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, a few years 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 left-wing government overthrown by Francisco Franco's Nationalists and the new fascist regime (which ensured Spain remained neutral during World War II) attempting to weed out the last traces of La Résistance, led by The Remnant of the former Republican government. The story centers on Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), an only child whose widowed mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) has agreed to marry the ruthless Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) 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) to be near Captain Vidal for the birth while he hunts down rebels. Ofelia is quickly taken into a Changeling Fantasy about how she is secretly a princess of the underworld fairy kingdom, lost to humanity for many ages. The labyrinth was 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.

Del Toro's earlier The Devil's Backbone is considered its "brother film". It's also 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.

Should not be confused with Labyrinth, which is considerably Lighter and Softer, although their premises and sensibilities are comparable.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: Ofelia proves to be this in the climax. By leading Vidal into the labyrinth, she gives the rebels time to turn the tide against his men and earn a victory. Mercedes is still sobbing over Ofelia's body when she enters the labyrinth, feeling that her sacrifice wasn't worth it.
  • Amphibian at Large: One of Ofelia's tasks is to retrieve a key from the belly of a giant toad. Although it's not aggressive, it's large enough to scare her and gross her out. The fact that she has to make it vomit up the key is especially Squick inducing.
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of the film every major human character is dead except Mercedes, including the protagonist.
  • Arc Symbol: Circles to symbolize goodness amongst the evil Captain's more angular scenery.
  • Artistic License – History: In Real Life, fighting the rebel guerrillas was the job of the Guardia Civil — the guys in green uniforms and tricornes seen in the train wreck scene — but Vidal and his underlings appear to belong to the Policía Armada. Del Toro must have thought that the gray-blue police uniform, with its stronger fascist flavour and Commissar Cap, was more appropriate for the Big Bad than the Guardia's green.
  • Astral Checkerboard Decor: The Pale Man is sealed inside some room in the netherworld which can only be reached by magic. The floor of this mysterious place is tiled in red and white like a checkerboard.
  • Audible Sharpness:
    • During the shaving scene, a key is heard.
    • In the scene with the Pale Man, the dagger rings when Ofelia inspects it.
  • Badass Boast: Mercedes is a more understated but no less determined badass when her moment to shine comes.
    Mercedes: Motherfucker, don't you dare touch the girl. You won't be the first pig I've gutted.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Mercedes preferred to take her own life than give her pursuers the satisfaction of killing her. Or worse. Just before she was rescued by the rebels.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ofelia dies from her wounds on Earth but is reunited with her true parents of the Underworld. It's also implied her infant half-brother will grow up safe with Mercedes and the rebels. To a lesser extent, in the novelization the rebellion will ultimately fail, but Spain will free itself from fascism within a few decades.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The rebels save Mercedes from the Captain's henchmen right before they're going to 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 Magic:
    • The mandrake that the Faun gives Ofelia to heal her mother requires a few drops of fresh blood daily in order to work.
    • Blood is needed to open the magic portal to the underworld.
  • Blown Across the Room: An inversion, many times people are shot and barely react at all before dying. One character gets shot in the back while walking and doesn't break stride for another couple of steps before falling. This holds true when Vidal shoots Ofelia in the stomach; she looks more confused than in pain. Vidal himself gets shot just below his right eye and has time to blink two or three times before collapsing.
  • Break the Cutie: Things get progressively worse for Ofelia after the second test. The Faun seemingly abandons her, her mother dies in childbirth, and Vidal locks her up and orders her shot if she's rescued. She's clearly lost all hope until the Faun comes back.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Averted when Vidal turns his gun on the senior hunter, who's being restrained by a policeman. The policeman sees what's about to happen and quickly changes his position to hold 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.
  • Cannot Kill Their Loved Ones: When Ofelia has to kill her baby brother to prove herself as a princess of another world (the Faun claims he just needs to draw a few drops of blood and that her brother will suffer no lasting harm, but she doesn't believe him). She refuses to do so. Turns out it was a Secret Test of Character; by refusing to take her brother's life she proved herself worthy of returning.
  • Central Theme: Moral choice and disobedience. All of the characters face the choice of whether to obey Captain Vidal and the evil government he represents or risk everything by resisting. Ofelia disobeys her mother by going deeper into the world of magic and goes against Captain Vidal by keeping Mercedes's secret, but she eventually must also decide whether to obey the Faun. By refusing to sacrifice her brother as the last task, she passes the Faun's Secret Test of Character and gets her final reward.
  • Changeling Fantasy: An early scene even emphasizes that Ofelia is left-handed, a feature of changelings from folklore.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Mercedes hides a knife in her dress after cutting some potatoes in the kitchen. Later, when Captain Vidal interrogates her, she uses it to cut her ropes and seriously wound him.
    • The sedative the doctor leaves on Ofelia's mother's bedside. Ofelia takes it and drugs Captain Vidal's liquor glass when she goes to get her brother.
    • The chalk that the Faun gives Ofelia to make a door into the chamber of the Pale Man. She uses it again to get into Captain Vidal's room.
  • 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.
  • Classical Tongue: The Faun often uses the vosotros form, used for addressing multiple people, but to address Ofelia only, after the traditional way of addressing royalty.
  • Clock King: Captain Vidal, the villain of the movie, is obsessed with being punctual and is often checking his pocket watch.
  • Co-Dragons: Garcés and Serrano are Vidal's sergeants, who share the role of enforcing his repression.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Captain Vidal likes torturing his captives, most of the time to extract information, but he also tortures For the Evulz or to show that his men failed him or that they have outlived their usefulness. His implements include a hammer, pliers, and an ice pick.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Ofelia is reading a fairy story about a missing princess as she and Carmen arrive at Vidal's camp. That night, she meets the Faun, who tells her that she happens to be the princess in that story, and this just happens to be the site of the last portal to the Underworld.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: The police on horseback were ambushed just before they were about to recapture The Mole.
  • Coup de Grâce: The combatants on both sides do it with a single shot to the head.
  • Crapsack Only by Comparison: It is indicated that our world is a Crapsack World compared to the other one early on. Later footage subverts this, or at least makes you wonder about the priorities of the one doing the comparison.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The various fairy creatures are certainly frightening but may or may not be malevolent. It's humans you should watch out for.
  • Dark Reprise: A darker reprise — Mercedes's wordless lullaby to Ofelia, both while she's worrying about her mother and while she lies dying.
  • Death by Cameo: Jaime and Carlos from The Devil's Backbone appear among the partisans, revealing they survived the ending of that film. They're not so lucky this time.
  • Death by Childbirth: Carmen dies giving birth to her son.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Carmen sends Ofelia to bed without food because Ofelia ruined the dress she was given to wear to the dinner.
  • Determinator: Captain Vidal, who is beaten up and down but still keeps kicking so many times in the movie's finale that it's almost a Rasputinian Death.
  • Died Happily Ever After: As Ofelia dies from being shot, her blood drips down onto the Faun's portal. To the crying Mercedes, it seems as though Ofelia has merely died a tragic death, but Ofelia perceives herself transported away from the Crapsack World she used to inhabit and into the throne room of her fairy tale kingdom. There her real father the king praises her for passing the Faun's secret test of character and invites her to take her rightful place as princess at her parents' side. She passes on smiling.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Mercedes and the rebels find Ofelia mortally wounded and the heartbroken Mercedes holds and sings to her as she dies.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Captain Vidal's father was killed when his son was a boy, and it's implied that his death haunted Vidal all his life. Hence why he wants his own son so badly.
    • Ofelia claims her father was a deceased tailor. The Faun, however, tells her that her real father is king of the underworld and has been waiting for her to return. Ofelia meets him when she goes to the throne room of her kingdom in the end.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The children's shoes piled in the den of the Pale Man are eerily reminiscent of the heaps of shoes and other belongings that Nazi death camps collected from their victims during the Holocaust. Given the movie is set in 1944, this is likely intentional.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Ofelia, paralleling the Republican side in the actual Spanish Civil War. She dies for doing the right thing instead of what she was told, and this small rebel victory cannot last when Franco is destined to rule for decades more, but they have proved themselves more morally courageous than their oppressors, and someday, because of people like them, Spain will be free again. In the non-magical plot, Dr. Ferreiro tells Mercedes and Pedro outright that their cause is lost, but they nevertheless continue their struggle.
  • Doomed New Clothes: Ofelia tries to defy this trope by taking off her party dress and hanging it on a branch before crawling into the muddy passage of the hollow tree, but it doesn't work because it gets rained on while she's inside.
  • The Dying Walk: Doctor Ferreiro begins walking away from the room where he gave a Mercy Kill to Vidal's torture victim and revealed himself as The Mole. Vidal shoots the doctor in the back as he's walking, and the doctor continues walking, but only for a few more steps... Ofelia dies in the same vein, except she's shot in the chest rather than the back.
  • Eaten Alive: Two of the three fairy guides are devoured alive by the Pale Man.
  • Environmental Symbolism: From the obvious (the tree the frog resides under is shaped like a ram's head) to the more subtle (the bannisters in the house also have ram's heads, and the headboard of the mother's bed has details shaped like ram's horns). The opening of the tree is also intentional vaginal imagery.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For Vidal — "It's the right hand." He's in the movie for less than ten seconds and we already have him pegged as a sociopathic asshole obsessed with "correct" ways of doing things. Then he murders two prisoners with a bottle a bit later, just in case you didn't get it the first time.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The film's Tag Line states: "Innocence has a power evil cannot comprehend." Which is presumably why, at the end of the movie, Vidal can't see the Faun standing right in front of him. The novelization goes further when he doesn't even seem to question why Ofelia took his son into the labyrinth and not into the woods where the rebels were waiting. It never occurs to him that she really wanted to protect her little brother from monsters like him.
    • After Dr. Ferreiro Mercy Kills Tarta even though Vidal wanted him kept alive, Vidal is clearly angry, but he also looks and sounds genuinely confused and uncomprehending. He truly doesn't understand why someone would disobey a direct order when they know perfectly well that they will suffer terrible consequences for it.
      Vidal: Why did you do it?
      Ferreiro: It was the only thing I could do.
      Vidal: No. You could have obeyed me.
      Ferreiro: I could have, but I didn't.
      Vidal: It would have been better for you. You know it. I don't understand. Why didn't you obey me?
  • Evil Takes a Nap: The Pale Man remains in a state of hibernation at the head of his banqueting table, not reacting even when Ofelia picks up the plate on which his eyeballs sit. However, the moment Ofelia dares to help herself to some of the food laid out, the Pale Man snaps awake and goes on the attack.
  • Extradimensional Emergency Exit: Ofelia's second task involves her entering the underworld realm of the Pale Man by drawing a door in the wall with magical chalk. Unfortunately, the portal closes before she can leave, and Ofelia is forced to hastily draw another door leading back to the mortal realm while the Pale Man is closing in on her. Later, she uses the same chalk to escape from her room while being held captive by Captain Vidal.
  • Eyeless Face: The Pale Man first looks like he has no eyes whatsoever.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: The Pale Man's eye sockets are in the palms of his hands. His eyeballs sit on a plate in front of him, and he re-inserts them there when he wakes up.
  • Face Death with Dignity: By the time Vidal pieces together that the good Dr. Ferreiro is a collaborator with the doomed rebel cause, Ferreiro has already euthanised the stuttering rebel captive to spare him any further pain at Vidal's hands. He gives the fascist thug a concise "The Reason You Suck" Speech and then calmly walks outside knowing Vidal is going to follow him out and shoot him. Much later in the film, Vidal himself... tries this, but it doesn't work.
  • Face Palm: A fairy covers her face with her hands in dismay when Ofelia disobeys the Faun's order and eats the grapes from the Pale Man's table.
  • The Fair Folk: Initially they look like large, winged walking sticks. But with a bit of metamorphosis they can turn into humanoid faeries, though brown and with leaves for wings. The Faun belongs to this kind as well and he seems to be made out of rotting wood.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Fantasy Forbidding Parent. Ofelia is chided for reading too many fairy stories when she's supposed to have outgrown them. Her stepfather is outright hateful of them, while her mother just considers it childish, but when she throws the mandrake into the fire as proof that it's just superstition, the plant's pain kills her.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: Ofelia meets a Faun who promises to make her a princess again if she does as he tells her. He has the horns and legs of a goat, and his whole body is covered in bark and moss like the woods he comes from. Unlike the little dancing fauns of Fantasia, or the friendly Mr. Tumnus from The Chronicles of Narnia, this faun is meant to look ancient, wild, and somewhat ambiguous or threatening.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: The first sign that Ofelia has caused the Pale Man to wake up is the fingers of one hand, and then the other hand starting to move.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: On the way to her new home, Ofelia follows a big bug to find a pagan-esque statue in the woods. Later she follows the same bug to find the large stone structure in the labyrinth by her house, and the Faun.
  • Food Chains: Eating food for fairies is never a good idea, especially if you are warned not to do it. Don't eat the food on the table means, don't eat the food on the table. It can be explained, though, that Ofelia likely hadn't had a chance to eat fresh fruit for a long while because of the war. (She had been sent to bed without dinner but that was on an earlier evening.) There's also a good chance the food was enchanted.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The grapes. Ofelia is not allowed to eat anything, but the food on Pale Man's table looks delicious, especially the grapes.
  • Forced to Watch: Mercedes doesn't arrive in time to treat Ofelia's gunshot, and besides this, the doctor who could have saved her has been executed. All she can do is sing to the girl in her last moments, to offer her some comfort.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The film opens with Ofelia, lying on the ground, with Blood from the Mouth — or, in this case, her nose. Although the blood is flowing backwards — so maybe not so foregone after all.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Vidal's line, "If you have to choose, save the boy," ironically foreshadows Ofelia saving her brother at the cost of her own life.
    • Mercedes' badass boast to Vidal includes her telling him not to harm Ofelia. Vidal murders Ofelia in cold blood at the end of the film and he’s then quickly killed in revenge.
    • Dr. Ferreiro remarks to Captain Vidal that blind obedience without questioning is something only men like him practice. For her last task, Ofelia promises the faun that she will obey any command he gives without questioning, but refuses to risk her brother's safety.
    • In the Pale Man's chamber, there are three locks that Ofelia can use the key from the first task on. The fairies insist on the center lock, but Ofelia tries it and finds no give, so she decides to try the lock on the left instead and succeeds. She also defies the nagging of the fairies and the Faun's stated rule and eats grapes from the table, proving that she can question authority and think independently enough to pass the final test.
    • Multiple scenes show Vidal shaving in a mirror with his straight razor, and one time, he frustratedly slashes across his reflection. Mercedes ends up slashing half his mouth open with a knife she rolls up in her apron.
  • Glasgow Grin: Vidal gets half of one when he finds out that Mercedes is spying for the rebels. He tries to capture her, but she slashes his mouth with a knife that was on her. He then stitches himself up. Squick.
  • Good All Along: In the climax, the Faun demands that Ofelia hand over her baby brother so that he can cut him a little to open the portal to the Underworld. Ofelia refuses. It turns out that the Faun was testing her, and he's proud that she refused when they reunite in the Underworld. Ofelia gives him a relieved smile.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Going along with Dark Is Not Evil above, the Faun is frightening and downright mean at times, but he's on Ofelia's side... Or so we assume.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In some scenes, the gory section is either shown or shown an initial effect (e.g. sawing off the leg, or smashing a person's face.) Other gory scenes are skipped (e.g. torture scene, or cutting the captain's mouth.)
  • Gossipy Hens: The kitchen staff, who are forever happy chatting. Although it is implied that they dislike Vidal, they are only in a couple of scenes and are usually just talking and cooking with smiles on their faces.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In a horrific scene, Vidal beats a man's face in with a bottle. Notably averts the Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Ofelia thinks so, especially if it means letting go of her fairy stories. After seeing the agony her pregnant mother is in, Ofelia tells Mercedes that she doesn't want to be old enough to have children of her own. The Faun also states that as she grows older, her belief in the Underworld will fade, and the Underworld itself will vanish as well.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: It's fairly clear that Ofelia didn't get much input regarding her mother's marriage to Vidal.
  • Hate at First Sight: While Ofelia has probably met Vidal before, their first meeting in the film makes it clear that they can barely tolerate each other's presence.
  • Hell Is That Noise: When Dr. Ferreiro suggests to Vidal that his unborn child might be female, an ominous bass sound is heard, as though symbolizing Vidal's rising anger.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • The doctor shows mercy and euthanizes the captured rebel even though he surely knows it will cost his own life.
    • Ofelia refuses to let the Faun use her baby brother's blood for the sacrifice, even though it means giving up the life of an immortal princess. As soon as Captain Vidal catches up to her, he shoots her.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Defied by Ofelia. She hates her stepfather and all he represents, including how he tortures people and he lets her mother die. Even so, she refuses to give her little brother to the Faun because the Faun wants to cut his skin to get blood to open the portal. He's the only family she has left, and she doesn't trust what "a little" blood means.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Pale Man has grown emaciated while trapped in the Netherworld, and his humanity has withered away, leaving him a grotesque monster who only looks like a man in terms of general silhouette. Great rolls of loose skin sag from his bony frame, his face has no lips or eyes, and the eyeballs that sit before him on a plate are inserted into sockets in the palms of his hands. Since he cannot eat the food before him, his only sustenance is the flesh and blood of innocent children.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Played with. The depiction of Franco's fascist regime, as well as the Holocaust imagery hinted at in the Pale Man's lair, certainly has echoes of this, as does the Faun's insistence that Ofelia not be tainted by human contact. The novelization mentions that fairy tales have rules and logic, and people don't. As the film goes on, though, we see many examples of courage, integrity, and compassion from various human characters, even in the grim and hopeless circumstances they find themselves in.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Vidal orders Dr. Ferreiro to treat the wounds of a rebel he is torturing so that he can be tortured some more. The man begs Dr. Ferreiro to kill him, and Ferreiro obliges by giving a lethal injection.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Vidal gets one when he walks into the labyrinth and sees Ofelia protectively holding her brother, his son. She looks like an innocent child talking to the air. He even has a moment of looking at her with pity. Though he's gentle as he takes the baby from her arms, he still shoots her as she looks at him and pleads with one "No" to not hurt her brother.
  • Imaginary Friend: All the fairies might (possibly) be in Ofelia's imagination.
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: The feast at the Pale Man's den. In following the fairy tale motif, it was faerie food which is almost always glamoured to make it irresistible. Ofelia likely hadn't eaten in at least a day so she was probably starving, making it all the more enticing.
  • Inkblot Test: The Five-Second Foreshadowing towards Carmen's pregnancy hemorrhage as Ofelia's book inks the shape of a bleeding uterus, drenching the pages in red.
  • Inverted Trope: According to Word of God, in this movie, set in Francoist Spain, it's courageous disobedience, rather than blind obedience, that is the true virtue. This is nearly the opposite of pretty much any normal fairy tale. Dr. Ferreiro gets a Reason You Suck line aimed at Vidal to this effect.
  • I Wish It Were Real: This appears to be del Toro's interpretation of the story. On the DVD commentary, he states that the fantasy world may come from Ofelia's imagination, but as the film goes on, the magic starts having tangible effects in the "real" world.
  • Just Following Orders: Subverted and inverted. As noted above, the most courageous and humane moments come from disobeying orders.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The scene with two farmers who were just hunting rabbits and a bottle of wine — Vidal viciously beats the son with it and then shoots the desperate father and finishes off the son with a shot. This scene single-handedly establishes Captain Vidal as a psychopathic sadist.
    • Vidal doesn't let up in the climax. He corners Ofelia, who is carrying his son in the labyrinth. She's staring into the air and talking about "I would," seemingly alone and defenseless. There's a moment of pity on his face as he takes the baby from her and Ofelia tells him, "No". Then he shoots her. Even he realizes he went too far when he comes out and the rebels have cornered him.
  • 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's 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: Ofelia's final fate. She is a lovely child, kind and good, but she dies, on earth at least. She's alive and well in the Underworld .
  • Kill the Parent, Raise the Child: It's made clear that after shooting Vidal, Mercedes and the rebels will raise Vidal's infant son specifically to not know anything about his father.
  • La Résistance: The rebels. 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 façade 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: The labyrinth seems to have a mind of its own and to change shape, as when it opens a shortcut to Ofelia while closing before Captain Vidal.
  • Lost in Translation: There are a few scenes that have a little extra depth for Spanish speakers that unfortunately don't translate into English.
    • 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. Del Toro gets the point across for non-Spanish speakers 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" form when addressing Ofelia, rather than "tú". The "vos" used here (not to be confused with the "vos" form used in Argentina) was the formal address given in Spain during medieval times, specially to nobles and, above all, royalty. Not only does add a bit of atmosphere to the characters, but it also overlaps with the Royal "We".
    • The scene when Mercedes breaks free from Vidal and attacks him with a knife she had concealed. Up until that point she was addressing him in the formal form ("usted"), but here changes to the informal form ("tú"), which at the time was considered a HUGE disrespect to someone of higher rank. Which of course, makes the ensuing scene all the more cathartic!
    • The line: "Motherfucker, don't you dare touch the girl. You won't be the first pig I've gutted." The insult in Spanish is "hijo de puta", which means "son of a bitch". The thing is, in Spain "son of a bitch" is considered way more offensive than "motherfucker" is in English. Actually, it's considered THE worst insult you can say to a person.
  • Lunacy: The moon is connected to the world of magic, and the Faun requires Ofelia to complete the tasks by the time the moon is full. Del Toro talks about the association of the moon with the female nature, and of its phases with the concept of change. Therefore, it represents Ofelia's metamorphosis from a girl into a woman and ultimately (back) into a fairy.
  • Magical Girl Queenliness Test: Ofelia must fulfill three tasks to prove herself worthy of being the princess.
  • Magical Abortion: The novelization says that the titular maze was designed by a witch whose main job was getting rid of unwanted pregnancies that the mothers couldn't afford.
  • 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.
  • Mama Bear: Mercedes is a maternal figure to Ofelia, and she violently protects her near the climax, even more than Ofelia's real mother Carmen, who is too physically vulnerable herself.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The film is a dark fantasy about a little Spanish girl searching for magical medicines for her ailing, pregnant mother in the brutal years of Franco's regime, when the Falangists were still hunting down the Spanish Maquis.
  • Mauve Shirt: Garcés and Serrano are the biggest examples. Others, like Frenchie, the stuttering rebel, the other police captain, and the troop medic, either recur or are given slight characterization against the masses. They all die in the course of the movie.
  • 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 (Ofelia escaping her locked bedroom by creating a door with the magic chalk probably being the most difficult to explain away if you're so inclined).
  • Meaningful Name: Girls named Ofelia have associations with madness and Ofelia's parents certainly think that all the magic she sees isn't real.
  • Mercy Kill: Dr. Ferreiro 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.
  • Morality Pet: The baby is this for Vidal. For all of his talks of wanting a son, he is gentle with the newborn when holding him. Mercedes still says he is an evil man and the baby will never know his name.
  • 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 becomes his food.
  • Mundanger: Captain Vidal is a fascist officer with no relation to the magical elements of the setting, which he doesn't even believe in. And yet, Vidal could be considered a more terrifying monster than any of the actual monsters seen, lacking so much in compassion and empathy that he doesn't hesitate to kill his very young step-daughter for trying to run away with her baby brother.
  • Nasal Trauma: Captain Vidal bashes a rebel's nose in with a glass bottle.
  • 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 The Chronicles of Narnia type family fantasy — which is of course wrong. 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.
    • Carmen finds the mandrake root under her bed as Ofelia is checking it. She ignores Ofelia's protests to leave it since it's making her better and burns it, saying life is not a fairy tale. She dies soon after while bearing Vidal's son.
    • After this event, Ofelia begs Mercedes to take her into the woods, away from Vidal's house. Unfortunately, Vidal was following them and assumes Ofelia was recruited to the resistance. He locks them both up and plans to kill Ofelia when Mercedes makes her getaway.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: After Ofelia refuses to let her innocent newborn brother's blood 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.
    • The Faun even lampshades this, mentioning that he's had so many names that he no longer sees giving one as important.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: In the novelization, Ofelia brings her brother to the labyrinth with this attitude. Even though the Faun told her to get the baby, Ofelia promises him that they'll both be safe once they are in the Underworld. This is one of the reasons she refuses to let the Faun cut her brother to open the portal because she thought her brother was coming with her.
  • Novelization: Del Toro wrote one with Cornelia Funke in 2019, titled Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun.
  • Obviously Evil: The Pale Man. If his eerie countenance, plate full of eyeballs, and general aura of menace didn't clue you in, the paintings of him eating children that he's surrounded with will.
  • 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: The Faun seems able to appear wherever he likes.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The Faun's fairies 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.
  • Point That Somewhere Else: 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.
  • Practical Effects: The Faun is played by actor Doug Jones in a physical suit rather than via an expensive CGI version; Jones' lower legs and feet were removed in post-production. The suit took five hours a day to put on but the convincing result was worth the effort.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Captain Vidal was annoyed that he killed two 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!* Mercedes to Vidal, when the latter tries to give the rebels a message to pass on to his son when he's older.
  • Princess Protagonist: The Faun tells Ofelia that she is really Princess Moanna of the underworld and that her father sent him to test and guide her so she can go back home. Ofelia goes to great lengths to prove herself worthy of being a princess, and in the epilogue we're told that she ruled wisely and was loved by her people.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: While shaving, Captain Vidal mimes the act of slashing his own throat.
  • Rags to Royalty: Ofelia insists that she's just a tailor's daughter, but the Faun tells her that she's the princess of the Underworld. Depending on interpretation, this could also be seen as applying to her father.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: For those that know Spanish history, the republican rebels are doomed to lose their rebellion and the Franco regime will persist for several decades. Even so, after Ofelia dies, traces of her exist on Earth, from flowers blooming near the mill, providing hope that one day there will be a world for the innocent to live and rest peacefully.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Pale Man has red eyes, adding to the already existing eye horror.
  • Red Herring: After Ofelia escapes from the Pale Man, there's a lingering shot of her dropped chalk, making it seem that the Pale Man might use it to get to her later. Fortunately, this doesn't happen.
  • 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.
  • Robbing the Dead: The Captain takes killed hares or rabbits after killing an innocent hunter and his son.
  • 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.
  • Savage Wolf: In the novelization, Ofelia refers to Vidal as "The Wolf" in her head. Toward the end of the story, she decides this is actually an insult to wolves.
  • Scenery Porn: Very visually stunning movie with gorgeous interior and exterior shots.
  • 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. The ultimate test is when the Faun demands that Ofelia hand over her brother so that he can use the baby's blood to get her back home. She refuses and dies thanks to Vidal catching up to her. It turns out that her decision was the right one, and the Faun is relieved when she appears as Princess Moanna in the Underworld. The Fairy King says it was her refusal to hurt an innocent that proved she was still their princess. The test may have been set up even earlier with the Pale Man's banquet. Ofelia is told very clearly not to eat anything before going to it, but she disregards the rule and wakes the monster. Afterward, the Faun berates her for it, which might not be genuine anger, but an attempt to see if her now-proven ability to defy orders can be beaten down or not, leading into the last test. Ofelia is given the mission with a question of whether she can obey properly...when the solution requires she doesn't.
  • Schmuck Bait: Subverted. The Faun menacingly says they need a "few drops of blood" from Ofelia's brother to open the portal. Ofelia sees the size of the knife and says no. It later turns out that this was part of her test and her father says refusing to spill the blood of an innocent showed that she could return home.
  • Schmuck Banquet: The Pale Man's cursed feast. Ofelia was instructed not to touch it and not to eat it under any circumstances, but she could not resist those delicious-looking grapes. Too bad it woke up the horrible creature...
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: If you don’t think the magic is actually real. Then it really is all just the product of a traumatized little girl who loves fairytales, who is brutally abused by her fascist stepfather, whose mother dies, and who is murdered herself trying to rescue her little brother. Even the only bright spot (that Vidal is dead and Mercedes took the baby) is overridden by the fact that Franco will stay in power for decades, meaning that Mercedes, her brother, and the baby remain in real danger.
  • Shamed by a Mob: Captain Vidal is shamed by the rebels near the end of the movie.
  • Shout-Out: In the commentary, Guillermo del Toro says that Vidal's introduction was inspired by David Copperfield, in which David meets his stepfather for the first time, and is reprimanded for offering the wrong hand.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Vidal when he finds out he will not win promptly tries to break Mercedes and the rebels with a speech about his greatness. Mercedes won't even bother to let Vidal finish his speech.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: This movie simultaneously pits the two ends of the scale against each other. Ofelia is idealism, as the fairytale-loving girl who trusts in people (and magical creatures) implicitly. The cynicism is the rest of the world, especially Captain Vidal, who will torture and murder any "rebels" for any reason.
  • The Sociopath: Captain Vidal, a fascist police captain willing to torture and kill as many partisans as he has to to make sure fascists take power in Spain. He cares for nothing but his own power and legacy, not even blinking when he shoots his adopted daughter to keep his biological son under his thumb.
  • Soft Glass: Subverted in a scene early on that has Captain Vidal smashing a man's face in with a wine bottle. The bottle doesn't break. On the DVD commentary, Del Toro relates a barfight he was in, seeing a friend beaten by a bottle which remained whole the whole time.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Adult versions of Jaime and Carlos from The Devil's Backbone appear as defeated rebels. Carlos lies dead, while Jaime, being unable to talk for an interrogation due to his wounds, pathetically tries to shove away the gun Captain Vidal is pointing at him, until he fires, shooting through his hand and into his head.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Vidal is unable to see the faun standing just in front of him.
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: "Mercedes' Lullaby" is the dominant musical motif of the film.
  • This Is Reality:
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Ofelia actively wants to escape from the real world, which she does... at a cost.
  • To the Pain: Vidal goes into terrifying detail about the different torture implements he plans to use to "bond" with his captive.
  • Torture Always Works: Vidal seems to think so, but it's ultimately subverted, as the stuttering captive isn't able to reveal much.
  • Turn Out Like His Father:
    • Captain Vidal's ambition is to do exactly this despite the fact that he was too young to remember his father before he died. He is very much under his father's posthumous influence.
    • It is also his ambition to have his son become a Generation Xerox of himself. Mercedes prevents this.
  • Unperson: "He won't even know your name." Vidal's and Carmen's son will be probably brought up by kind Mercedes, but she promises evil Vidal the boy will never hear about him. Ooh, that stings...
  • Villainous BSoD: For what it's worth, Vidal looks like a part of him dies after he shoots Ofelia, who was trapped in the labyrinth and holding her baby brother protectively. After all, she went into the labyrinth rather than to the rebels and she wasn't hurting his son, with her last words being a Little "No" to him. When he sees the rebels surrounding him with guns and Mercedes with a Death Glare, he surrenders with minimal fuss.
  • Villainous Parental Instinct: Vidal may be a cold-blooded torturer and mass murderer, but he is totally committed to his baby son. It's implied that he only married Carmen because she got pregnant, and [he instructs the doctor to let her die if it saves the baby. When he's finally cornered by Mercedes and the rebels at the end, despite being the Determinator up until that point, he gives up relatively easily and calmly hands over the baby to Mercedes, asking her to give him his watch and tell him his Last Words when he grows up. Mercedes refuses. See Wham Line below.
  • Wham Line: Mercedes.
    Vidal: Tell my son... Tell him about his father... tell him the time I died...note 
    Mercedes: No. He'll never know your name.note 
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ofelia eats the grapes when she was strongly instructed not to. Two fairies were killed because of her, and she escaped just in time, almost devoured herself. The Faun is harsh and berates her thoroughly.
    • Especially bad since the Pale Man's banquet hall is covered in paintings of him devouring children.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Ofelia's ultimate test. She's faced with a chance to return to the Underworld as a princess, but the price is giving her brother to the Faun to spill his blood. The Faun reassures her that it's just "a little bit" of blood and that the baby is is "little brat". Ofelia is eyeing the knife though, and how huge it is. She refuses because she promised to protect her little brother and he's going with her. This is before Vidal catches up to her and shoots her, and he can't see the Faun, so she is alone.
  • White and Red and Eerie All Over: The Pale Man, as his name indicates, is a fairytale monster whose bleached skin is offset only by several flesh-colored highlights around its extremities and orifices.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Vidal becomes an evil, intimidating stepfather to Ofelia. The word "wicked" is a bit too mild to describe him.
  • Wring Every Last Drop out of Him: Ofelia's mother's pregnancy starts to go wrong and it seems her soon-to-be little brother will be stillborn. In the last two-thirds of the film, most of the drama is provided by Ofelia and Vidal worrying about Carmen's quickly deteriorating health. The latter can only rely on countless medical check-ups, while Ofelia manages to get a magical solution by placing a mandrake under her mother's bed. It's all for naught, though, as Carmen ultimately dies, starting the final act.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Ofelia, depending on interpretation. She sees herself as the heroine of a fairy tale when she's actually in a grim war film. When she's shot in the novelization, she notes that none of her fairy tales ended like that.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When the giant toad pukes up its insides.
  • You Watch Too Much X: According to her mother Carmen, Ofelia reads too many fairy tales.


Video Example(s):


The Pale Man

The Pale Man is a hideous, child-eating monstrosity imprisoned by the Fair Folk for Ofelia's test.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / HumanoidAbomination

Media sources: