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Film / Pan's Labyrinth

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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, 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 left-wing 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, and Taiwan) to 21+ (Singapore) in cinemas.

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:

  • 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 with killing her if she someday gets in 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.
  • 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 belong to the Policía Armada. Del Toro must have thought that the grey police uniform, with its stronger Fascist flavour, was more appropriate for the Big Bad than the GC green.
  • Audible Sharpness:
    • During the shaving scene, a key is heard.
    • In the scene with the eyeless man, we hear the knife.
  • Badass Boast: Mercedes is a more understated but no less determined badass when her moment to shine comes.
    "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.
  • 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 needed to open the magic portal.
  • Blown Across the Room: An inversion, many times people are shot and barely react at all before dying. One character get 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, the villain of the movie, is obsessed with being puctual and is often checking his pocket watch.
  • 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 he's actually king of the underworld and she meets him at 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 Holocaust. Given the movie is set in 1944, this is likely intentional.
  • 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...
  • 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 cold bastard 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.
  • Eyeless Face: The Pale Man first looks like he has no eyes whatsoever. They are in his hands.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: The Pale Man has his eyes in his hands.
  • Face Palm: The faeries cover her face with their hands when Ofelia breaches the Faun's order and eats the grapes.
  • 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.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • Vidal seems to have put a lot of thought into what he will say when/if the time comes. Subverted as we never hear it because he is made shut his face and killed.
    • Dr. Ferreiro's last words are fairly memorable as well:
    But Captain, to obey — just like that — for obedience's sake... Without questioning... That's something only people like you do.
  • 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, her mother just considers it childish, but when she throws the mandrake into the fire as proof of its superstition, the plant's pain kills her.
  • 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. Also, she had been sent to bed without supper, so was more hungry than usual.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The grapes. Ofelia is not allowed to eat anything, but the food on Pale Man's table look delicious, especially the grapes.
  • 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: 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.
  • Glasgow Grin: Vidal gets half of one when he finds out that Mercedes is spying for the rebesl. He tries to capture her, but she slashes his mouth with a knife that was on her. He then stitches himself up. Squick.
  • 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.)
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In a horrific scene, Vidal beats a man's face in with a bottle. Notably averts the Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The doctor shows mercy and euthanizes the captured rebel, even though he surely knows it will cost his own life.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 seem like irresistible. Ofelia likely haven't eaten at least a day so she was probably starving, making it seem all the more delicious.
  • Inkblot Test: The 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 Falangist 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.
  • Kick the Dog: The scene with two farmers who were just hunting rabbits and a bottle of wine — Vidal smashes the son's face with it, and then shoots the desperate father and finishes off the son with a shot. 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: 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 .
  • 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.
  • 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. 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" 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.
  • 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 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. 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 (the chalk door probably being the most difficult to explain away if you're so inclined).
  • Meaningful Name: Girls named Ofelia don't tend to have happy endings.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Obligatory War-Crime Scene: You have to really look for it, but after the rebels win their battle against the government troops, they proceed to shoot their captives to death, thus mirroring an earlier moment of Vidal's soldiers doing exactly the same thing to surrendering partisans.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, who wanted his son to know all about him, his father's clock, etc.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Schmuck Banquet: The Pale Man's cursed feast. Ofelia was instructed not to touch it and not to eat under any circumstances, but she could not resist those delicous-looking grapes. Too bad it woke up the horrible creature...
  • Shamed by a Mob: Captain Vidal is shamed by the rebels near the end of the movie.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Vidal when he finds out he will not win promptly tries to break Mercedes and the rebels by a speech about his greatness. Mercedes won't even bother to let Vidal finish his speech.
  • 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. 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.
  • The Southpaw: Ofelia is left-handed. 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, though it was quite common to try to correct children in that time.
  • 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.
    • There were some who saw it as a Spiritual Successor to the Franco-Era Spanish classic The Spirit Of The Beehive, another film that deals with a young girl's experiences in the early Franco years and her perception of the real-world realities of the time through a fantasy lens (in this case through Boris Karloff's Frankenstein).
  • 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.
  • Unperson: "He won't even know your name." Vidal and Carmen's son will be probably brought up by kind Mercedes, but she promises her evil father his son will never hear about him. Ooh, that stings...
  • 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.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Vidal becomes an evil, intimidating step-father to Ofelia. The word "wicked" is a bit too mild to describe him.