Analysis of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth
Del Toro conceived his film in a rather opposite perspective than other typical movies. In Pan's Labyrinth everything becomes a symbol from the actor to the background set-up. Del Toro is an erudite creator to whom the images and icons of past ages are the manifold fragments of an occult and mystic truth. In his point of view, directing a film is the art of putting together those fragments in a coherent discourse. Hence, in Pan's Labyrinth a broken watch can speak to the viewer with the same power as the acting does. Del Toro's filming transforms statue into actor and actor into statue, because the lineament of the image and the meaning they convey are worthy of dramatic emotion.
Unsurprisingly, Ofelia is placed in a bath on her muddy return. Del Toro tilts down from the tub to show her descending the fantasy staircase to the Faun’s lair, once more in a single shot. This technique of the masked cut is vital to the fluid texture of the film: the camera is always tracking behind tree trunks only to emerge unexpectedly in another place, another time. Sound bridges serve the same purpose. The Captain’s traditional songs played on a wind-up gramophone (one, incongruous in this damp, dark Northern setting, is called “Gardens of Granada”) are first sourced in his all-too-real bedroom but are held on to play over scenes set in Ofelia’s fantasy chambers. The clucking of the fairy-stick insect is made to merge with the ticking of the Captain’s stopwatch. The intricate parallel plotting, by del Toro himself of course, heightens or tightens this tense and intense connection. Ofelia must retrieve a key from a viscous ball vomited by the toad, just as Mercedes must guard, in real life, a secret key to the storeroom. Or again, Ofelia gets hold of a fantasy dagger in her second trial, just as Mercedes keeps in her apron a knife with which she will slice open the Captain’s cheek (“You’re not the first pig I’ve gutted”). Sometimes fantasy anticipates reality: a bloody stain spreads on the pages of Ofelia’s magical book, just as (in the next shot) her mother’s nightdress is drenched with blood as she nearly suffers a miscarriage. But at others it runs parallel to reality: Ofelia places under her mother’s bed a mandrake root, bathed in milk and fed on blood, which mirrors the real-life fetus that drains the mother of life. The sinister faux baby squirms and squeals when thrown on the fire. Finally, fantasy may follow reality. A luscious feast of blood-red berries and jellies, guarded by Doug Jones’s truly disturbing Pale Man (his eyeballs inserted into the palms of his hands), echoes the real-life dinner for the Francoist victors presided over by the sadistic Captain, which we have already been shown.
Briefly, just as the captain dies sonless, denied eternity through the thematic loss of his bloodline, we see Ofelia gain eternal life not only through her symbolic assumption of motherhood as well as the afterlife sequence mentioned above, but even through the defeat of time itself, as the forward momentum of the timepiece which condemns the captain to death is reversed in the closing moments of the film as Ofelia's blood flows backwards in time, pushing the film itself into a thematically circular loop that is visually suggestive of eternity.