DVD Release Date: May 15, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: January 19, 2007 (wider release)
Rating: R (for graphic violence and some language)
Run Time: 112 min.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Actors: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo
The most surprising movie-related storyline to emerge from 2006 is the rise of three filmmakers from Mexico. Alexander González Iñarritu (“Babel”), Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) and now Guillermo del Toro with Pan’s Labyrinth have made three of the best films to reach American theaters in recent weeks.
The most contemporary, searing, and heart rending of the three may be Innaritu’s Babel, the most cinematically show-stopping Children of Men. But as a work of imagination and originality, Pan’s Labyrinth tops them both. It’s a reminder that not all fairy tales are for children, and that the power of the imagination is something that can be kindled and reawakened in adults, given the right material. Pan’s Labyrinth is, in a word, breathtaking. The film opens in wider release today, so check your local listings: It’s one movie you won’t want to miss.
That’s not to say that the film is appropriate for all ages. No, this fairy tale is suffused with wartime darkness and menace, but the threats and surrounding violence are a crucible for the film’s young protagonist, who is told of great rewards if she can resist temptation, navigate difficult choices, and ultimately face the prospect of making the greatest of sacrifices.
Ivana Baquero stars as Ofelia, a young girl in post-Civil War Spain, who moves with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) into the home of Capitan Vidal (Sergi López). Although the captain is her step-father, Ofelia is instructed by her mother to address him as “father.”
Alone and frightened by her surroundings, Ofelia is befriended by a fairy who leads her into a labyrinth on the grounds of her new home. There she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who reveals that Ofelia is a princess from another realm, who long ago entered the human’s world. She can re-enter her earlier world by carrying out three tasks.
Ofelia is disbelieving, but when a confirming mark appears on her shoulder, and the blank book handed to her by the faun suddenly flows with colorful text, Ofelia lays claim to the promise of her otherworldly identity and sets about to complete the tasks before her. At the very least, such belief provides an avenue of escape from the loveless union between Ofelia’s mother and the captain, whose sole interest is the welfare of his unborn child.
As Ofelia withdraws into this alternative reality, the trials of those around her grow more dire. Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), the captain’s housekeeper, and the captain’s doctor (Álex Angulo) provide secret aid to rebel troops in the nearby forests, compelled by family ties, compassion for the weary fighters, and growing disillusionment over the captain’s sadistic tendencies.
Ofelia’s mother also struggles with her daughter’s imaginary life and a troubled pregnancy. It is this situation that Ofelia is commanded to fix by performing her first task – placing a mandrake root under her mother’s bed.
The second task is a test whereby Ofelia must enter the realm of a monstrous being seated at a table with a prepared feast, but not partake of any of the food. To taste this “forbidden fruit” could cost Ofelia her very life, the faun says. Failure will disrupt the plan to unite Ofelia with her otherworldly father, for she will be banished from the presence of the faun.
Ofelia will be offered one more chance to obey the faun – without questioning him, he insists. The test that follows is reminiscent of God’s test of Abraham at Mt. Moriah and a reminder of what “greater love” (John 15) can achieve. For those who are faithful, rewards await.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale full of magic. In some Christian circles, fairies are thought to be part of the occult and any form of magic is viewed as a dark art. Fantasy films, therefore, have had a hard time connecting with some discerning Christians who are on guard against depictions of evil dressed up as good. We know that spiritual counterfeits abound in this world, and God commands us to be on guard against beings who appear to be good, but who disguise darker motives. The Harry Potter series and The Golden Compass books are examples of popular imaginative works that find heavy criticism (but also praise, at least in the case of Harry Potter) from many in the Christian community. Pan’s Labyrinth, with its blend of mythic storytelling and potent Christian symbolism, is sure to stir further controversy among Christians.
So let me end with a personal statement about this movie, which moved me deeply. As someone who has problems with the Harry Potter stories, and who won’t go near The Golden Compass stories based on what I know of them, I can only offer a humbly stated but wildly enthusiastic endorsement of Pan’s Labyrinth. As an original piece of visual and verbal storytelling, it’s a marvel, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Its images are strange and, at times, frightening, but I found its message of strength through sacrifice deeply spiritual and profoundly Christian.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a movie to treasure. They just don’t make ’em like this. If you choose to see it, I think you’ll agree.
AUDIENCE: Older teens and up
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; several subtitled profanities.
- Violence: War violence, including gunfire, often at point-blank range, and large explosions; a giant toad vomits up its insides; a man’s lower leg is amputated; an ogre places eyeballs into his palms and chases Ofelia; sadistic torture; bleeding from a troubled pregnancy; a man stitches his own wounds; a man strikes a young girl and threatens her with death; a woman threatens to slit her own throat.
- Sex/Nudity: None.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Some smoking. Some scenes of drinking, including a shot of alcohol soaking an open wound.
- Religion: Clerics are portrayed as corrupt and uncaring toward the less fortunate; a funeral service includes words about the inscrutable ways of the Lord.
- Other: Ofelia’s mother has remarried, but to a cruel man. Ofelia sings to her mother’s womb and the unborn child is pictured; the child’s father makes it clear that he’s interested only in the child’s welfare and not his wife’s; a mandrake root comes to life, in a shape similar to that of a fetus.