“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.” In Guillermo Del Toro’s movie, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), the use of costumes and specific details to location is employed to provide the movie with a certain sense of realism (verisimilitude). Gender stereotype is also added, to make the story believable and lend it its credibility of the depiction of the time period. The movie is about a little girl, Ofelia, whose mother married a Spanish tyrant and had to travel to Navarra, the station where her stepfather was based. There Ofelia discovers a labyrinth and a faun who tells her that she is a princess of an underground realm and she has an adventure finding out whether it is true or not. The movie’s setting is against the “historical backdrop of the Spanish Civil war which began when a group of right wing military generals attempted to topple the newly elected leftist government” (panslabyrinth.com). However, since the movie is essentially about the fantasy adventure that Ofelia embarks on in contrast to the bleak physical reality with her stepfather, the projection of reality in the magical world is critical; the way one views the events that transpire and the demise of Ofelia in the film is determined by whether one believes such interactions actually happened or not. The use of costumes adds to the sense of realism within the fantasy world of the movie.
The movie has a retrospective plot, as it begins with an establishing shot of Ofelia lying on the ground and blood visible in her nose which slowly retraces a part back into her nose, with Ofelia’s eyes wide open as if in shock. With this, the viewer immediately knows that Ofelia would die at some point in the narration of the movie. With the reestablishing shot of the same scene, one realizes that the scene is important in the understanding and interpretation of the movie, as one wonders if the magical world is real or just Ofelia’s imagination. If it were real, then one can breathe easily and be happy that she finally gets the respite from all the hardship she had endured. However if all that transpired was a figment of her imagination and a way to cope with her bleak existence, then she does not really transcend and is not really the princess of the fantasyland.
However, it is easy to believe that all she goes through is true as certain aspect of the movie projects the feeling of believability both in the fantasyland and in the physical world. In the physical world, one sees Ofelia and her mother, in the beginning of the narrative, travelling in a black 1936 Rolls-Royce Phantom III model, which is characteristic of the period of the Spanish war. Also the truck that carried their luggage was rusty and very dirty, fitting the role of a warlike transport vehicle. The Captain’s station house is barn-like, a degenerated crumbling house which complements the woods and is idyllic of a station house in the middle of the forest. The house is without color, and it is built in colonial style, it is old, the inside cracked at some point, and the woods splintered and bitten by crickets too. These little details in the props, all combined to give the movie, an authentic feel and consistency in the scenario.
As for the supposed fantasy world, it is interesting that the Faun and the other non-human personalities are scary creatures and not the present Disney characters which are beautiful, enchanting and laughable characters who live happily ever after. The Faun is goatish looking with two large horns protruding from his head. He is dirty and looks aged, but however without the dignified look of the old wise men in the modern fairy stories; his body looks like a tree with its rough and filthy bark, his fingers are scaly and long, and his legs look like the hind legs of a centaur. As for the fairy, it is at first projected as an alien looking insect; it is long and metallic in nature. It then metamorphoses into a somewhat typical fairy with leaves as wings, only it is bald, with its head protruding at the back like a kid with kwashiorkor deficiency syndrome. It is not graceful, and emits metallic sounds as its talks and flaps its leaves.
The Pale Man’s costume is also shocking and frightening; his skin was scabby and gluttonous looking. His face is funny looking with two holes, which are close to his forehead, and sees through the eyes in his hands. Employing such unconventional illustration of magical characters lends credibility to the tale, as the original Grimm’s fairy tales which were derived from oral folk stories, passed down from generations to generations, were filled with violence, beheading and blood as well as beauty, glamour and enchantment. This way, it is very easy to believe that these magical creatures are actually real, because why would a young girl dream up scary creatures as her definition of fantasy? If it were really imaginative, one would expect Ofelia, since she is trying to escape a terrible situation, to dream of beautiful and lovely characters which would be stark opposite of the gruesome life she is presently living.
Another factor that lends credibility to the movie is the depiction of the traditional characterization of male and female. The use of gender stereotypes re-enforces the age and time of the event, and provides the viewer with a feeling of candid representation of that period. The women in the movie were portrayed and seen by the male characters, most especially Captain Vidal, as weaker vessels. Ofelia’s mum, Carmen, is sick from the beginning of the film till her death; she is pregnant and is considered and pronounced weak by the doctor. Immediately she gets to the base, she is shown to a wheel chair and is basically confined to it and lying in her bed for the rest of her pregnancy days.
The Captain’s different behavioral pattern towards Ofelia, his unborn child, and Carmen show his chauvinistic approach to life. The first time he sets eyes on Ofelia, his face clouds in annoyance and anger. He stares at her broodingly, which scares her enough to extend her hand shakily in peace, but he seizes her hand cruelly and informs her that she got the hands wrong. At once, one understands that the relationship between the two would be shaky and one wonders what a poor little girl must have done to deserve such unkind attention. However, one is able to draw a theory that he just simply considers her stupid and less significant unlike a son. When the doctor questions him, why he had ordered Carmen to take such a dangerous journey in such a late stage of pregnancy, his reply was “a son should be born whenever his father is.” One then wonders how he is so sure of the child’s sex considering it is the year 1944, and Ultrasound had not been invented; it was invented in 1957. And the doctor’s next question helped to resolve that jolt, he asks the Captain what made him sure the child was a boy, to which Vidal replies arrogantly “don’t fuck with me,” thereby confirming the suspicion that he is just an arrogant jerk, and one that considers a son more human than a daughter. And his reaction to the birth of his son sheds more light on this; he is more humane to his son; however, he is still hostile to Ofelia, not minding the fact that her mother had just died.
His relationship with Carmen herself is brought into question; he sees her as a baby factory and nothing more. When the doctor informs him that Carmen is in a delicate condition and is quite weak; all he could say is “she‘ll have as much rest as she needs, I’ll sleep down here,” adequately reducing her to a sex machine, one whose resting is equal to lack of sex. He also embarrasses her in front of their guests, rebuking her saying “please excuse my wife; she hasn’t been exposed to the world. She thinks these silly stories are interesting to others,” even though the women had requested for such story. His silly reprimand of her had her dropping her head and taking her frustration out on Ofelia, when she comes in dirty in her new dress.
Mercedes, the maid, is cast as an inferior individual; she works in the kitchen, and is responsible for the laundry, cleaning and feeding of Captain Vidal and his men. It is also significant that it is only women, particularly old women, who are members of the kitchen help. They clean the house, cook the food, and fetch wood for fire, typical of the impression men had of women for a long time. Mercedes is shown at first as a visible scared woman but we later find out that she is the daughter and sister to the guerillas leaders. She transports food, medicines and letters to the men regularly and was able to detect suspicion all because she was a woman. When she was later caught by the Captain, he tells Garcia that he can handle her since she was only a woman, and even admits that his chauvinistic behavior towards women was his weakness. It is however ironic that it was only Mercedes, a woman, who is able to escape from his torture barn alive. She uses the knife she had on her to cut herself loose and attack the Captain, she even tears his mouth out. She was only able to do that because she was a woman; if is she was a male they would have searched her adequately for weapon before trying to interrogate her. But since they did not think a woman could think of carrying a weapon, talk less of wielding it, they did not detect that she had a weapon on her. It is also ironic that it was Ofelia, a female, who succeeds in poisoning the Captain, as he definitely did not see that coming, a woman as his downfall. This way, the movie undermines the traditional gender stereotype role by providing the audience with two female heroines who against all odds stands up against oppression.
The use of accurate depiction of the environment, the costume of the Faun and the Pale Man, and the effective depiction of men’s opinion of women at the era which the events take place, validate the story and allow the viewer to see the story as plausible. The viewer could allow himself to be swayed by these details. One could believe for the number of minutes the film runs, that the story is real. All together the story of Ofelia is believable and makes one sympathetic to her plight and adventure. The viewer is also able to experience the conflict between fantasy and reality, just like Ofelia does in the film.
Pan's Labyrinth. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Perf. Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, and Alex Angulo. PictureHouse. 2006. DVD.