This week we watched Pan's Labyrinth. I cannot count the number of times I had been told that Pan's Labyrinth was a fantastic movie, so I went into the experience with high expectations. Big Mistake. To say I didn't like the movie would not strictly be true - it did keep me entertained for two hours - but I failed to see anything that supposedly made Pan's Labyrinth a memorable movie. However, it did contain many fairy tale-esque elements that were fun to discuss with Dr. Deveny.
Like a traditional fairy tale, Pan's Labyrinth oversimplified right and wrong. In order to make the fascist Franco regime look bad, the captain not only is a brutal murderer, but an unkind husband and stepfather. By making him "evil" in all aspects of his life, the director was able to push viewers into seeing the captain as a classic fairy tale villain. Similarly, the guerillas were portrayed as very good people. The references to the "left" were not lost on Dr. Deveny, who pointed to Ophelia's birthmark, the door that she opened to find the key, and the hand she held out to the captain as examples of Ophelia's, and therefore the viewer's intended leftist opinion.
Dr. Deveny's lecture, unlike other guest speakers, focused entirely on this one story. That allowed us to look deeper than we otherwise could have. For instance we were able to identify almost all of Vladimir Propp's functions in Pan's Labyrinth. Because it was so much longer than other fairy tales, Pan's Labyrinth was able to have a much bigger story arc, including an embedded story, than a traditional fairy tale.
We also talked about how the female protagonist broke from the typical fairy tale. Although women are often the title characters in fairy tales (Cinderella, Snow White, Goldilocks, Beauty and the Beast, etc), they are almost always passive. Take Cinderella: she goes back home and waits around for the Prince to come find her. Or Snow White: she falls into a coma! It is entirely up to the Prince to come save her. In Pan's Labyrinth, by contrast, it is Ophelia who takes action. She enters the labyrinth, she follows the fairies, and she even goes back to the faun and begs for another chance when he dismisses her as a failure.
There were some elements that Dr. Deveny did not talk about - namely the purpose of the faun and his tasks for Ophelia. While one may take them at face value, a more intellectual approach would suggest that Ophelia makes up these stories to help her cope with the tumultuous events all around her. Between moving, getting a new father, losing attention from a pregnant mother, and hearing about the fighting, Ophelia is overwhelmed and reverts to what she knows best: fairy tales. We know that she loved to read them as a child, so it is logical to assume that she made up her own to distract herself and to indirectly confront her new fears. The discovery of the faun in the labyrinth reflects her curiosity and need to explore her new world. The trip to find the frog in the forest reflects her fear of the forest which, she has been told, is full of dangerous people and things. The pale man story can be used as an explanation for why the house makes noise that is easier for Ophelia to understand than the story her mother told. And ultimately stealing her brother is her way of rebelling against her stepfather and protesting his authority.
Pan's Labyrinth is full of symbolism, motifs, and metaphors that teach lessons about life and emotions. However, I would not recommend it to a friend - despite its many clever symbols, Pan's Labyrinth simply failed to amuse me very much.