Before I get into the details of Pan’s Labyrinth, I should make two things abundantly clear: first, the entire film is Spanish, with English subtitles. If you’ve never seen a film with subtitles, you should; by the end of the film you barely even notice them. If you can’t read, you probably shouldn’t see this movie. Second, Pan’s Labyrinth is not what you think it is, no matter what you think it is. You will be surprised by something in this movie; and the surprises aren’t always pleasant.
The movie opens with a tour through a fantastic, magical kingdom where a princess ruled before attempting to escape to the human world. This story provides some slight background for much of the fantasy throughout the film, but remains subtle enough to not give anything away.
Cut to the Spanish countryside, circa 1944, where we’re introduced to Ophelia, a young girl with an interest in books, particularly fairy tales. She is traveling with her pregnant mother, Carmen, to meet Captain Vidal, an army captain and her mother’s new husband and the father of her child.
Shortly after reaching their destination, we are confronted by the conflict between Captain Vidal and a local band of rebels. Throughout much of the film this conflict plays a major role and we are constantly subjected to the vicious nature of the Captain and his men. Many times I found myself, a relatively well-traveled action movie fan, shocked by the brutal nature of the conflict between Vidal and the rebels.
Not long after arriving with her mother at the camp, Ophelia meets a mystical creature known as a faun, who explains to her that she is the princess that died in her attempt to escape the fantasy world described in the beginning of the film. Ophelia happily believes this and is sent to accomplish three tasks to prove her purity and heritage. Each of these tasks bring her in close contact to various mystical creatures, both interesting and horrifying.
The characters in this film are simply incredible. Personally, I harbor a deep hatred for computer generated graphics like those in the more recent Star Wars movies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but not once did I ever consider the computer graphics to be over the top or intrusive to the overall experience in Pan’s Labyrinth. Pan himself is amazing. The faun moves and speaks like an ancient, mythical creature should and every other creature in the film is paid the same attention.
My only complaints about Pan’s Labyrinth would be that the film requires an extreme suspension of disbelief. Many of the characters’ actions are easily questionable. I found myself wondering “Why would she do that?” at several points through the movie. Second, I am inclined to fault the ending slightly for being extremely open to interpretation. I’m all for a movie that makes you think, but rather than a book that has had the last page torn out, Pan’s Labyrinth feels more like the last few chapters have been removed. Of course, this might not be a bad thing for some people, but others may feel a little lost in the end.
Overall, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantastic film, if a little complex. From time to time it can be surprisingly graphic, but I would happily recommend it to anyone that likes to look at moving pictures. It may not change your life, but it will make you think. Half fantasy, half war movie, Pan’s Labyrinth has something for everyone, just don’t bring the kids and keep in mind that not every fairy tale has a happy ending.