25 April 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth is a beautifully violent film, a perfect mix of fairy tales and the (neo-)realist war narrative. My first impression is that it's very difficult to interpret what these whole symbols of Pan, the labyrinth, the key, the moon, and the princess, actually mean. There are gaps between the wartime world of Spain's civil-war period and the magical world seen only through the eyes of Ofelia. I reckon it's a challenge if one tries to closely link the two worlds together in a parallel.

Pan himself is a mischievous character residing in the jungle, set to lure passers-by. What comes out of his mouth should not always be taken as truths, as they can be just lies engineered to make hearers feel good or fall into Pan's trap. In this way, Pan can perhaps be remotely associated with a rather sinister force that makes us become beside ourselves. It goes without saying that Pan is a close associate of Bacchus, a god of wine and merriment. Hence, this magical world can be construed as (1) an allegory of how 'evil' force wishes to lure an innocent mind (well, this certainly has a biblical ring) or as (2) a projection in the mind of Ofelia herself, as she needs to escape from the 'real' world in which she is just a forsaken daughter whose dead mother leaves at the mercy of the tyrannical step-father. Needless to say that Ofelia might remind some of Ophelia, an estranged woman left to be mad in Shakespeare's Hamlet. The ending therefore casts light on how this little girl learns to love her brother and sacrifice herself in the process. Well, this may be a poignant message for a wartime period when the Resistance needed to sacrifice themselves in order to get rid of the fascist regime.

That is the most obvious layer of meaning that I've come across. But on a deeper level, there is a certain conflict that renders the rather positive, optimistic ending problematic. Allurement is a keyword here. The little girl is tempted to go in search of the key inside the rotten tree (as in the film poster above) that reminds me of the female reproductive organs -- the vulva, the ovary, the uterus, etc. This entrance into the female world is one of trickery and danger, as it is laden with traps and temptations. Notice when the little girl can't stop herself from sampling the grapes -- doesn't that remind some of how Eve is tempted to bite the apple of knowledge before being kicked out of heaven with Adam by God. This 'magical' female world is set in contrast to the male world of wartime realism.

Such opposition should not blind us to certain similarities -- that both spaces are full of temptations and violence and that to tread in these spaces require a lot of nerves and skills. But of course there are divergences -- the little girl may fail in the male world of the Spanish civil war, but she triumphs in her own female world. But here's the rub -- this triumph at the end may be just another trickery, a lie, a hallucination on the part of the girl herself to make sense of her own downfall (and of course to make her downfall more bearable).

The reason why I feel this is the rather slippery character of Pan himself, who cannot be believed even in the last scene. He just looks too mischievous. Well, to interpret this film is like entering Pan's labyrinth itself. I'm pretty sure other people who watch it will enter a different way and come out from a different exit.

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