Monday afternoon a group of us went to see Pan's Labyrinth. The story is in some sense many story lines; it is a story about the end of the Spanish Civil war: it is also the story of a man's struggle with his father: it is the story of a little girl caught in the midst of a violent adult world she can't or would rather not grasp: and it is a fairy tale. Guillermo Del Toro though essentially weaves a story of a Spanish Republican outpost and the Rebels and the ways in which Civil war tears at every level of relationships, and a story of how the Princess of the underworld finds her way back to her realm after centuries of being gone. The fulcrum of the story is the young girl who loves fairy tales and whose mother has married a Captain in the Republican army.
What I found compelling and astounding about the movie was how these two story lines in some sense never quite meet and yet create a coherent single story. The fairy world and the world of the Spanish Civil war of our time and history share some of the same space yet never quite meet or acknowledge each other, except as they meet in the daughter. This theme of almost but not quite meeting is played out in many of the relationships that surround the Captain. Though it is a quality that seems to exemplify two other worlds depicted in the film the military masculine world and the world of women, which in the end is part of the downfall of the Captain.
But as I am writing about this it is difficult for me to describe the experience of seeing this film: it is fantastic and horrifying (though it is humanity that is horrifying more so than the fairy world) and full of gut wrenching beauty. I have to say the film is exquisite, especially if you take it as a realistic fairy tale, or perhaps even a Dali painting as a movie.
I read a review that said that it was not original, certainly none of its elements are original as one would expect in a fairy tale (there is a traditional as opposed to innovative aspect to the film). However, the brilliance is in the Del Toro's ability to weave a griping and beautiful narrative using elements the audience may be well acquainted with. It was one of the most satisfying movie going experiences I have had in a long time.