Review: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Rarely can a film be a great triumph when it blends the simple with the complex, the horrific with the touching and the gruesome with the enchanting. Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is one of these rare gems. Shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nomination, the film takes you on a grand cinematic adventure, if you are willing to believe in fantasies.
 
Pan’s Labyrinth is an intertwined narrative of reality and fantasy seen mostly through the eyes of an innocent young girl. Set in post-Civil War Spain in 1944, 12-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) move to a remote region of Spain, where her stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López) is currently stationed. The brutal Vidal is in charge of removing a small Republican militia from the area but he is unaware that his housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) and doctor are Republican sympathizers.
Ofelia, who is greatly disliked by her stepfather, often escapes from her new life with fairy tales. One night, a fairy leads her into a great labyrinth, where Ofelia meets Pan, a faun (played by Doug Jones) who informs her that she is the long-lost daughter of the king of the Underworld. In order to regain her place in the kingdom, Ofelia is instructed to carry out three tasks that will change her life forever.
 
This haunting fairy tale within Pan’s Labyrinth is so deeply moral it does not distort reality, as fantasies typically do. Instead, Ofelia’s fantasy world enhances the harsh truths of life without completely exposing her the ugliness surrounding her.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a mesmerizing feat. One that is so spectacular that you forget that you are watching a fairy tale. And that is something only the best movies can achieve.
Updated October 14, 2010