Last Friday night, a bunch of boys and I went to watch a fairy tale. After the movie, we walked out and they all moaned in some form or another "I thought we were going to see a kid's story!" "That was so depressing!" "I need chocolate!" Ok, that last one was me.
(Hopefully, if you're reading this, you'll have seen Pan's Labyrinth. If you haven't, skip or expect spoilers.)
The movie deals with a young girl, Ophelia. living through the early days of Franco's Spain. She and her pregnant mother set off to meet with Captain Vidal, her mother's second husband, who is tracking anti-government rebels. The Captain has set up camp with the government troops in a remote mountainous area, taking over an abandoned mill, surrounded by thick forests where the rebels have found safety. The Captain is the embodiment of psychopathic evil, cold, inhumane, the "wicked witch" character. The mother barely registers, she's weakened by her pregnancy, but also can't stand up for herself or her daughter in the face of the Captain. A stronger female character is Mercedes, the housekeeper at the mill, who secretly helps the rebels, one of whom is very important to her. She hums the lullaby/theme song of the movie, an elegy to Ophelia in the end.
Twisted into the human world, lies a fantasy/fairy world, settled into the forest and within the maze where a faun and his fairy friends live. An interesting linguistic question that came up was why did the title translate into Pan's Labyrinth? We had to remind the guy asking that Pan is a faun, half man, half beast (usually goat, ram or horse). The faun in the movie was the link to Ofelia's fairy tale world, where she is told that she carries the soul of a long, lost princess. She must fulfill 3 tasks in order to return to her real parents. The faun "smells of earth" "is the mountains, the trees, the earth" (quotes from the movie), and he holds fort at the last portal where the Princess' essence can still return to her lost kingdom. He appears and disappears bearing tools for Ofelia to use during her tasks, a magical book, magical stones to retrieve a golden key from a disgusting immense toad, a chalk to use when she needs to find a door, and a mandrake root. He dictates when she needs to get her tasks done, but also turns against her when she disobeys him.
The guys I watched the film with weren't all that keen on the film, probably because they never read the old fairy tales, including the medieval versions of the Grimm and Andersen fairy tales. They were expecting a kid's story, or a Disney tale, not a full blown violent life and death story. They weren't expecting the tragic end. It was a disturbing film for them because they were prepared for light hearted adventure and had to deal with murder, cruelty, abandonment, sorrow. I was saddened but had been ready to enjoy the story. I enjoy the dark fairy tales, where we encounter suffering, hardship, sacrifice for some greater good or for the quest of a greater glory. These are the stories we've been reading for centuries.