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Pan’s Labyrinth: A Film of Socio-psychological Struggles in A Post Civil War Situation

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro


Pan’s Labyrinth: A Film of Socio-psychological Struggles in A Post Civil War Situation

Civil wars, before, during and after, can be socially, economically and psychologically exhausting for the involved people that even when the war has ended, the effect still lingers. In this case, movies and films have encapsulated the intensity of wars through their interpretation of the situation through various shots and scenes which immortalized the horror of such tragedies. One of these films is Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro. It is one of the highly acclaimed films that it earned a total of $83,258,226 as its total gross earnings (, 2014). It also gained nominations in the Oscars which may mean that it is really a masterpiece not only in Hollywood but also in the international level.

A Fairy Tale that is Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro presents a Gothic fairy tale set of a postwar repression of Franco’s Spain with the formal characteristics of classic folklore to 20th century situation (, 2014) In this film, he shows a tale of evil and goodness, love and loss as well as bravery and sacrifice presented in a social struggle vis-à-vis fairy tale. In this film, Del Toro deliberately combines classic children’s literature and film with an element of the supernatural juxtaposed with social issues (Newman, 2014). It was set in a dark Spanish forest in 1944 where the Spain was in its first stages of the fascism which qualifies it to become a political fable behind a fairy tale (Scott, 2006). Despite of the idea of being a fairy tale, its scenes of violence could discourage an adult to allow it to be viewed by a child. This movie is only allowed to be watched by a 17-year old child if guided properly by his parents since there are violent and slightly morbid scenes in the movie.

Analyzing the Movie

As an art, Pan’s Labyrinth is a social and psychological representation of struggles after the war where politics and fantasy married and brought birth to this type of a masterpiece. This film has two aspects in a sense because there is the side of politics and fantasy. If the lighter matters of things were to be considered, the focus will be on the fantasy where Ofelia dreams of realizing her imaginations at some point as escape from the terrible reality, she is living in. But, juxtaposed to that, Senor Vidal is the representation of a patriarchal and fascist leader not only to his nation but also to his family. His death meant the downfall of evil and fascism not only in the story but also in the society. In an artistic sense, the film was able to present a two-edged sword with a highly ambiguous ending. In this case, while the viewers are entertained by the imaginative side of Ofelia, the oppression of her mother and the fascist nature of the stepfather, Capitan Vidal were also emphasized. It can be considered an art in such a way that it can be considered artistically and tastefully done with simply having in mind the plot of the story and the value that it brings with it. The artistic standards like permanence, universality, intellectual value, social value and artistry are evident in the entire film.

The sense of permanence, until now is very evident since it still earns, and it has recorded a reputable amount of returns as far as investment and profit is considered. Despite that wide embrace by viewers, it cannot be said that it was not done with only commercial purpose since the story itself is rich and artistic. Sitting on the unstable situation under the rule of Capitan Vidal, Ofelia tries to conquer her problems with the new setup where she is with the stories that she has been reading. It even came to a point, although it is highly possible, that she believed to be the lost princess of an underworld kingdom. This, from my point of view, is just a manifestation of the attempt to escape reality, because for her, it is too heavy and too painful to take in. With that horrible situation, she created her own reality that will satisfy her needs and will give happiness to her seemingly unfavorable childhood.

In the intellectual and social value, the arrangement of the story and the sequence of events can be considered well-thought of. This also paved way for the story to be universal in nature since almost every country has faced such social struggle with them that if they could just escape from it, they would.

Overall, the cinematography of the film is commendable. Cinematography is the capturing of images using controllable elements which will include the quality of the film stock, the use of the camera lens, the framing, the scale and the movement (, 2014.). The emotions of the characters were perfectly captured as well as the necessary scenes that will give the viewers layers of meaning. The overall gloomy and dark atmosphere is coherent to the theme and setting of the story which is post-civil war Spain. The capturing of the Ofelia’s innocence and that of Capitan Vidal’s stiffness and harshness made the necessary expurgation of the desired emotions successful. For the sound, the musical scores were also done with coherence to the theme where the enchantment and the sense of gloom made a perfect combination. The perspective camera work was quite effective in sending across the desired impact of every shot that is taken. One of these is the dramatic shot on the ending where Ofelia fell as she was shot by Capitan Vidal and her blood flown into the circular portal. This was also presented at the beginning of the film which created a sense of arousal on the viewers by tickling their imaginations as to what could that possibly mean with relation to the entire film ensemble.

Signs and Signifiers in Pan’s Labyrinth

Sign is the basic unit of signification consisting of the signifier, carrier of the meaning and signified the concept or idea of what is being signified in the context (Bischoff & Ordon, 2014). Both in literature and film, these are the symbols which send a symbolical object which has layers of representations and meanings.

The first signifier to consider is Ofelia. The film opens with her lying down by the portal. Ofelia is representation of the loss of sanity and ground on reality with all the tragic events that had destroyed, if not, bothered her childhood. Her intense desire to enjoy freedom has led her to hallucinations and long periods of daydreams which made her create her own reality. The film focused on two worlds: Ofelia’s and Capitan Vidal’s. In this case, the shifting of the scenes from one to another was so smooth that the actions or the hallucinations of Ofelia can already be mistaken for being real. However, given the context as portrayed by the various scenes of violence and constant struggle on the labeled rebels and the men of Vidal, it can be assumed that Ofelia was psychologically unready and disturbed on what transpired in her life and in her unstable society. The idea of her mom having to marry the Capitan might have probably resulted from the instability of the place that her mother had to take the opportunity to be protected by being with the most powerful figure who could sustain their needs. It could also be assumed that she might have lost her father due to the war. From the scene of her entering the old giant tree to get the key from the giant frog to the travel to get the dagger, it can suggest that she desires freedom and sense of independence as she showed these characteristics on her imagined roles in the adventure. Her death became a form of freedom from the reality and fleeing to the world where she most wanted to stay even at the beginning of the story. It is also an effect of the postwar tension. Even though she was innocent, she got involved primarily because her stepfather has gone more violent with the pressing issues of political instability and his impending surrender to the rebels.

Next to that is Ofelia’s mother. She is the representation of oppressed and abused women in that time. She is a stereotypical wife who needs a husband to elevate her social status and to secure her children a comfortable life. Her portrayal of being weak as she rests on the wheelchair showed how her husband dominated her. Aside from this, she was even seen as a rightful partner by her husband because it was clearly shown in the dinner where she was with the other elite people. When the women asked about her family background and started talking honestly about it, Vidal felt shame and humiliation and forbid her to speak. The discrimination on the poor was well portrayed in this gathering was depicted well. Another is the scene where the camera focused on the Capitan when he said that if they had to choose between the mother and the baby, he would choose his son shows that the mother had no value or worth except for being the son’s bearer. Eventually, she dies and leaves Ofelia behind. Her death can be rooted to the idea that she had to carry the son along and please the captain to maintain security in a post-civil war situation including the pressure and stress caused by her husband which was primarily due to the feeling of pressure due to the political situation.

The last signifier is the death of Capitan Vidal. This is the representation of the tyranny and fascism in the story. In this case, the scene where he was shot just when he held out his clock from his father shows the end of his influence and his ideology altogether. Although his son will still be alive, the baby will never know of his father anymore. This is representative to the idea of the rebirth of Spain in that context that the baby, although, it may have come from a terrible father will never get to be like him. Although the society as portrayed in the story has undergone civil war, it will be reborn to a new society free from all the issue of the previous tragedies.

With the bloody and imaginative shots in the film, the struggles in a post-war setup were perfectly portrayed. The way Vidal’s mouth was sliced with a knife by Mercedes and how it affected and marred him was a good shot signifying the start of his loss of command over the situation. This is a form of foreshadowing that his voice over the situation will eventually disappear and be destroyed given that a spy/rebel in their eyes did that injury to the Captain.

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Using a Psychoanalytic and Marxist Lens

Given that, the film could be analyzed further using psychoanalytic and Marxist perspective revolving around the characters of Ofelia and Captain Vidal.

For Ofelia, the poor kid found her happiness with the imagined world that she made up. She displaced all her yearnings and repressed feelings in this fantasy world that eventually, she could not differentiate reality from fantasy anymore. Her longing for freedom has led her to prove herself in the adventures that were invented by her where she showed how she could complete her missions without others’ help. The intense problems and the lack of father have led her to flee from reality and instead fulfill her fantasies by just living within the world of her ideals where she could do what she wanted. It should also be noted that there were several shots that shown how she was ignored since her stepfather never took interest in her and instead saw her as nothing more than her mother. The attention that she sought for was complemented with the idea that she is the princess in the made-up world in her mind where she can get all of the attention that she needed. In her world, she had a mother and father who are excited to be with her. She had her father and other supernatural guardians who are willing to protect her. With that, she also closed the film with her dying on the portal shedding her innocent blood to open her imagined world.

On a Marxist note, the division of the rich from the poor was evident how Ofelia and her mother were treated by Captain Vidal. His actions show the clear distinction of the upper class from the lower class. Various ideologies are evident there. It can also be mentioned that the character of Vidal be an oppressor of the female. In a feminist perspective, Ofelia’s mother is emotionally oppressed since her class became a big factor. Aside from this, without the son, whose gender is most important dictates the reason for the present of Ofelia and her mom. Without her brother, they would never get the chance to stay under Vidal’s custody.

Hence, using strands of concepts in psychoanalysis and Marxism, it can be asserted that Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece created by Del Torro which perfectly captures the struggle of individuals in a post-war and post-fascist society. He was able to make it lighter by intertwining it with a representational and symbolical fairy tale aspect of the film.


With all of the mentioned concepts, it can be asserted the with consideration to the technicalities of the film and the content of the movie plot itself, Pan’s Labyrinth is indeed a film masterpiece that transcends the standards in terms of intellectual and social value as it was artistically created through different shots taken in various angles using effective sound effects and musical scores.


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Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth

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