Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro

Categories: Film

The elements which make up a film can be based largely on camera angles, sound, special effects, and the writing just as much as it can be based on the actual acting of the characters. The way in which Guillermo Del Toro incorporates each into the movie Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) or El laberinto del Fauno will be the subject of this essay. The introduction of the movie is done on a narrative base; the narrative of an omnipresent character who tells the tale of a little princess who travels out into the world of the humans (attracted by the sun) and shortly dies.

The tale states that she will be reborn with a birthmark and thus be known to the king and the others looking for her. From the start of the film then, with the omnipresent narration, the viewer is exposed to the elments of magic or the ‘Once upon a time’ fables, thereby preparing the viewer for extreme possibilities, “Eventually the faun reveals that Ofelia must past three tests to prove she’s the true princess of the underworld.

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As Ofelia battles giant frogs and a made-for-nightmares creature with eyeballs in its hands, she becomes more confident that she’s a princess – and convinced that doesn’t want to be part of the Captain’s world. (Newitz paragraph three). These extreme possibilities are the motif of the film: the young girl, Ofelia, is the princess in the tale and her adventures, bravery and magical environment are pitted against the very real backdrop of Spain, post Spanish Civil War.

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The cast of characters then maintain a distance between the real and the fantastical. To begin with the mother character, Carmen and her new stepfather, the villain, Vidal. The viewer is initially transported from the telling of the tale of the princess to the human child driving in a car with her mother and stopping by the side of the road.

The director wastes no time in the introduction of the fairy world as the little girl Ofelia finds a feary in the shape of an insect. Thus, the real world intermingles into the fantasy world which is also a theme in the movie. As with most movies with a child protagonist the audience members route for Ofelia to regain her proper place in the underworld. In the real world the villain Vidal is defeated by the sister of one of the revolutionaries, Mercedes (who eventually ends up with Ofelia’s brother).

Ofelia’s struggles both in the real and the fantasy realm are what make this movie endearing, entertaining as well as adventurous. Del Toro’s use of color composition in low key color tones through out the film are what add an extra edge to the unraveling of the story. The effects of these colors is attributed to the Blu-ray with a 1090p/VC-1 transfer. This enables the colors to be richer and more vibrant, and almost three dimensional to the at home viewer. The scenes in which the actual labyrinth is depicted are even more stunning because of the texture of the shadows involved when Ofelia meets the faun.

The color of the scene is made even more striking against the little girl’s warm skin tones, making her to focal point of the film using only color. This is the genius of Del Toro; he used color almost as a character in order to make the main character feel like sunshine, the element which made her leave the labyrinth in the first place, “Del Toro's darkest shots creep up and overtake Ophelia, flooding the picture with well-delineated shadows that never obscure the detail of the cinematography.

Despite a wide variety of lighting schemes, contrast is consistently perfect, black levels are intense, and there isn't a hint of source noise, artifacting, or meddlesome edge enhancement. ” (Brown paragraph 7). Not only is the use of color so very vivid and vibrant in the film but the use of various camera angles makes the film even more complex and a visual spectral display of variance that the viewer was very much involved in the story as told through these different camera angles.

The character close-ups especially (and done many times) with Ofelia when she is reading the book the faun gave her are striking in the detail of emotion shown on the protagonist’s face. Not only in the close-ups of Ofelia but in the close-ups of the fantastical creatures that she must conquer, destroy, or escape from as in the Pale Man whose close up of the eyes and the face are very haunting. The attention to detail in the make-up is seen in these close-up shots.

The long distance shots are even more telling of the danger that Ofelia is in, as in the Pale Man chasing her down the hallway and the camera pans away from Ofelia to witness her attacker in close pursuit and the camera’s focus on the chair at the end of the corridor just out of reach from Ofelia’s fast feet is a tension/anxiety technique used on the audience in order to illicit a response of fear for the protagonist.

The camera angles that del Toro utilized work exceptionally well in each corresponding scene, as Brown states, “Character close-ups and wide long shots are nice and crisp - tight shots of Captain Vidal reveal every crevice and developing wrinkle. Facial textures are a bit waxy at times, but it isn't distracting. Likewise, the film's CG creatures look more at home in this transfer than they ever have before. I thought the film's digital effects looked somewhat disjointed from practical elements in the film’s theatrical run and on DVD, but they look exceptionally naturalistic here. (Brown paragraph 8). The first scene in which to focus one’s attention is when the little girl must go to the toad under the tree in order to gain access to breaking the curse of the tree. The fantasy of this part of the film is replaced by a very real fear felt by the little girl and by extension the at home audience. Ofelia takes off her new dress in order to crawl into the belly of the tree. Again, the rich colors saturate the film and the the dark shadows play against the warm tones of Ofelia’s flesh.

The camera angle is a long shot depicting the girl and toad face to face with one another on a set that was built to be a horizontal, smallish dirt corridor which the girl must crawl down in order to get to the toad. The camera angle allows the audience to feel how tight the space she must crawl down into is, and the camera angle also reflects how deep into the earth she must travel as well. The toad is feed three beetles and subsequently explodes from the ingesting of the third beetle thereby releasing the curse from the roots of the tree.

Ofelia climbs back up to the surface only to find that her dress has fallen into the mud and is ruined. The triumph of the toad is slightly overshadowed at the defeat of having ruined her new dress. At this point in the film the viewer can see the spreading distance Ofelia has for the consequences in the real world as she involves herself further and further into the realm of the fantasy. The only thing that allows her to remain attached to the real world is her mother as well as her unborn brother.

It is when her mother gets sick that Ofelia asks the faun for some cure for her mother. By taking a baby mandrake into some milk she is able to help out her mother. The audience as well as the little girl are exposed to the crossing of these two worlds on a practical and evidential line. The mandrake root does gain the mother back her health and thereby proves the effect of the magical world on the real world realm. The climax of the film sees the final separation of the real world from the fantasy world and which allows each to part and find their own place within Ofelia.

After the death of her mother Ofelia slips away from the real world knowing that her destiny is as a princess in the underworld she has promised to take her baby brother. The climax of the film sees this to a end. Ofelia suffers through her stepfather’s controling nature and the audience sees the real world also as a political triumph for the rebels espeically for the character Mercedes whose brother is a rebel fighter and who has been working covertly under captain Vidal.

Mercedes’ triumph over the captain is a precursor to Ofelia’s triumph over him as well and the triumph of her last test. She places her belief in fantasy that tells her that her death will be the release of herself back into the underworld – her death also ensures that her baby brother gets a home away from Vidal as he is shot by Mercedes and it is Mercedes, the trusted confident and surrogate mother to Ofelia and now her baby brother,

As the film reaches its climax, Ofelia is about to take the faun’s third and final test while rebels in the forest, fortified with reinforcements, begin an attack on the Captain’s outpost. As the Captain struggles to quell the uprising, Ofelia carries out the third test: bringing her recently-born brother to the labyrinth that connects the real and fairy worlds. The Captain follows Ofelia through the labyrinth, catching her just in time to find her talking to the air and clutching her brother.

From Ofelia’s point of view, we see that the faun has just told her she must shed the blood of an innocent – her brother. If she refuses, the faun will not protect her from the crazed Captain, who is waving his gun. Implicitly rejecting the fantasy world, Ofelia refuses. Unfortunately, reality isn’t any better: the Captain mercilessly shoots her and takes his son. Newitz paragraph 7 The political realism of the film allows for the drastic nature of the fantasy realm and Ofelia’s battles, to become a part of the overall struggle for home to be a major theme in the movie.

Everyone in the movie is looking for a home. Ofelia’s mother wants her home to be at Vidal’s with her daughter and not yet born son, Ofelia is split between her home with her mother and her home in the underworld and finally finds that home after her mother passes away. Vidal wants a home with his new wife and son but struggles with it because of Ofelia. Mercedes wants a home as well as a Spain that his politcally run the way in which she and the rebels believe it should be run.

Thus, while the opposition of fantasy and reality are prevalent in the film, the theme of a home is the combining factor in each scene as well as in each character. In the finding of home in each progressive scene there is sacrifices that must be made. Ofelia believes that she must sacrifice her brother in order to be allowed back into the underworld but her refusal to do so leads her into giving up her own life so that her brother may live. The doctor of the film sacrifices his life in order to keep his patient’s locations a mystery.

A random rebel soldier is exposed to being tortured because he refuses to give up the camp’s location. Mercedes’ is made to endure catering to the captain’s needs on a daily basis. Each character in their own way is made to make a willing sacrifice so that they each may find a home or to ensure that their loved ones will have a home, as Newitz states, “In the end, Pan’s Labyrinth reminds us that buried in every fantasy is a political wish. And buried in every political wish is a fantasy. No matter how many times you crush them, the fantasies return. ” (Newitz paragraph 12).

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro essay
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