Semi-random thoughts while lying awake after watching Pan’s Labyrinth.
I recently saw Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s self-described “fable about choice and disobedience” set in the long aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The movie has been reviewed extensively elsewhere, so another review is not necessary here. For those who haven’t seen the film or who just can’t get enough of the creatures, I’ve put together a few clips.
I know little of Guillermo del Toro’s work, but I was so impressed by Pan’s Labyrinth that I did some research. Of all the pieces I’ve read and watched, the director’s two-part Guardian interview, his appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, and his own introduction to the film (given at AFI fest) are among the most enlightening. Take a look:
The violence to which del Toro refers is gut-slugging in a way that recent pointless bloodfests such as Scorcese’s The Departed can’t hope to match. I haven’t felt such a visceral audience response since Uma Thurman got stabbed in the heart with a syringe in Pulp Fiction. Del Toro’s violence is, like Tarantino’s, carefully calibrated and it serves an authentic purpose.
Del Toro’s gore–bare-handed executions, torture, close-ups of wounds–reminded me of an interview with Clint Eastwood that I saw recently which helped me to understand the violence in Eastwood’s westerns. Clint was telling James Lipton about his fascination with fate and destiny. The ruthlessness of Eastwood’s films in general, and the prevalent sexual violence in particular, serves this concern. In the worlds of both Eastwood and del Toro, biology is destiny. If you happen to be a woman, that’s tough luck in terms of sexual assault and death by childbirth. The imagination can refuse to comply, but as del Toro’s unflinching wound shots show, our bodies adhere simply and ruthlessly to nature’s rules.
Thematically, Pan’s Labyrinth owes a debt to Night of the Hunter, the 1955 Charles Laughton-directed classic starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish. Each movie follows a weak-willed widow who looks for strength outside of herself in a man she barely knows but needs to believe in. Prisoners of obedience, these women choose to put themselves and their children in the hands of predators rather than face independence.
While del Toro doesn’t offer anything quite like Lillian Gish in her rocking chair with her shotgun, singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” in split-screen duet with an approaching murderous Mitchum, his film is plenty cracked it its own way.
After seeing Pan’s Labyrinth, my Dust, Sweat and Iron coauthor Luisma and I had a chat about the film’s historical accuracy, Franco’s bulletproof Hitlermobile, and the symbology of toad slime. Here’s an excerpt: