Pan’s Labyrinth is a 2006 dark fantasy written and directed by Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro. The story is set in the summer of 1944 in Spain, just 5 years after the Spanish Civil War. The film weaves together the harsh reality of our world with a long forgotten fairy tale. (Note: the film is in Spanish so English subtitles will likely be necessary)

The prologue to the film goes like this:

Long ago in the Underground Realm where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamt of the human world. She dreamt of blue skies, the soft breeze and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness and pain. Eventually, she died. Her father, the King, always knew that the Princess would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning… 

Plot

The real-world main character is an 11 year old girl named Ofelia. Having lost her father in the war, for security and safety Ofelia’s mother Carmen agrees to marry Vidal, a captain in the cruel fascist state military. Vidal barely tolerates Ofelia, and doesn’t love Carmen either but is only using her to bear him a son and heir. 

Ofelia, her mother, and soon-to-be-born baby brother are brought to live at a military outpost in the woods. It is within these primitive woods where Ofelia discovers a timeworn labyrinth, leafy, chirping fairies, and an ancient faun. She introduces herself to the faun and asks for his name. He shrugs and says “I’ve had so many names…Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest, and the earth. I am…I am a faun.” He bows and addresses her like royalty. He is gleeful to have found her claiming that she is the lost princess whose kingly father has been endlessly searching to find her. 

She is obviously skeptical at hearing this, but her love of fairy tales does make her heart wish it to be true. The faun warns that before returning her to her kingdom, he must make sure her essence is still intact and that she hasn’t become fully mortal. He explains that she must fulfill 3 tasks before the next full moon in order to return to her realm as an immortal princess.

The guerilla rebels hiding in the woods continue to give Vidal and his soldiers trouble as battles ensue around his outpost, and his supply barns keep getting raided by spies living in his midst. Carmen eventually gives birth but dies during the delivery. She was the only thing protecting Ofelia from the cruel captain. Now that he has his heir, Vidal has no use for Ofelia. But grieving the loss of her mother and not wanting her new baby brother to be raised by the cruel Vidal, Ofelia steals her brother away and ventures to find the faun. She is hoping he’ll allow her and her innocent baby brother to return to her royal kingdom. 

I won’t spoil the ending, because this is one film that I will encourage you to watch. It is rated R (mostly for war-related violence) so if you can stomach such a thing, I highly recommend this movie to you. 

Lesson for Adults

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis said about fairy tales “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

Another keen mind of decades past, G.K. Chesterton said “Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already…The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.” 

In other words, children need fairy tales in order to learn that scary enemies can be defeated. And adults need fairy tales too, because they need to be reminded of that important lesson: valor is possible, and enemies can be vanquished.