A Mix Of Horror And Fantasy In Pan’s Labyrinth

Pans Labyrinth takes place during the fallout of the Spanish Civil war the film follows a young girl called Ofelia and how she is dealing with the new male dominated world which is shown by her new stepfather the fascist officer Captain Vidal. The film shows how Ofelia’s life changes after this marriage and her desperate attempt to leave this life and how her wishes are preyed upon by a Faun who promises her immortality if she completes three trials. Ofelia’s journey and attempted to escape end in her death by her stepfather. The film is a mix of horror and fantasy as we can see the influence from classic myths from the name alone as the labyrinth is a from Greek myth and Pan is also from Greek myth and their appearance can clearly be seen to inspire that of the devil. And from these inspirations of the title help show the mix of fantasy and horror as unlike modern fairy-tales Greek myth did not shy away from horrifying imagery and stories as the story of the Labyrinth itself involves lots of death. The film also deals with issues of gender and how the women in this world have to make great sacrifice to save those they care about which all three women must suffer through. We also see how the film blends horror and Fantasy together to create contrast and how it shows the horror of the world Ofelia is living in.

One of the biggest ways the film express cultural memory is the memory of how women suffered in the post-Civil War Fascist regime. We see this in how the three main female characters are presented and how they all struggle to try and obtain a better future. It has been said that “In Pan, women either challenge the orthodoxy (Ofelia and Mercedes) or assume their powerless position as dictated by social expectations (Carmen and the old servants), such as passive breeders and carers - Franco's professed idea of the perfect woman.” (Dopido: 54) From this we can explore how these female characters rebel against Franco’s perfect woman or how they conform to it. Ofelia’s mother Carmen is one of the women that conforms to Franco’s ideas as she marries an officer but the reason behind this marriage is to protect herself and Ofelia showing the audience that this woman must make sacrifices to protect her child in this male dominated world as women are considered second class. This marriage to a horrible officer tells the audience how difficult it is to be a woman at this time as for Carmen it was a marriage to a fascist officer or death. This shows the horror of the world she’s living in as she is nothing more to this man than a way to get a child but for her it is him or death for her and her daughter. This horror is also highlighted in how it is the marriage that kills her as she dies in child birth and so Carmen gives her life for not only Ofelia and some sense of safety for her but also her new son. So although Carmen conforms to what the fascist regime wants of her buy being nothing but a submissive mother she is faced with an ultimatum because of it and she must choose the lesser of two evils to guarantee Ofelia’s live for as long as she can hope showing how she may not fight against the regime but she is trying her hardest to keep her daughter alive. On the other hand, Mercedes stands against Vidal and the fascist regime instead of trying to survive in it as she herself is working with the rebellion lead by her brother. Mercedes perfectly shows how non-married women are treated by the regime as in the end the mistake that costs Vidal his life is that he overlooks Mercedes and dismisses her “as “just a woman,” is in league with the guerrillas and will conspire against her tyrannical master under his very nose.”(Smith:6) this shows how Vidal and the regime ignores women and act as though they don’t exist and so using how the Regime sees her Mercedes is able to get her brother and the other Guerrillas to take down Vidal.

Vidal stands as a metaphor and Representative for all of Franco’s movement and thus he represents all the horrors and oppression in one person. In Paul Julian Smith’s Review of Pans Labyrinth from Film Quarterly , Vol. 60, No. 4 (Summer 2007) he states that Vidal “embodies a masculinity so exclusive it barely acknowledges the existence of the feminine. Welcoming his pregnant wife and stepdaughter to the mill he addresses them in the masculine plural form (“Bienvenidos”) on the assumption that the unborn child, his true priority, is a boy. As he brutishly announces, a son must be born where his father is, even if this endangers the life of the mother; and, in childbirth, the mother must be sacrificed to ensure the survival of the son who will bear the father’s name!” from this we can see that to Vidal Carmen (and therefore all mothers) are just tools to ensure the fathers name lives on with Vidal representing all of Franco’s ideas we see how mothers in Spain are now nothing more than tools for the fascist men show even more of the horror of being a woman in this time as they are nothing more than second class citizens useful for nothing but making children. The film constantly makes Vidal out to be the true monster in amongst all this fantasy as both the evil creatures and dangerous in Ofelia must overcome in her trails represent him and the issues he causes as Ofelia must get Golden key from the Toad which is destroying a tree as Dopido points out “it is a clear link to Vidal's storeroom key, that Mercedes needs to get vital supplies for the Maquis.” And he also says that “The Toad symbolises the Francoist regime that was sucking the life out of Spain” in how it is destroying the nature for greed and leaving others to staff showing how Vidal himself is just a symbol for the Horror of the Francoist Regime. While the most iconic moment of horror in the film of the monstrous Pale Manis not without also being made into a double of Vidal as he sits at a huge dining table that “mirrors Captain Vidal's dinner party” this and with the depictions on the wall of the pale man killing children help link the monstrous pale man to Vidal as both have a stock pile of food while the place around them suffers and we see evidence of both committing murder upon children as the pictures of the pale man doing it and of course how in the end of the film Vidal has murdered his step daughter. By the end of the film Vidal has also taken a more monstrous appearance due to the slash in his lip leaving him looking like some sort of deformed monsters and finally his inhumanity is reflected on his outside appearance by this scar. All this linking to Vidal as an inhuman creates shows how Del Toro wants us to view the fascist regime as an inhuman horror that tortured those who lived under it just like how the Toad stole food, The Pale Man eats the fairies and Vidal murders the innocent Ofelia.

Unlike most rite of passage fantasy films Pans Labyrinth has a much darker tone to its fantasy elements this can be seen in the creatures of the film for example the Faun. Throughout the film the Faun acts as Ofelia’s guide through her trials telling her what to do, but after each trial the Faun becomes younger this suggests that the Faun is using Ofelia for its own gain and is “Both Trickster and guide” this builds distrust to the Faun. The altera motives of the Faun are hinted at when Mercedes tells Ofelia “'My grandma always warned me to beware of Fauns.” This line helps highlight the manipulative aspects of the Faun and also show another example of female knowledge and stories as the grandmother is right to distrust Fauns. This distrust culminates in when the Faun tells Ofelia to kill her little brother (who at this point in her journey to becoming a woman has become her surrogate son) as the Faun needs the blood of an innocent. The blood of an innocent highlights the darkness to this magic as it seems to be something more akin to films like ‘The Witch’ than the other coming of age fantasy tales like ‘Harry Potter’. In this film we can see a more Greek myth like portrayal of the fantasy and the other worlds as the Faun seems to use Ofelia for its own gain and is indifferent to her suffering. This creates a sense of fear and horror throughout the film over the Fauns motives and what they might do to Ofelia. It also reflects how little of a guide Ofelia has in this world due to the death of her father and mother and the wickedness of the step father the closes thing she has to someone to trust is the trickster Faun.


  • Diestro Dopido Mar Pans Labyrinth Ofelia and Memory
  • Paul Julian Smith, Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) Film Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Summer 2007), pp. 4-9
  • University of California Press https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/fq.2007.60.4.4 
16 December 2021
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