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The Philodoxer
Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 01/14/2007
Labyrinth of Similitude

I hadn't even heard a whisper about Pan's Labyrinth when I came across Stephen King's top movies for 2006. But when the master of horror picks, of all things, a foreign movie as his numero uno, I listen.

Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth takes us back to post-civil war Spain, 1944. A girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is forced by circumstances, along with her pregnant mother, to take up with a cruel fascist soldier in his northern rural fortress. In this sylvan setting, Ofelia finds a mysterious labyrinth, and within, a faun: a primeval creature whose manner is as seductive as it is disingenuous. But little girls are naïve to the ways of magical beings, and Ofelia agrees to undertake three dangerous missions for the mythological half-breed.

Part of what helps sell this fantastical story is its vivid interruptions of real-life horror and brutality. One disturbing scene in particular occurs when Ofelia happens upon her expectant mother, hemorrhaging and soaked in blood. The unreality of such a terrifying moment is distinct, yet we know it to be actual. In the face of such a genuine impossibility, miracles suddenly become all the easier to swallow.

Still a more constant foil to the film's fabulous aspects is supplied by the disciplined sadism of Ofelia's new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a villain in every sense of the word. At one point, Vidal receives a wicked disfiguration that drives the point home, at once successfully invoking╩psychotic icons the Joker and Two-Face.

Though the film inevitably invites comparison to the Harry Potter series, Pan's Labyrinth perhaps has more in common with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie. Only whereas that movie brought an innocent surrealism to the adult world, Pan's Labyrinth revisits the mental torsion of childhood, where shadows may yet be monsters.

Of course, we've seen the story of the girl in the maze before, in Jim Henson's powerful Labyrinth. But in the end, though del Toro's heroine is younger than either twentysomething Amelie or Labyrinth's teenage Sarah, the tone of this newest fantasy is more grotesque and mature than either, with an ambiguous ending that resonates with John Carpenter's The Thing. There's a reason the creator of The Shining, Carrie, It, and all other sorts of twisted shit called Pan's Labyrinth his favorite.

Pan's Labyrinth is a child's story faithful to the bizarre tradition of the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, and Frank L. Baum. For people dissatisfied with Potter-mania, this movie is the cure. It will fit comfortably on your DVD shelf between The Never Ending Story and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Till next time, folks!

- Abel G. Peña

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