Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

This film is one of those incredible European fantasies which is so much more than a mere fantasy. Set in Spain at the end of World War II, it is a multi-layered political and moral parable which takes place both in the faerie-land realm of young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), and the parallel world of Franco’s brutal fascism.

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)


Perhaps one of the best films of all time.

Writer & Director: Guillermo del Toro
Actors: Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil

This film is one of those incredible European fantasies which is so much more than a mere fantasy. Set in Spain at the end of World War II, it is a multi-layered political and moral parable which takes place both in the faerie-land realm of young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), and the parallel world of Franco’s brutal fascism.

Eleven year old Ofelia’s mother has married the captain of a military outpost in the Spanish mountains. Capitan Vidál (Sergi López) is charged with “cleaning up” the partisans left over from the Spanish Civil War. As we are shown the grim face of this real-life history, we follow Ofelia into an underground labyrinth where she meets a mythical faun, who informs her that she is a princess, the daughter of the king of the Underworld. She is given three tasks to prove that she is worthy.

Ofelia’s first task is to recover a key which has been swallowed by a giant toad who lives in the rotted trunk of a huge fig tree. The symbolism here goes much deeper than a simple fairytale princess-to-be must retrieve the key to the kingdom. The toad, a sign for the bloated and corrupt nature of the fascist beast, is destroying the tree of life.

For the second task, Ofelia must use the key to retrieve a ceremonial knife. Passing a sumptious feast presided over by a terrible sleeping monster who eats children (and faeries), she is warned to not touch a bite, no matter how tempting. The final feat I won’t give away, but the metaphors are deep and reveal levels of truth about the real world in which we live.

Meanwhile, Mercedes (Meribel Verdú), a young woman who works in the garrison, is also put to the test. Her brother Pedro is a member of the Partisans, and with the help of the outpost’s doctor, she has been smuggling supplies and mail to the guerillas, hiding in the nearby hills. Mercedes is guilt-ridden because she believes she should be fighting with the Partisans, instead of working for the fascists.

Of course, like the Partisans who were either killed or forced into exile, this film does not have a happy finale. In the end, both Mercedes and Ofelia must face a choice. And that choice defines the major theme of this film. What is our moral imperative in the face of terrible evil, when innocent lives are being destroyed?

Technically, this film is masterful. The cinematography and 3D animation are superbly done. The mood is dark and menacingly crafted, and the monsters quite fantastic. The acting also is great. López, as Vidál, is convincingly sinister, and Mercedes is played very touchingly by Verdú. The script is well written and the editing tight.

The story by itself would make this a fine movie, but everything about it seems just about perfect. This is a movie you could see several times, and find new insights and appreciation in each viewing.

All ten of my thumbs up on this one.

My rating: 5.0 stars

i dreamed i was on a boat

Once I dreamed I was on a boat in the middle of a wide river, floating toward the sea. My boat was a very small boat, nothing more than a raft, really. I felt overwhelmed. Sometimes the river became so expansive, or the fog so thick, that I couldn’t see the bank. I traveled along so slowly that it felt like I wasn’t moving at all. At other times, the river grabbed me, and pulled me into the rapids. My tiny boat would lurch and sway and be swallowed by the violence of the current, then heaved back up like an indigestible meal.

Every now and then along the way, I could see a smaller stream emptying its waters into this great river, and along each of these tributaries was something almost recognizable –a town, or a farm, or someone fishing. Once I saw a familiar face of an old man chopping wood. I willed myself nearly close enough to look him in the eye. Who are you old man? I asked. As the current took my little boat and yanked me away, I heard him say: I am your ancestor. Have they not told you of me?

stories of the ancestors

There are two Cherokee Tribes. One is represented by the Cherokee Nation, east & west, and other groups, recognized and unrecognized. This tribe is overwhelmingly made up of mixed-bloods; many, like me, are part of the Cherokee diaspora, tied only by blood, and some family stories. But even most of those who grew up in The Nation are more connected to the white, mainstream culture, than they are to their Tsalagi roots. We Cherokees, like our all-white counterparts, are mechanics and clerks and college professors, drive the same Chevrolets or Toyotas, go to the same churches, drink the same brands of coffee, and so on.

Then, there is the second Cherokee Tribe. That is the tribe of some mostly-forgotten past, which still offers its hand to the present. It is the tribe of our ancestors. The ancestors speak to us in the language of the dead. But in America today, few know this language. That is because the mainstream culture fills every moment of our lives with the chatter of the living —the young, the hip, the consumerist desire.

Many of us try to understand the ancestors by retelling the stories of the old times. While these stories are important, they aren’t enough. Unless the stories instruct us in our contemporary world, then they are only children’s fairy tales. Learning the “sacred formulas,” or the use of herbs, or grandma’s recipes will not embue us with truth.

As much as we (mostly mixed-bloods) may want to belong to that second tribe, we cannot escape the fact that we are the product of two (or more) cultures. By definition, the white, European Uber Kulture will always try to dominate. And it will be difficult to tell our (Tsalagi) stories from their (European) stories, because we are they.

Still, our ancestors have important knowledge to offer us. In order to understand them, I think we must first learn to listen.

I have some suggestions to get started.

Turn off the T.V. Go out side. Run your fingers through some soil of that place where you are living now. Listen to the wind.

Ask yourself some questions. What kind of world do I want? What is wrong with the one I have? What is the best path to get from one to the other? What am I doing with my life right now that is not in harmony? Listen to the voice that answers.

What advice would my grandmother give me? My grandfather? What lessons do their stories have to teach us today? Listen to the answers.

What are the stories, all of the stories, that have led up to the person that I am? Listen to the storytellers.

It is your ancestors speaking. It doesn’t matter if they are Cherokee or French or Chinese, or African-American, listen. They have something important to say.

by duane poncy

crossing borders

What border, what contrivance of culture is it that prevents us from standing in the middle of the street, all of us, and saying stop? Stop! We have to change this world. If we don’t change this world, there will be no world. And if we don’t believe that, can’t we see what is happening to the people of the world? Can’t we see that it is wrong that we sit behing our tables in restaurants and homes and eat all the cheap food raised by people dying in the rows from the slavery we impose? Can’t we see how we take the food from them and their children lift their too large hands to a too large face to shoo away a fly from the corners of their eyes, protuberant orbs in faces that hover over distended bellies? And their mothers and fathers dying of AIDS and them dying of AIDS and we can’t allow them to buy the drugs, or we can’t give them the drugs that will ease them or save them. And the School of the Americas graduates that have killed and raped in Central America and Columbia in the name of democracy and, oh yes, let us not forget Henry Kissinger who told the Argentinian death machine, “we want you to succeed.” Have I crossed any borders yet?