Pan’s Labyrinth (dir. Benicio del Toro) has got to be one of the most confusing movies ever made. One full day after seeing it, I still have no idea whether I like it, agree with it, enjoyed it. It was the type of movie that gives you the strange feeling of having drunk too much coffee. My heart didn’t start beating normally for about 3 hours.
Afterwards, Zach and I sat on my back porch and tried to discuss what it was about, but we both had such differing opinions about what it meant that it was difficult to pinpoint whether we liked it, whether we’d watch it again, etc.
I sure as hell am not going to argue with “best cinematography,” “best art direction” or “best makeup.” It was an extraordinarily well-made movie, without a doubt. But somehow it wasn’t clear enough in its delineations. In short: it was an incredibly well-made movie, to be sure, but far too vague.
First of all, the line between the “real world” and Pan’s Labyrinth was clearly shown, but the correlations, what we were supposed to take away from that contrast, was unclear. It was difficult to find someone who agrees with me on this (on RottenTomato.com I had to go down quite a ways before I found a splatter) but as ModernFabulosity writes,
The two plotlines try fainheartedly to merge behind common themes: mindless obeyance versus free thought, valor over despotism. But watching the film, one gets no significant ideological resonance; it feels more like a sadistic mashup of Bridge Over The River Kwai and the duller sequences of The Chronicles of Narnia.
In films, much of the thrill you get from watching is due to a well-delineated message. Fantasy is especially prone to this, while other types of films may get away with being vague, fantasy’s alternate world gives it an opportunity to have these idealistic messages (ex: Lord of the Rings.) While watching, it felt like del Toro was attempting to give us the feeling of a sweeping message, what we get from those sweeping “freedom isn’t free” one-liners in Lord of the Rings, when the music swells and the Riders of Rohan gallop off to their final battle, blah blah blah. But del Toro tries to cut out the middleman and give us that feeling without the idealistic message. It makes for a movie that feels terrific while you’re watching it, as long as you don’t ask any questions. There’s more than just images to Pan’s Labyrinth, but given all its hype I expected a resonating final message, rather than just the same minor chord that we’ve been hearing throughout the rest of the film.
I would tend to believe with the San Diego Metropolitan:
There are lessons to be taken from “Pan’s Labyrinth” – the value of belief, hope and courage, for example – but the whole is such a dingy downer that despite the fine performances on display, it is impossible to recommend it.
I found a review that echoes my thoughts exactly. As David Elliot writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“Pan’s Labyrinth,” like del Toro’s previous and related “The Devil’s Backbone,” is a saturated vision, an artist’s work. What it lacks is successful unity. The explicit viciousness of Vidal, the gutsy fears of the anti-Franco housekeeper (excellent Maribel Verdu), the politics of revenge that echo the work of Goya and Picasso, both heighten the fantasy elements and overpower them, make them marginal.
My objection to the film can be summarized by one sentence: who wants to be depressed for no reason? I am in a tiny minority of those who don’t like Pan’s Labyrinth, so let me go and question my sanity for a little bit.