Yesterday I went to see the long-awaited Pan’s Labyrinth, in which 10-year-old Ofelia exchanges the horrors of post-WWII Spain for the equally viscous horrors of her imagination. While her mother dies in childbed and her shinily sadistic stepfather shoots resistance fighters for sport, Ofelia turns to an ambiguous faun, who offers her the prospect of royalty in a dream world if she can complete three disgusting tasks.
For 99.9% of the movie, I liked it.
I spent some time trying to figure out why Ofelia’s death seemed like such a cop-out. I decided that the reason was NOT because I liked her as a character. Heck, I liked Dr. Ferreiro and the sadistic captain as characters too, but their deaths seemed appropriate and satisfying in the context of the story. Since I had an emotional connection to Ofelia, I didn’t like her death, but my objection to her death is motivated by more than mere sympathy.
I finally decided that I objected to Ofelia’s death because it did not fit stylistically with the rest of the movie. The bulk of the movie was about the insidious ways in which violence, war and torture poison even the innocent imagination. The horrors of war are inescapable. The disgusting aspects of human nature appear even in the realm of our imaginations. Following this logic, we should have seen the captain’s final murderous act NOT coming from him. To have him shoot Ofelia is like the movie saying, “EVIL = EVIL.” No shit. I knew that already. I don’t care. The captain’s murderous act should have been transferred partly or fully to the Faun, who should have threatened not just Ofelia’s brother’s life, but also Ofelia’s. If the actions of the Faun and the captain worked in concert to kill Ofelia, this would have been much more thematically satisfying.
I swear…del Toro just chickened out at the end of Pan’s Labyrinth. Instead of following the slimy ambiguity of his themes to their logical ends, he chose to reinforce a superficial, artificial dualism. Despite the sheer awesomeness of the main performers [especially Doug Jones as the Faun and the Pale Man] and special effects and gore, I still feel let down.