On Thursday I went to see Pan’s Labyrinth. I am still mildy traumatised. I had naively thought that this would be a nice little story about a small girl’s fantasy world and a good opportunity to practise my Spanish. I was disabused of this misconception within about 10 minutes, when the chief villain of the piece – the charming Captain Vidal – cudgelled someone to death. I sensed that this might be a slightly less pleasant story than I had imagined and my suspicions were soon confirmed. There was a particularly grim moment when a doctor amputated a man’s leg with a saw without anaesthetic (an operation I did not really need to see in quite so much detail), and another delightful scene in which Vidal tortured someone with a hammer (as you do). All of this gore appeared relatively mild, however, when compared with the most stomach-churning scene of the film, in which the Captain sustained a very nasty knife-wound to the mouth and sutured it himself – an operation which seemed to last for a good 5 minutes, and was captured in a lurid close-up. My memory may have faded a bit, but I honestly think that parts of Pan’s Labyrinth surpassed the notoriously brutal ‘Passion of the Christ’ in violence.
Not that I would want to discourage anyone from seeing this film. On the contrary, I think that Pan’s Labyrinth is an excellent movie that deserves to be seen and would recommend it to anyone – just so long as they don’t plan on eating or sleeping peacefully for the following 3 days. The plot is engaging, the monstrous Captain Vidal deliciously evil and the torture scenes painfully convincing, if you like that sort of thing. The fantasy scenes are also highly imaginative. There is a satyr (the faun) who guides the heroine Ofelia into the labyrinth and a weird pale creature that stalks about with eyes in its hands and eats small children. I was also particularly taken with a giant toad that squelched about inside a tree, though that might just be a personal thing (it bore, I thought, a passing resemblance to my cat).
Above all, Pan’s Labyrinth illustrates the cruelty of war and the brutality of dictatorship. Set in 1944, 5 years after the Spanish Civil War, the film follows the Francoist regime’s efforts to exterminate the remaining pockets of guerrilla resistance and exposes the sadistic, unquestioning zeal with which it persecuted its opponents. Personally, I did not need to see this brutality in quite such graphic detail. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that Pan’s Labyrinth hammers home (at some points literally) some important messages, namely 1) Franco – not so nice; 2) many people object to being battered with hammers; and 3) if you do have the misfortune to have your mouth slit open with a knife then seek professional medical attention (admittedly difficult when you have just shot the doctor), and do not, under any circumstances, consider stitching it up yourself, especially if other people have to watch.