Director Guillermo Del Toro commented on Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as “a girl who needs to disobey anything except her soul.” Our discussant Adriana Novoa, PhD (Dept. History, USF) elaborated the theme of disobedience: Not simply the anti-Franco fighters against the fascists; Ofelia repeatedly disobeying her stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) and ultimately the faun (Doug Jones) –which leads to redemption and the restoration of her family. At the end of the film we see clearly through the fantasy when the stepfather finds Ofelia talking to the faun but sees her talking to no one, and Novoa notes here that the audience is posed with the question of whether to obey reality or to choose fantasy which allows the narrative creation to resurrect Ofelia. If the audience chooses reality, Ofelia is dead; Disobey reality and Ofelia is restored to her kingly family and lives on in the underworld.
Novoa also speaks to the question of authority: is it from the control of others, or an understanding (partly through narrative) of knowing oneself? She noted how the sadistic Vidal did not know his own father, and worse, was unknown by his father. Vidal knew of his father’s famous military bravery, particularly through legend of the father having stopped his watch at the time of his death in battle. Novoa saw this as symbolically cutting off time (and connection) to the future (his son), and Vidal is assiduous about keeping the watch running. When Vidal knows he is about to be killed, he hands his infant son over and instructs the rebels to tell his son of the time of his death. Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) tells Vidal that the baby will never know of his father. And so the transgenerational transmission of trauma is illustrated for each father in turn will not know his son, nor the son the father.
Paulina Robalina, LCSW discussed the dissociation engendered by trauma where a child creates a fantasy world to cope with the untenable reality of (in this film, a mis-attuned mother and a sadistic and murderous stepfather). The ‘Pale Man’ ravenously eats children and fairies alike just like the stepfather tortures and murders rebels and any disobedient sympathizers. The toad is killing the flowering tree just like the stepfather is responsible for the mother’s death (impregnating her, killing the doctor, burning the healing mandrake). Ofelia must make choices not only that obey her soul, but be willing— like any hero or Christ figure— to sacrifice herself to save the innocent.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay (del Toro), Pan’s Labyrinth won three Academy Awards: Best Achievement in Cinematography (Guillermo Navarro), and Best Achievement in Make-up (David Marti, Montse Ribe)and Best Art Direction (Eugenio Caballero-art and Pilar Revuelta-set).
Continuing with the “Children and Trauma” Film Series, next month is The Virgin Suicides on April 13, 2014 at 200pm at 13919 Carrollwood Village Run.