The Allegory of Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is both a fairy tale and a dark allegory of the atrocities of war. The movie tells about the reality of Spain after the Civil War where the violence of the Fascist regime is shown as explicitly as the magic of an alternative, fantasy world. The film opens with the demonstration of the ruins that Franco’s triumph brought while the narrator invites the audience into a fairy tale. This simultaneity of the real and the fantastic assumes further allegorical content where the history and fantasy serve as mutual contexts and enhance each other. Del Toro chooses fantasy to reveal the harsh reality because “[t]he allegory is most effective in the comparison it inevitably creates between the two worlds because gradually, the “real” becomes more frightening and more grotesque than the imaginary despite the literal monsters in the latter” (Tanvir 3). The characters in the movie are the embodiments of the real forces of old and new Spain, the Republican rebels and Franco’s fascists. Through characterization, symbolism, and metaphors, del Toro turns Pan’s Labyrinth into a political allegory where the fight of good and evil represents the fight of the Spanish democratic forces with Franco’s fascist terror.
Ofelia is an embodiment of the martyrs who died for the democratic purpose fighting the fascists. She reminds of a mythological hero, a fearful rebel who disobeys the governing force represented by Captain Vidal, just like the Spanish Republicans disobey the established Fascist regime. Ofelia even disobeys the Faun who encourages her to commit an evil act of shedding the infant’s blood. The moment when Ofelia is being seduced by the Faun to sacrifice her new-born brother is a metaphor for the blurred line between the right and wrong at war. Death and sacrifice obtain new meaning in such conditions, and something wild in a peaceful environment may appear tolerable and justifiable by the ultimate purpose at war. People’s minds become exhausted by killing and surviving, the moral coordinates of humanity become shifted. Ofelia’s refusal to shed blood of an innocent creature at a price of her being doomed to suffer represents the victory of humanity over fear, the good over the evil. The baby embodies the hope, the future, and the rebirth of Spain that will someday be free. The deaths of the martyrs are not futile. In the better world where Ofelia gets after death, her father-king tells her that “it was [her] blood and not that of an innocent that made [her] worthy of the throne” (1:50:10-1:50:15). It is the claim that the antifascist party embodied by Ofelia is worthy of ruling Spain.
Captain Vidal represents Franco’s Fascist regime. Pedantic, ruthless, and sadistic villain who has no mercy even for the little girl, Vidal comes across as a more frightening creature than the scary monsters of the underground world. His crispy uniform, polished boots, perfect shave, and good manners with his guests are the important elements in his juxtaposition with the ugliness …