Richly spun with artistic splendor, writer-director Guillermo del Toro weaves a fairy tale around war-torn Spain in the 1940’s. Definitely a tale strictly for adults, the film reflects dark overtones, stunning cinematography and a purely Spanish language dialogue. We find ourselves in the midst of a Spanish Civil War and a protagonist, in the form of a young girl named, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) in search of her true greatness.
Proclaimed as the young princess who once left her underworld kingdom in search of the world of Humans, Ofelia is believed to be this young royal reincarnated. With her immortal father left to mourn over his deceased daughter (the world of humans was cold and full of great pain), supernatural portals were constructed by the king’s subjects to facilitate her soul’s return.
The film opens with young Ofelia, an avid reader of fantasy books and her mother Carmen (Ariadne Gil) taking a drive along the backdrop of the Spanish woodland landscape. Carmen is carrying child by a callous, sadistic pride driven butcher of General Francisco Franco’s army, named Vidal (Sergi Lopez) who has his hands dirty with quelling a guerilla uprising in the hills. Being tended to by Vidal’s housekeeper, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), who secretly is a staunch supporter of the guerilla uprising and a warrior in her own right, Carmen is primarily bedridden. Under her watchful eyes, she vies to keep Ofelia out of harms way and also supply the rebels with enough equipment and grenades to keep their fire alive.
Being guided by grisly looking fairies to a labyrinth of stone, Ofelia eventually comes face to face with the faun, Pan who addresses her as royalty. Pan delivers three perilous tasks that she must accomplish in order to take her rightful place back in her world. Ofelia without second thought, accepts. While the legend is being weaved, we are still rooted in reality where, Ofelia’s mother becomes increasingly ill and Vidal’s only egomaniacal interest is saving the unborn child so that boy carries on his name.
Interestingly enough is the fact that Vidal carries around a pocket watch owned by his own father who prior to dying, struck the watch down in order to let his son see the exact time he perished. Seemingly throughout the story we see Vidal obsessed with the now ticking watch, checking to see if it is still moving. Later in the film we shall see how it comes into play with his own life.
Ofelia more concerned with her mother’s health than her own personal interests is given a magical root by Pan to assist her mother in healing and getting Ofelia back on task. In the course of completing the tasks for Pan, Ofelia disbobeys his blatant instructions for one particular task which involved not consuming any food in the domain of the freakish Pale Man, (an infant eating being with eyes in both palms of his hands). With Pan angered by her disregard for his instructions, he threatens her with her remaining in the realm of humans forever.
Next, we remain in reality for a spell and embark on the path’s of both Vidal’s doctor ( who also supports the guerilla’s efforts) and Mercedes whose brother, Pedro is part of this band. We witness the bravery of both and are surrounded by death as Ofelia attempts to make a pact with her unborn brother. She promises him princehood in her kingdom if he would only protect their mother and not harm her when he arrives into this world via childbirth.
Ofelia’s journey of escapism during this time of constant strife, propaganda and preservation of self-worth is expertly told through her eyes. With sagaciousness indicative of royalty, she ultimately makes the profound sacrifice in the face of impending evil. Del Toro’s surrealistic imagination, production design, and moving soundtrack make this a tale which not only touches heart strings but depicts how resounding victory in the face of morbid adversity is not just an adult