Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's That Creepy Eyeless Fellow

The weekend before last, I went to see Pan's Labyrinth on its first night in the local theater. I had read a positive review of the movie here which contributed to my enthusiasm. Pan's is set in post-WWII Spain and is about a little girl who moves to the country with her mother to live with her new stepfather, a brutal officer who is hunting down separatists. The little girl's discovery of a magical labyrinth and the creature who lives there parallels a real-world narrative about her father's cruel treatment of his captives.

I was prepared for some serious terrors, but not for the gory details of the evil stepfather's work. I tend to distinguish the scary stories one sees in fairy tales from the more realistic and alarming details about the evils of which humans are capable. I'm not recommending Pan's to everyone--there are a lot of frightening scenes and I wish there had been less gore, but it's nonetheless a well-made movie. The graphic scenes served a purpose.

I enjoyed a lot about Pan's—the young actress is excellent (she's pensive and imperfect but courageous), the fantastical scenes are startling and tangible, and the two plot lines tie together in a strong ending. The highlight of the film is a terrifying scene featuring a ghastly eyeless monster sitting at a table overflowing with food that the girl is forbidden to eat. Oh dear, that scene is chilling! But in a good way.

The elements I liked about the movie were the same elements I enjoyed in The Book of Lost Things, which I read in December. They are both about children living during WWII in unhappily mixed families. Both children lose a parent, both love books (especially fairy tales), and both have "down the rabbit hole" adventures. Many of the fairy tale conventions are present in unique ways in these stories. Each child has a magical guide who may be a threat. Each child has to perform a series of tasks in order to prove his/her worth. Each child may be a royal heir to that kingdom. Each child has a baby brother in need of his/her protection. And both of them really creeped me out, which is the authentic nature of the original Grimm's tales, and nothing at all like the sterilized Disney versions.

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