Pan’s Labyrinth is not even remotely about Pan, the ancient figure of Pagan spirituality. In fact, I read online this morning that the name Pan was added to the title for the American release of the movie, whose original Spanish title translates as “The Labyrinth of the Faun.” I guess the movie’s distributors didn’t want American audiences to think they were going to see a likeable faun like Mr. Tumnus from Narnia. (If you want a story that celebrates Pan, rather than misrepresents him, check out Tom Robbins’ excellent novel, Jitterbug Perfume.)
The movie is set in Franco-era fascist Spain, a time of repression, the violence of which is shown in clinically graphic brutality that quickly becomes so over-the-top that it turns into a cartoon of itself. The violence far exceeds the level needed to represent the horror of that time. It becomes violence for the sake of violence, detracting from, rather than serving, the story.
The fantasy sequences are as dark and unappealing as the “real world” in which the main character, a young girl named Ofelia, lives. There are a few moments of beauty in the film – some truly poetic lines of dialogue and narrative – but those gems are not worth the trouble of digging through the huge pile of shit that is the rest of the film.
Surprisingly, Pan’s Labyrinth got a favorable review from the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. The CT review, which you can read online, recognizes the “disturbing and often terrifying” nightmare qualities of the movie but also finds the film “heartfelt and deeply meaningful.” Makes me wonder what they’re smoking these days over at Christianity Today.
The CT review takes exception, of course, with the way the clergy are portrayed in the film (as corrupt collaborators with the fascist oppressors). But Christianity Today concludes that, “whether he knows it or not, Del Toro [the film’s director] has given us a story resonant with echoes of Christianity.” CT sees one of the motifs of the movie as “the reminder that innocent blood has been shed for the salvation of the world.” In an unintentional but very real way, Pan’s Labyrinth does indeed embrace a form of Christianity – the twisted form that perpetuates the myth of redemptive violence. This is the form of Christianity that represents God as a divine child abuser, a psychopath who demands the bloody death of his son in order to save the world from his own psychotic wrath. That’s not how most evangelicals would describe their faith, of course, but that’s the story that underlies much of what masquerades as Christianity today. It’s the form of Christianity that makes it possible for a brutally violent film like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to be sold in Christian bookstores alongside Veggie Tales DVD’s. It’s the form of Christianity that desensitizes its followers to brutality and violence and allows them to support President Bush’s use of torture in the “War on Terror.”
The myth of redemptive violence is reinforced in Pan’s Labyrinth, to give just one example, when the faun demands the blood of an innocent child. It’s also reinforced as the audience gleefully applauds the bloody violence when one of the evil oppressors in the movie “gets what he deserves” from one of the oppressed. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, “violence begets violence.” In this movie, the only way out of the ceaseless cycle of violence and despair is through death. In the end, Pan’s Labyrinth is the polar opposite of a life-affirming movie. It is most definitely a death-affirming movie.