"You're too old to be filling your head with such nonsense."
So says Carmen (Ariadna Gil), whose 12-year old daughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is reading a fairy tale storybook in the car, early in Guillermo Del Toro's film Pan's Labyrinth.
Are fairy tales just a waste of time? Should children be allowed to read such stuff? And what about adults? Should we bother with movies about magic and enchantment—like Pan's Labyrinth? Or is it all just childish madness and reckless escapism?
Clearly, Del Toro believes that fairy tales have something to say to grownups. Otherwise, he would not have crafted an R-rated story about make-believe monsters. Don't take your kids to this bloody, nightmarish tale. It's disturbing and often terrifying.
But it's also heartfelt and deeply meaningful. By contrasting the conflict of good and evil in the real world with the dramas that take place in fantasy land, Del Toro reminds us that children's stories—especially those dark and twisted fables from the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen—can give us rewarding perspectives on troubling realities. Sometimes, grownups need fairy tales as badly as children do.
It's easy to see what's sending Ofelia off to wonderland. Her pregnant mother is moving them into the Spanish countryside so they can live under the protection of the unborn baby's father, Vidal (Sergi López), a monstrous captain in Spain's civil guard. But Vidal doesn't have much care for his family, outside of his desire for a son. He's more intent on crushing a force of rebels who are resisting the government's oppression. While the Spanish Civil War fades and World War II intensifies, Ofelia's world seems to be spiraling out of control.
As J.R.R. Tolkien once told ...