Pan’s Labyrinth and the importance of reflecting on human atrocities

Art, I often find, is at its best when it responds to the darkest of times. When it addresses the failings and atrocities of humanity, it serves as one of the most powerful platforms around, and allows us to reflect upon actions, our decisions and our nature. For this reason, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece, is my most beloved film of all time. It is a beautiful, yet brutal, glimpse into the horrors that man is capable of perpetrating, as well as a tender contemplation on the hope that we can deliver, even as cruelty appears to dominate the world around us. Set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, just as Franco’s reign began to tighten its grip on the country, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ provides a mesmerising commentary on the capability humanity has for terrible things, and the ways in which the monsters that we read about as children eventually reveal themselves as our fellow humans, albeit ones that carry out unimaginable acts of brutality.

By making the world of a nine-year-old girl the lens through which we witness the unfolding of fascism, del Toro reminds us that war affects all, and shows us that no innocence is left intact when cruelty becomes governmental, when it spreads across a nation. As he intertwines the dreams of a child with the horrors of warfare, del Toro expertly conveys the way in which senseless violence can tear apart the fantasies of children, making effective use of the parallels between the beasts found in fairy tales and the ones that roam the earth in military suits. Although ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ ends in tragedy, it does so to show us that, regardless of what we are told, there are no happy endings in war. All it leaves, in its wake, is death, devastation and countless victims; many of whom are as innocent as they come, as is demonstrated in the death of the film’s young protagonist. The world del Toro creates for the film is a bleak one, often illuminated only by harsh, melancholic blues and filled with images of human suffering, but it is an important one. It is one that fully acknowledges the futility of war and strives to show viewers that monsters are not just fantastical creatures that we simply wish away but, rather, that they are as real and as human as any of us. It is up to us, del Toro suggests, to do all that we can to stand against injustice where we see it, and to take responsibility for protecting the innocent where we can.

by Hannah Ryan

Hannah is 19, lives in Cardiff and is into female protagonists, visually pleasing movies and Star Wars. Her favourite films include Pan’s Labyrinth, Casino Royale and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. She generally prefers dogs to people and you can find her talking endlessly about films at @_hannahryan on Twitter.

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