Pan's Labyrinth

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Original Spanish title: El laberinto del fauno.

Imagine Alice in Wonderland meeting The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas, then joined by The Wind That Shakes the Barley with a sizable portion of The Brothers Grimm thrown in.

You'll get...

Pan's Labyrinth, a dark, modern-day fairy tale, complete with fairies, Secret Tests Of Character, and monsters—not all of them supernatural.

It's set in 1944, just after the Spanish Civil War (a favorite period for Mexico-born Guillermo del Toro, the film's writer and director), with Spain's democratically elected socialist government overthrown by the Falangists (Spanish Fascists or "National-Catholics") and the new government attempting to weed out the last traces of La Résistance. The story centers on Ofelia, an only child whose widowed mother Carmen has agreed to marry the ruthless Captain Vidal to provide for them. In turn, he expects her to bear him a son.

Ofelia and her mother are taken to a villa in the mountains near an old labyrinth (the titular Faun's one) to be near Captain Vidal for the birth while he hunts down rebels. She is quickly taken into a Changeling Fantasy about how she is secretly princess of the underworld fairy kingdom, lost to humanity for many ages. The Faun and his labyrinth were one of many made by her father, the King of the Underworld, as gateways in the hope she would return.

As she undergoes trials to prove her soul is uncorrupted by living among humans, so do the rebels, her mother, and her nursemaid and only friend Mercedes.

Warning, this film is a Tear Jerker. A profoundly disturbing Tear Jerker, as well as a great source of horror. For those of you who missed the R rating ...this fairy tale is very definitely not for children.

It is notable that many squicks and nightmares were induced by this movie due to the advertising as "family friendly". Especially in Europe, trailers shown only mentioned the fantasy parts. The fact that it takes place during Franco's regime is completely ignored, as is every mention of gruesomeness. Rated everything from 12+ (France, Japan, Iceland, Taiwan) to 21+ (Singapore) in cinemas.

Tropes used in Pan's Labyrinth include:

"You won't be the first pig I've gutted, motherfucker."

    • Captain Vidal may be an asshole, but the man stitches his own face and walks off the fact that he's been stabbed, and later, drugged.
  • Berserk Button: If one is to hurt children, one will provoke a level of wrath one would not expect to see from Mercedes.
    • The Faun really hates being disobeyed, especially when it results in the death of his fairy pets.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Mercedes, just before being rescued by the rebels, preferred to take her own life than give her pursuers the satisfaction. Or worse.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
  • Big Damn Heroes: When the rebels save Mercedes from the Captain's henchmen right before they're going to kill take her back and inflict Cold-Blooded Torture on her.
  • Blood From the Mouth: Ofelia, when she's dying, overlapping with Deadly Nosebleed, and Captain Vidal, but in his case it's justified, because Mercedes gave him half of the Glasgow Grin.
  • Blood Knight: Captain Vidal
  • Blood Magic: The plant that the Faun gives Ofelia to heal her mother requires a few drops of fresh blood daily in order to work.
    • At the end, the Faun tells Ofelia that she needs a drop of blood from her baby brother to open the portal to the Underworld, but it turns out to be a Secret Test of Character.
  • Break the Cutie: Having fun yet, Ofelia?
  • Brick Joke: The lottery ticket.
  • Broken Masquerade
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: The Faun, even when in plain sight, can only be seen by those who "know where to look" and are ready to believe. (Or so says Word of God Guillermo del Toro on the DVD Commentary.)
  • Changeling Fantasy an early scene even emphasizes that Ofelia is Left Handed, a feature of changelings from folklore.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The knife Mercedes rolls up in her dress after cutting potatoes. Cue another Crowning Moment of Awesome.
    • And the sedative the doctor leaves on Ofelia's mother's bedside.
    • And the chalk.
  • Child Eater: The Pale Man. This is made very clear just from looking at his lair, which includes among other things his collection of children's shoes.
    • Word of God says that the Pale Man was visually inspired by a movie poster (from the Phantasm film) of a woman with hands in front of her eyes, partially transparent so that the eyes were still visible. And the rest of the creature was supposed to resemble a morbidly obese man who had lost his fat and muscle mass during the endless years of sitting paralyzed in front of the cursed banquet, according to rumors partially inspired by Guillermo del Toro himself after a vigorous diet.
  • Clock King: Captain Vidal
  • Co-Dragons: Garcés and Serrano to Vidal.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Captain Vidal likes to do this on his captives, most of the time to extract information, but other times not.
  • Coup De Grace
  • Crapsack Only by Comparison: It is indicated that our world is a Crapsack World compared to the other one early on. Later footage subverts this, or at least makes you wonder about the priorities of the one doing the comparison.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The various faeries and the Faun. It's humans you should watch out for. On the other hand, there's also the Pale Man.
  • Death by Childbirth: Carmen
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Ofelia.
  • Determinator: Captain Vidal. It takes him a full 5 seconds to die from a headshot! This is also after he is nearly gutted, stabbed repeated times, and drugged.
    • It could be said that it was actually not the headshot that finished him off, but the insight that his precious name and bloodline would be erased from history, forever.
      • Confirmed by Word of God. del Toro said that Mercedes's line-- "He won't even know your name"-- kills Vidal before the bullet even enters his head. Probably more metaphorical than physical, but as far as karmic deaths go, it's pretty damn satisfying.
  • Development Hell
  • Died Happily Ever After: Ofelia.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Mercedes and the rebels find Ofelia mortally wounded and the heartbroken Mercedes holds and sings to her as she dies.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Ofelia, paralleling the CNT-FAI in the actual Spanish Civil War.
  • Doomed New Clothes: Genre Savvy Ofelia tries to avert this trope. It doesn't work.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole
  • Environmental Symbolism: From the obvious (the tree the frog resides under is shaped like a ram's head) to the more subtle (the bannisters in the house also have ram's heads, and the headboard of the mother's bed has details shaped like ram's horns
  • Establishing Character Moment: For Vidal - "It's the right hand." And if that didn't convince you, him stomping two (innocent, as it turns out later) suspected rebels' faces in and then repeatedly shooting them, hopefully will.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The faun pretty much loses his shit when he finds out Ophelia got his two fairy buddies eaten by the Pale Man.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses
  • Eyeless Face (combined with Eyes Do Not Belong There): The Pale Man has his eyes in his hands. Gah!
    • They're on his plate first... And then he puts them in the empty sockets in his hands... Gah! indeed...
    • And lest we forget: Captain Vidal + Sunglasses = Devil. (then again, Captain Vidal - Sunglasses = Devil too, so yeah)
  • Face Palm: The faeries (and us in the audience) when Ofelia eats the grapes.
  • The Fair Folk
  • Fairy Tale
  • Famous Last Words: Captain Vidal appears to have given much, much thought to his last words. Only to have it brutally yet satisfyingly subverted: "He will not even know your name."
    • Doctor Ferreiro's last words could be considered to fit under this trope as well.
  • Fantasy Forbidding Mother: Ofelia is chided for reading too many fairy stories when she's supposed to have outgrown them.
  • Fauns and Satyrs
  • Faux Fluency: Doug Jones, the Faun, actually learned his lines and Ofelia's lines in phonetic Spanish, despite speaking none of the language. His voice was dubbed over anyway ... but still!
    • Extra (if belated) Visual Effects of Awesome kick in for those who don't realize until after watching the movie the Faun's voice is dubbed.
      • It means that the Faun's Mouth Flaps line up beautifully, meaning that his wonderfully deep voice is seamless. So, Doug Jones, you rock.
      • It gets even more awesome: Not only did he need to learn Ophelia's lines so he would know when to speak, but he couldn't hear the actress because the servos in the costume were so loud.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: The Pale Man.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: On the way to her new home, she follows a big bug to find a pagan-esque statue in the woods, later she follows the same bug to find the large stone structure in the labyrinth by her house, and the Faun.
  • Food Chains: Don't eat the food on the table means, don't eat the food on the table. (Though, since it was wartime, it was likely that Ofelia hadn't eaten or seen fresh fruit in a long while. And she had been sent to bed without supper, so was more hungry than usual)
    • Also, you know, the fruit was forbidden.
  • Forbidden Fruit
  • Foregone Conclusion: The film opens with Ofelia, lying on the ground, with Blood From the Mouth -- or, in this case, her nose.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale
  • Frogs and Toads: For her first task, Ofelia must retrieve a golden key out of a giant toad's stomach.
  • Genre Savvy: Ofelia. When she's not Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Glasgow Grin: Vidal gets half of one from Mercedes. He stitches it himself since he already killed his doctor.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Going along with Dark Is Not Evil above, the Faun is frightening and downright mean at times, but he's on Ofelia's side.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In a horrific scene, Vidal beats a man's face in with a bottle.
  • Grotesque Gallery: The Pale Man.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ofelia
    • Also worth mentioning, two of the faeries, who died trying to help Ofelia escape the Pale Man.
      • No love for the doctor?
  • Hero of Another Story: Pedro, the leader of the rebels.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Pale Man.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Mostly just the Fascists though.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Vidal orders Dr. Ferraro to treat the wounds of a rebel he is torturing so that he can be tortured some more. The man begs Dr. Ferraro to kill him, and Ferraro obliges by giving a lethal injection.
  • I Have Many Names: The Faun.
  • Imaginary Friend: All the fairies might (possibly) be in Ofelia's imagination.
  • Infant Immortality: Horrifyingly Averted.
  • Inkblot Test: The foreshadowing towards Camen's pregnancy hemorrhage as Ofelia's book inks the shape of a bleeding uterus, drenching the pages in red. Would also go into What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic.
  • Inverted Trope: According to Word of God, in this movie, set in Falangist Spain, it's courageous disobedience, rather than blind obedience, that is the true virtue. This is nearly the opposite of pretty much any normal fairy-tale.
    • Perhaps best summed up in the last words of doctor Ferreiro: "But captain, to obey - just like that - for obedience's sake... without questioning... That's something only people like you do."
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Averted.
    • Played straight when Mercedes hums Ofelia a lullaby as she is dying in her arms.
  • It Got Worse: * Shudder*
  • Jerkass: When he finds out that she disobeyed his instructions and let the Pale Man wake up, leading to the deaths of two of the fairies, the faun shouts at Ofelia and says he's abandoning her for disobeying him over that one. Ofelia is understandably hurt and confused.
    • Her disobedience lead to the truly horrible deaths of the fairies who were trying to help her. It's understandable that he would be pissed, especially considering how affectionate the faun is towards them.
    • On the other hand, the ending implies that the faun's cruelty is something of an act - he becomes angry with Ofelia, tells her that he won't help her go to the fairy kingdom anymore, tells her she only has one more chance and can't blow it, and then, with the stakes so high, sees if she still has the courage to draw blood from her innocent baby brother.
  • Just Following Orders: Subverted.
  • Kick the Dog
  • Kill Him Already: Mercedes' should probably have killed Vidal when she had him at her mercy to avert the Bittersweet Ending, However, according to Word of God: Mercedes' knife was intended to be too small to inflict serious damage on as formidable an opponent as Captain Vidal. (Not on a literal level, because she could have slit his throat, stabbed him in the eye, or stunned him with the knife and then finished him off with the torture implements. But on a symbolic level, such a fearsome monster as Captain Vidal needed something equally fearsome to finish him off. Such is the nature of a fairy tale.)
    • She's strong but she's not a fighter, and she's up against a man in his prime. She'd have a hard time hitting a vital spot with that small knife once he got over his shock enough to fight back.
    • Mercedes was also shown to be a very gentle person who was clearly scared and nervous for most of the movie. Probably the act of attacking the Captain freaked her out so much that her first reaction was to run.
  • La Résistance - the rebels of course
    • Overlaps somewhat with The Remnant, since by the time the movie takes place (1944) the Republicans had already lost the war, and there were only a few isolated pockets of resistance remaining.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Mercedes at first comes off as a fairly meek woman, even if she is The Mole, and she considers herself a coward. Then, when she's been captured and is facing Cold-Blooded Torture she whips out a knife and gives Vidal a Glasgow grin.
  • Living Labyrinth
  • Lost in Translation: When the Captain welcomes Ofelia and the pregnant Carmen to the villa, he says "Bienvenidos" to them, the Spanish form of "welcome" that one would use in addressing multiple people when at least one is male (you'd say "Bienvenidas" to two women). This would instantly telegraph to a Spanish-speaking audience whom he really cares about (especially since the baby's sex is still unknown).
    • Considering the Captain's character, it's likely meant to give the impression that he's sure the baby is a boy. In his mind, he's convinced he's too strong to have made anything but a boy. At least, that's the impression this troper got.

Ferreiro: Why are you so sure that the baby is a boy?
Vidal: Don't fuck with me.

    • The Faun (and later the Fairy court) use the vosotros (2nd person plural) form when addressing Ofelia, rather than tú. Not only does add a bit of atmosphere to the characters, since this sort of address was the norm in medieval Spanish, but it also overlaps with the Royal We.
  • The Lost Woods
  • Magical Girl Queenliness Test
  • Magical Realism
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Are the fantasy creatures real, or the product of a lonely girl's imagination? (Although, according to Word of God, a few particular details -- most notably the sudden appearance of the chalk in Captain Vidal's room, Ofelia's escape from her guarded room and into Vidal's guarded room, and how she eluded Vidal in the labyrinth -- prove that the magic is real.)
  • Meaningful Name: Girls named Ofelia don't tend to have happy endings.
  • Milky White Eyes: The Faun has these when Ofelia first meets him, though as the movie progresses they become more normal. Whether this is of any significance isn't stated, although it's notable that the Faun seems to de-age in other ways as the film nears the climax, signaling his growing power.
  • Never Say "Die": Also, never say "pregnant."
    • Although Ofelia's "sick with baby" comment is such an apt expression under the circumstances.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers used for the US release 1) Gave no clue that the actual film was in Spanish, and 2) made it look like a Narnia-type family fantasy. FAMILY FANTASY. REALLY.
    • Driven home on the cover of the DVD, which promises that the movie is "on the same altar of High Fantasy as The Lord of the Rings trilogy", and throws another mention of The Lord of the Rings on the back of the cover, obviously trying to make whoever buys it believe that the movie is going to be just like it. If anything it's more of an Urban Fantasy.
  • Offscreen Teleportation
  • The Ophelia
  • Our Fairies Are Different: They disguise themselves as insects.
  • Plucky Girl: Ofelia.
  • Point That Somewhere Else: It doesn't actually work. Captain Vidal aims his pistol at a wounded revolutionary, who weakly pushes it away once, twice, then rests his hand over the barrel. Vidal shoots him in the head, through his hand.
  • Psycho for Hire
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Captain Vidal.
  • Rags to Royalty
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Pale Man, adding to the already existing eye horror.
  • Reverse Mole: Mercedes and Doctor Fereiro.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The band of guerrilla fighters in the hills.
    • True, for the most part. But they're not completely idealized. Most notably, they have a subtle moment that's pointed out by Word of God in the DVD Commentary: when they defeat Vidal's forces, they shoot their captives in the head, in a scene that cleverly mirrors an earlier scene in which the Falangists had shot captive rebels.
      • Subtle? That's considered a war crime.
      • The Falangists had shown no mercy to them, so they obviously weren't inclined to give any back. Also, it's not as if they could take prisoners, and fighting without uniforms as they do is also considered a war crime.
        • Technically the rebels shooting Captain Vidal at the end after capturing him also was (at least without a trial) - though the viewer is generally sympathetic since he had just shot Ofelia, to add to all his other atrocities.
  • Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Reason: Mercedes makes two big mistakes. First, she tries to escape from the compound the same night that she finds Vidal has grown suspicious of her. Her attempt to flee proves to Vidal that she is, in fact, guilty of helping the rebel forces. Her second mistake is that when she escapes, she stabs Vidal in several non-critical points. As a result, instead of being killed by a subordinate, Vidal staggers out and orders them to capture her instead- guaranteeing that she's in for horrific torture. By complete random coincidence, though, the rebel forces are in the same part of the woods where she is surrounded by Vidal's soldiers. The soldiers are surprised and massacred by the rebels, the result being that the compound now has too few soldiers to adequately defend against a rebel attack. Seriously. The Chessmaster couldn't have planned a better strategic turn of events than that.
    • Mercedes was scheduled to flee with Ofelia anyway, so the rebels were waiting for her there for a reason.
  • Rule of Scary
  • Rule of Three: Three tests to prove her worth. Three items to be collected. Three times Ofelia goes to the Labyrinth, three times the Faun comes to her in her room. Three doors made with chalk. Three fairies. You get the picture.
  • Scenery Porn: One of the most visually stunning movies in recent years.
  • Secret Test of Character: Towards the end, when the Faun asks Ofelia to draw blood from her baby brother to return to the fairy kingdom and escape her very enraged stepfather alive. She refuses, and she passed because she spilled her own blood instead of that of an innocent
  • Schmuck Banquet: The Pale Man's cursed feast.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Almost certainly applies if you can't accept that the magic is real.
  • Shamed by a Mob: Captain Vidal near the end of the movie.
  • Shout-Out: In the commentary, Guillermo del Toro points out many shoutouts to Charles Dickens, Stephen King, several surrealist painters, and many others.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Towards the end of the movie...

Captain Vidal: Tell my son the time his father died. Tell him.
Mercedes: No, he won't even know your name.
Pedro then shoots Vidal in the face.

  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: This movie simultaneously pits the two ends of the scale against each other..
  • Soft Glass: Subverted in a scene early on which has Captain Vidal smashing a man's face in with a wine bottle. The bottle doesn't break.
    • He's using the bottom of the bottle, which is usually the thickest part, especially when it comes to wine bottles.
  • The Southpaw - Ofelia, in that it is a subtle sign that she actually is a changeling
  • Spiritual Successor: Word of God identifies this film as the second in a loosely connected trilogy started by The Devil's Backbone and to be concluded with a ghost movie set in the 70s.
  • Theme and Variations Soundtrack
  • Theme Tune Cameo
  • Too Dumb to Live: Ofelia, in ignoring the warnings of the fairies, during her disastrous face-off against the Pale Man. Though, in following the fairy tale motif, it was faerie food which is almost always glamored to make it seem like irresistible, Impossibly Delicious Food.
    • That, and it's supposed to show how she doesn't blindly obey orders, unlike Captain Vidal. It was just unfortunate that this was done via a test that anyone Genre Savvy with fairy tales could recognize.
    • It's also worth noting that immediately before, she only found the right hiding place by following her own will and not listening to the fairies.
    • YMMV. Ofelia likes fairy tales, and the movie is set up like one. In some fairy tales (but not all), the main character will fail to listen to advice, or do something they were told specifically not to do—and no clear reason is given. In some cases the tale ends here, otherwise the main character must do something to redeem themselves in the eyes of their quest-giver. So Ofelia is just acting in accordance with the fairy-tale princess that she believes she is—or else she can't act any other way because she IS a fairy-tale princess.
  • Torture Always Works: Vidal seems to think so, but it's ultimately subverted.
  • To the Pain
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: If Ofelia had not eaten those two grapes, the fairies' deaths could have been avoided, in addition to a lot of other bad things.
  • Unperson: Mercedes tells Vidal his son will not even know his name.
  • Vader Breath: The Pale Man.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When the giant toad pukes up its insides.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ofelia and the grapes.
    • As noted under Too Dumb to Live, Ofelia is just acting like a character in a fairy tale.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Father actually, Vidal to Ofelia. But "wicked" is a bit too mild.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Captain Vidal.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The Faun, although he's pretty effective at playacting otherwise.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Almost all the real-world characters, but Carmen (Ofelia's mother) most of all.
  • You Watch Too Much X: According to her Wrong Genre Savvy mother Carmen, Ofelia reads too many fairy tales.