British reviewers have tried to compare PAN’S LABYRINTH to A COMPANY OF WOLVES, yet there is a crucial difference. Angela Carter’s adult fairy-tale was psychoanalytic in a classic sense; it dealt with repression. In LABYRINTH, the Conscious and Unconscious are a Moebius strip, rather than the Freudian hydraulic machine.
There are two parallel stories: one taking place in ”reality”, about the last days of Spanish fascism, the other unfolding in the mythical world of the Labyrinth. The heroine is derived from Hamlet’s Ophelia, torn between to the father’s demand and Hamlet’s deceptive lure, both of which belong to the same fascist mouse trap. When she enters the labyrinth, Ophelia learns that the state of Mexico is doubly rotten. In a turn reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer’s LUNACY, we realize that Spanish Fascism and Communism shared allegiances. They were each other’s mirror images. As always, it is psychoanalysis that provides this crucial (subversive) insight: the fantasy world of the Labyrinth – a riff on Lynch’s ERASERHEAD – appears as the Unconscious of the ”real” world, yet the membrane between them is porous. When you pass through the porthole to enter the other side of the mirror, you meet fascist plans disguised as good intentions. Contrasting the Chestertonian Christianity of THE NARNYA CHRONICLES, Del Torro’s Pan is the type that grins at you while keeping his fingers crossed behind his back.When he punishes Ophelia for breaking the fascist rule of the fairy-tale, i.e. that you may only partake of forbidden pleasures proscribed by the Party, he is just like the fascist Father, who punishes Ophelia for failing to sacrifice her child to Fascism.
The two worlds are connected by body horror. Despite the geographic distance between Canada and Mexico, Del Torro and David Cronenberg share a similar aesthetic. The violence deployed by Fascists against Communist rebels is paralleled in the Labyrinth’s dark Gothic universe. This is no sanitized Cinderella, but the original Grimm fairy-tale, full of hybrid monsters, sexual fears and blood. At certain strategic points, such as the Captain’s unusual interest in the plant baby being grown underneath Ophelia’s bed, it’s impossible to distinguish between ”reality” and ”fantasy”. In this way, PAN’S LABYRINTH brings horror back to its rightful owner, the Spanish-speaking culture. The film is by turns creepy, suspenseful and sublime, without for a single moment hitting bathos. Del Torro took me on a trip straight down the Sagrada familia, with its perplexing Escheresque spirals between Heaven and Earth. The labyrinth is the terrifying zone in between, that road to Hell, paved with only the best intentions.