Maya : "Pan, who self-effacingly refers to himself as a faun, when in truth he is a lord of the earth with a ram's crown, scented with leaf-molded earth, chthonic to his bark-encrusted core." The Evening Class
- Pan is a god from the Greek mythology (not the fantasy of fairytales), the god of Nature, and looks like a satyr, with goat legs and horns. The head of the bed of Ofelia's mother features the head of Pan, half hidden by pillows and we only see the spiraling horns emerging.
- Fauns however are demi-god from the roman mythology, looking like humans with horse ears and a tail.
- There is a reference to Echo, the Greek nymph, when Ofelia visits the pit in the middle of the labyrinth for the first time with the fairy, she calls "Echo" to play with the acoustic. Echo was killed by Pan because her voice could make every man fall in love.
- The fairy first appears under the form of a praying mantis (without front hooks) coming out of a carved stone looking more Aztec than Celtic this time.
- Other reference for creature design : Arthur Rackham
- The labyrinth is gothic from the XIIth century (Chartres cathedral) and is in fact a symbolic procession rather than a maze, because there is only one possible way. This 11 rings labyrinth (Christian) is a more elaborate version of the 7 rings labyrinth (Celtic).
- At the center of the labyrinth, steps go down into the pit, where a smaller labyrinth is carved in the ground and at the center stands a Celtic-type megalith. This stone is sculpted with a head of Pan, and a curious addition of a Christian figure, the virgin Mary with a baby Jesus in her arms, which Pan identifies as Ofelia (messiah prophecy in the film), princess of this magic kingdom, but refuses to talk about the baby (we assume the baby was the sacrifice Pan expected to re-open the gates before the full moon). This bit is quite confusing in Del Toro's fabricated mythology.
Like in fairytales, Ofelia becomes the hero of an initiating adventure, Pan reveals to her she's the princess of a secret underworld, and she must pass 3 tests before the full moon to save her kingdom from destruction, and become immortal again in the land of magic creatures.
Here we have the desire of delirious escapism children look for in fairytales, they are keen to imagine they have been adopted and are in fact of a noble descent, with superior powers. The infantile megalomania of being the center of the world, and being the last resort to save the world. The parallel with the war makes this regular passion for fairytales all the more relevant to Ofelia, who lost her father, and whose mother married a cold-blooded torturer of the fascist army. I think she misses her father and summons an ambiguous father figure in the person of Pan. To her mother she says Pan is very old and smells earth, which could mean he's been exhumed from the grave. The underworld is the world of the dead, where she meets her dead parents in the end. Of course the final scene shows Pan at the court of the underworld kingdom, with Ofelia's father on his throne, so they are two separate characters. But Pan could be the fatherly friend linking her to her father. On the other hand, the film installs a mimetic parallel between captain Vidal (real world) and Pan (fantasy world).
Vidal is tied to an inescapable fate inherited through the heroic death of his father. The pocket-watch of his father (that reminds me of a subplot in Pulp Fiction) literally makes every second of his life a preparation for a brave death. He is obsessed with punctuality, which is a derivation of this paternal legacy, and a control-freak who imposes his meticulousity onto everyone around him. His only goal is to perpetuate this overwhelming ascendant onto his newborn son, to transmit the pocket-watch and the anxiety by fulfilling his destiny and die like his father. This perspective overrules his love for his wife (and her life), his responsibility for his step-girl (and her life), and even his loyalty to Franco, as his final words will be to negotiate the transmission of this filial bound with the rebels. However the rebels deny him this last will, and promise instead that the baby will never know about his father. And the film ends there on the creation of a new orphan.
Coincidently, Vidal is orphan like Ofelia. Their parallel struggle to live up to the ideal of a gone father makes their love-hate confrontation more interesting. This tension could be caused by the mysterious link between Vidal and her father's death (murder?), Ofelia being a living image of his late rival. And Ofelia obviously refuses to see anyone replace her beloved father.
Although I would expect the symbolism of Ofelia's fantasy to reflect this quest of a missing father, but nothing in the legend really refers to a father figure, and her late father appears in the last scene without any symbolic/dramatic build up...
Pan is the only father figure available to Ofelia to unload her father affliction and repair a dysfunctional family balance. Yet his persona is obscure and untrustworthy. Mercedes warns her against fauns, and her mother flat out denies the existence of fantasy creatures, establishing the critical dilemma to choose between fantasy (immortality, fun, adventure, friends, childhood) and reality (adults, mother, step-father, fear, war, death).
In spite of the scary look, Ofelia feels strangely attracted to Pan (a satyr known to seduce and trick mortals). After all, he promises her immortality and a magic kingdom. Although in Del Toro's world Pan is good, his devious side reveals to have been a test to check how much Ofelia was ready to follow her heart even if it contradicted recommendations made by dear friends of hers. With the minimized role of her mother (even her death is overlooked), Ofelia's journey is mostly independent, in solitude, and the only authority regulating her life comes from Vidal and Pan.
More on Pan's Tests next...