14 novembre 2006

Pan's fantasy

Continuation from first page : Pan's Labyrinth (2006/Del Toro)

Guillermo del Toro composes an odd mixture of neo-fairytale... The film is introduced by Ofelia's classic books of medieval fairytale, with traditional drawings (like Grimm or Andersen). But the encounter of a concrete fantasy in the real world is most unusual in the traditional fairytales. Although we can find many elements borrowed from various sources which original meanings are slightly altered.
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).

Filiation trauma

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...

11 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

It's interesting how the death of Ofelia's mother is overlooked. If memory serves, we don't see her body again since Ofelia ran screaming out of her room to call Vidal and the doctor. Vidal and Ofelia wait in the corridor until the paramedic soldier exits to announce her death. I don't think we see her then. So Carmen was of little importance in the film so far, and is evacuated very discreetly too.
Maybe the fact she's aligned with the fascist captain, and our protagonist, Ofelia, is not, makes the treatment of Carmen very delicate to handle. She's meant to be a disposable villain, but she's the mother of the heroine, and not totally evil either. So by minimizing her role, Del Toro makes her death easier to swallow for the audience, and offers at the same time an ambiguous character, and a victim of Vidal who is not his enemy.

Ofelia seems to move on quickly (for a 12 yold) after the death of her mother, all ready to face another great challenge and meet her own death with panache...

HarryTuttle a dit…

I wonder if there is even a funeral scene... can't remember it. If there is one it's only one descritive shot, no action or dialogue to insist on it.

Michael Guillen a dit…

Well, I should go to sleep; but I just can't. See what you've started?

Thanks for the quote. I agree that Pan is not directly of fairy tale repertoire; but, suggest in my first response, that fairytales are folkloric inflections of ancient myth.

The most basic being that of descent. Either into the underworld, or into madness, or into illness, or what have you. And there is this whole subtle thing about marriage being precipitated by eating the food of the dead. The marriage veil is, in fact, a blanched funereal shroud. Persephone would not have had to marry Hades if she had just not eaten those seven seeds of the pomegranate. Thus, the pomegranate is a symbol of marriage. And yet, as later sequences in her story attest, she came to love her husband, and to defend Hades, even stepping between him and Hercules when Hercules came to destroy him.

Marriage, again, is an intrapsychic device to further specific themes of individuation. Just as fairytales frequently illustrate the "false marriage", one could say that there are certain false marriages that resemble the incestuous, let's say when a young girl is in love with her father because the mother has died, or a young boy is in love with his mother because the father has died. A surrogate marriage takes place. An heiros gamos. One could say that this is the creative side of divorce, as we seek through serial monogamies, the perfect partner. On the other hand I have come to believe that the literalization of the archetype of marriage into the hunt for a physical other is a woeful misconstruction of the sygyzy that is meant to happen within.

I would correct your descriptions of Pan and conflate them into the term "capricious", which was the original complaint of Christians against the pagan gods. It wasn't that they were evil, or even deceptive. They were capricious. They were not to be trusted. As nature, in many ways, cannot be trusted. A river will drown you. A lightning bolt will strike you dead.

Your comment that a labyrinth is "a symbolic procession rather than a maze, because there is only one possible way" chafes slightly because it is something of a conundrum for me. When I walked the labyrinth at Chartres, I became conflicted when I arrived at the center. No one had told me what to do when you arrive at the center. Was I supposed to walk all the labyrinth in reverse to get out? I had friends who were ascending the bell tower and I didn't have time to contemplatively wind my way back. I thought long and hard about this and just decided to leave the labyrinth. Some folks have told me that was absolutely appropriate. Others say I only performed the ritual halfway. I balance between a nostalgic love for ancient rituals even as I frequently defer to literal, modern rhythms.

Your commentary has made me consider the parallel construction of Ofelia holding her younger brother with Merceces holding her younger brother. It's a question I plan to pose to del Toro: what was his intention with this parallel structure?

Again, I disagree with your description of the "desire of delirious escapism children look for in fairy tales." Children may want to orphan themselves in order to imagine themselves of royal lineage, but, it's adults who really wrestle with these issues as they suffer the ignobility of employment and are worn down by fierce competitions in the "real" world.

Eventually we must all be orphans in order to become ourselves. Time will inevitably create that scenario anyway. But there is good reason for Jesus saying that you must abandon your mother and your father (i.e., orphan yourself) in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

HarryTuttle a dit…

re: precipitated marriage.
To marry Carmen only 2 years after the death of her husband is the objective rational to repect mourning. And nothing shameful about it. What is troublesome at the dinner is that Vidal shuts up Carmen who talks too much about the details. He is condescending, addressing his guests (instead of telling Carmen directly) as a way to apologize, "she thinks these trivial stories interest us", to make her conscious of her inferior class at a table of "aristocrats" (or higher class of military families in a totalitarian regime). Carmen is a social outsider at the table, and is reminded of her vulgar manners (revealing too much personal history).
Although there is no objective reason not to talk about their marriage if it was perfectly respectful of a 2 years mourning. Why Vidal cuts short this story? What is embarrassing to mention?
Was she pregnant before the marriage? There is taboo the film doesn't make evident.
The tension at the dinner develops around Carmen's innoncence (she doesn't realize what she says is shameful), what the guest wives want to know (and seem to assume), and what Vidal prefers to hide.

Your reflexion on marriage is very interesting.

The Church excluded pagan gods because the Christian God does not tolerate the whorship of idols and other gods. By changing the names of the pagan mythology into Bible-complient names, people were able to transpose their traditional worship onto Christian faith without changing their habits. Thus the inclusion of a celtic symbol (labyrinth) within a christian order.

The archetype of the Deadalus designed labyrinth (for the Minotaur) is a complicated combination of multiple paths, endless cul-de-sac, to lose the visitor. Traditionaly, the labyrinth has only one correct solution and many wrong ends. In the case of Chartres however, it is not properly a labyrinth, because it is impossible to lose oneself, there is only one path going from one end to the other. No bifurcation, no choices to make. You don't need the thread of Ariadne to beat this Labyrinth. Thus the only initiating purpose of this path is the symbolic choreography around the center, circling around it left and right, going near then spin away from the goal, only to return to the center at the very end. It's an allegory of faith, whic could be Buddhist somehow, to put trust in the path without believing your eyes that say the road is going away from the center and keep going because faith takes you home eventually despite a contrarian reality.
I think the crowd was going down the path in groups all in a row, kneeling, as penitence. So probably they couldn't go backward when finished.
But I'm not sure what is the proper ritual, which has evolved through the ages anyway.

The analogy of Mercedes and her brother, with Ofelia and her brother would be interesting to develop. Although Carmen and her brother are almost an incestuous couple, the film want us to believe it until their true family tie is revealed. Their passion is definitely ambiguous, both have no other love interest in life than eachother, and undergo the sufferings of a Romeo and Juliet separation.

I replied to the child target of fairytales in the comments of the previous post. In my opinion, the archetypal nature of child's personality construction is more fundamental than adults mundane worries, just like the film shows how Ofelia prioritize the success of her fantasy mission rather than relate and engage with the concrete war among adults.

p.s. What is "sygyzy"?

Michael Guillen a dit…

Oh, it's just a word I like to shove into wherever I can misuse it. Heh. It's actually an astronomical/astrological term alluding to an alignment of three planetary bodies in a row; but, I came unto it through Jungian psychology where the alignment is in reference to a couple and that third thing created: a relationship. An internal sygyzy would be when the components of relationship and the relationship itself are all neatly contained within oneself without having to hope that you can find someone outside of yourself to make the relationship work.

I could have said inner marriage but it reminds me too much of inner child and innergaddadavida, baby. Heh. (Obviously, I did not get enough rest last night and am a lame brain today as a consequence.)

I haven't much to say about Carmen and her marriage to Vidal other than that it is a false marriage, or a marriage under a false pretext. Clearly, all he cares about is having a son through her. She is chattel. Why she marries him is incidental. She is obviously the good wife and the good mother. Her role is to leave Ofelia orphaned, or at least bereft of a mother. Like Cinderella's mother. Or Beauty's mother. Lost.

What I was referring to by a precipitated marriage was the marriage invoked by eating the food of the dead, as Persephone ate the food of the dead. The taboo against this is that--if you eat the food of the dead--Death claims you. Which is to say you marry Death or partner with Death or commit yourself to Death. The moment Ofelia ate the grape, I knew that if the story was true to archetype, it meant she would have to die. The challenge was whether or not del Toro would have the courage to follow through on that culturally unpopular trope. He did.

Also, with regard to the parallel structure between Mercedes and Ofelia, I stated that incorrectly. What I meant to say is that I see a parallel structure between the image of the stelae at the center of the labyrinth where the madonna-like female is holding the child, its obvious equation to the act of Ofelia holding and protecting her baby brother, and the final consequence of Mercedes holding Ofelia's baby brother (not her own biological brother). In other words, the protectress of the holy child is played out in both of them. I think they are meant to substitute each other in meaning.

As for syncretism between cultures, this is one of my favorite aspects of the Catholic church is--as you have pointed out with the European examples--the conversion strategy to build churches upon ancient sites in order to purposely rein the telluric energies and established patterns of worship. Catholic missionaries do this everywhere. I'm most familiar with these syncretic inflections in the Americas, in Mexico, Central America and South America. Ancient energies are guised in Catholic robes.

I can't argue with you that a child's personality construction is more fundamental than an adult's but an adult's "mundane worries" are not necessarily less important. In fact, it's possible that an adult's mundane worries might be the consequence of poor child personality construction and all these myths and fairy tales allude to various combinations of bad parenting and poor self-image.

Think of it this way: you say that Ofelia prioritizes the success of her fantasy mission rather than relate and engage with the concrete war among adults. Which I think is a false dichotomy because they are not really separate. Ofelia's prioritization is more psychological than literal. She's going straight to the shadows and violence of the psyche that are the substratum for external manifestations of shadowy, violent behavior. I loved this in her. She is less afraid of the monsters in the psyche, never flinching away from these encounters, than she is of what is monstrous in human beings. Which is to say, per Lawrence Durrell, that an understanding does not constitute a cure; the great inherent fallacy of psychology. Just because we know of these dark things in the human mind, and can even transform them within ourselves, we remain nonetheless victim to the unconscious manifestations of others.

HarryTuttle a dit…

I didn't know that word, thanks for the definition.

So you think the table of Pale Man is the "food of the dead"? I thought you meant Carmen's wedding was the feast breaking the mourning.
Yes you're right, Carmen is just a breeder to Vidal, but it's also the mentality of pre-war macho conservatives. It was not uncommon in Spain for example.

Yeah I misunderstood the "brother" with Carmen and Ofelia, sorry. But it was worth contemplating anyway, there is a pair of brotherhood at work there, one survives, one doesn't.

I guess we are arguing Freudism there. You're more of a Jungian you told me right?
Personaly I only see childhod issues depicted in the Ofelia's fantasy. And Del Toro says she wants to return into her mother's womb. This is archetypal, I mean timeless, universal psychology. How do you relate this with the Franco war (which is one specific episode in history)? It's not psychology related to war, or to Franco, or to Vidal as a torturer. Not enough hints linking the two worlds except for the (archetypal, non-specific) family ties... Ofelia's dilemma is one of every child, it's not something that only a child in a time of war would experience. Except maybe her own death.
The wish to kill the newborn, to return to the womb, to kill the mother and the father are natural (symbolical) processes personality construction. These monsters are familiar to every child's imagination, even in peace time.

Again arguing Freud, I disagree when you say "understanding does not constitute a cure". The unconscious is made of a lot of unknown dark things, but most of them are ok, they don't hamper our lives, they nurture dreamwork for example, we don't suffer from dreams. So the goal of psychoanalysis isn't to fully understand the subconscious, but only to solve/inlock the dark manifestations that makes our life impossible. So according to Freud, to aknowledge these repressed issues is enough to "cure" them. They don't disappear, we don't forget them, but their negative effect is supposed to be disabled. The point is to be able to live at peace with our subconscious. That's what I believe anyway.

Michael Guillen a dit…

I used to believe that. After 20 years of being a full scholar with the C.G. Jung Institute here in San Francisco, I have come to follow the ways of Michael Ventura and James Hillman in their comic and seminal critique We've Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy And the World Is Getting Worse. I love psychological jargon and mythopoetic language, but, have my issues with the therapeutic process.

Just to be clear. I didn't say "understanding does not constitute a cure"; that's Lawrence Durrell's line; I just happen to agree.

HarryTuttle a dit…

I remember you told a while ago you were Jungian, so I figured that was the Freud-Jung clash that cause our disagreement, as I'm more of a Freudian type. I didn't get into Jung yet.
Well if you go by this kind of precept : "We've had two thousand years of Christianity and the world is getting worse"... ;)
Anyway psychoanalysis is not determinant in this film, I'm sure the collective unconscious of Jung symbols is even more helpful to decypher the archetypes Del Toro collected in various cultures around.
But your interview comfirms my hunch that the auteur has a beef to sort out with his childhood among religious authority. The Penis-priest-monster (Pale Man)could very well be the expression of a trauma developped in Almodovar's La Mala Educaccion. And this is not Ofelia's issue (so we shouldn't try to explain it in terms of narrative coherence), but the auteur projecting hisown fears into the story. Like he said it's very autobiographical.
But that would be free-style psychoanalysis...

Michael Guillen a dit…

Which just happens to be my favorite since it's so CHEAP!! Heh.

Thanks, again, Harry for being such a good sport about working out these ideas with me. I do have to say I'm not really a Jungian, though steeped in Jungian jargon. My favorite form of psychology these days is really cognitive behaviorialism, in link with neurolinguistics. That's why I monitor the words that people choose to express the things they want to say. Choice of words alone is so revelatory. But then again, just because I enjoy Jungian language doesn't make me a Jungian, and just because I like cognitive behavioral therapy and neurolinguistic analysis makes me neither a cognitive behavioralist nor a neurolinguistic analyst. In gist, I think I have a problem with nouns. Hee.

Anonyme a dit…

does anyone know where the quotations read at the mother's funeral came from? where they biblical, or a sermon? i'd greatly appreciate finding their source...

Anonyme a dit…

What is the bible quote that is read? it might be during the mothers funeral, i cant remember... but i remember a quote where they said something about the world being cruel. and something else. i dont know. help though!