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Pan’s Labyrinth: Cultural Context and The Film Elements

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Pan’s Labyrinth: Cultural Context and The Film Elements Essay

The extract I have chosen is taken from Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth and I am going to analyze it in terms of its social, geographical and historical context and then focus on how it uses cinematography, sound, editing, genre, mise-en-scene, symbols, narrative structure, themes and motifs.

Pan’s Labyrinth is set in 1936-1939 during the Spanish civil war. The Spanish Civil War was military revolt against the Republican government of Spain, supported by conservative elements within the country. The Nationalists, as the rebels were called, received aid from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Which in the film there was one time when we heard the rebels being called communists. The Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union, as well as from International Brigades, composed of volunteers from Europe and the United States. The republicans were the Captain and his army.

The geographical location of the film’s origin/setting is in Spain. To be more specific it the woodlands. It was near water source it seemed to look like a river.

In the film politics play a huge role in the film there was the Captain and his army who are made to seem like to villain. Causing the viewers to resent them especially when they are attacking the rebels who are nationalists, who are just looking like they want to free their people from the government’s oppression. The viewers are instantly found feeling sympathetic to the rebels are being killed in the woods. Also for Mercedes who has to just sit there and see it happen. The film make the rebels look like the victims and the Captain and his army like monsters with no morals. The view side with rebels over the Republicans.

In the film the difference in social classes was very obvious especially in my extract in the captain mansion he had maids and serpent that did work that he needed to be done such as make meals and clean up the house. He had people cleaning the sheets when Ofelia’s mom was bleeding during giving birth. The people who are on the top of the social hierarchy are most people who are rich or are high ranking military officials. I also noticed that there were different in status when it came to gender when Ofelia’s mom was telling people the store on how she met the captain he brushed it off to the side and said she didn’t know what she was talking about. Also a lot of the maid/servants were mostly female. While the men were more the military men and the people of power who were at the table at the dinner scene.

Economic status of the characters in the film varies. Ofelia and her mom can from a not so wealthy lifestyle. Her mother was a shoemaker took the business over after her husband died so this kind of lifestyle was new for her and Ofelia. There were also the servants and Mercedes who had humble servant clothes compared to fancy and nice clothes of the captain and his rich friends. The rebel had clothes that looked old and patched up compared to rich characters in the film. The Captain had the highest economic status in the film had a mansion, servant, and a bunch of expensive looking things inside of the mansion.

Del Toro stated that he considers the story to be a parable, influenced by fairy tales, and that it addresses and continues themes related to his earlier film The Devil’s Backbone (2001), to which Pan’s Labyrinth is a spiritual successor, according to del Toro in his director’s DVD commentary.

In the film Pan’s Labyrinth mise-en-scenes is a huge part of the film. Mise-en-scene is the arrangement of scenery and stage properties in a film. There many intention things that they do throughout that films for example the rule of thirds is used a lot to draw in the viewers attention to the character face and pay attention to the emotion on their face. There was a part in the film where it was used it was when the Captain was talking with the doctor after he found out he was working with that rebels. When the captain confronted him he was in the top right third of the shot.

This was a great way for the film to capture the anger and malice that was expressed on the Captain’s face. In the same scene it was one of the best moments in the film in which their use lightning the best was the way they lit the Captain’s face half his face was in the light half wasn’t. It had the feel of the lit part of his face is what everyone sees on the surface and dark part was everything under the surface. How he feels inside because of what the doctor did. The use of color in the film was amazing finding the right color for get situation and to bring the viewers deeper into the story and its world.

There were three times in the film when the Captain kills people and the shot is in a blue shade. In my extract the Captain kills the doctor and it helps enforce the feeling of sadness that it invokes because he’s a kind character only trying to help others. It is also raining in the racing in the scene which just adds more to it.

The film also utilizes a bunch of special effects for all the monsters and creatures in the magical world of Ofelia’s. The fairy is one of the first ones that are introduced. The social effects looked very advanced and well done another movie that also has great special effect is Paddington they both share that in common.

The repose that Pan’s Labyrinth got from critics was mostly positive rotten tomatoes gave it a 95%. Based on reviews from 37 critics, it received a 98/100 score at Metacritic. Also Mark Kermode, in The Observer, labeled Pan’s Labyrinth as the best film of 2006, describing it as ‘an epic, poetic vision in which the grim realities of war are matched and mirrored by a descent into an underworld populated by fearsomely beautiful monsters’.

In the film there were plenty of motifs such as the watch, faun, labyrinth, the chalk. When we are first introduced to captain Vidal, we see him looking at the watch and then grumpily muttering that she and Ofelia is 15 minutes late. This moment perfectly captured his whole character throughout the entire film. The Captain loves things to be on exact and in order. He also wants everything in his control sort of my way or no way mentality. He also wants everything to be working on his time and the way he exactly stated for it to be done. The watch also symbolizes his attachment to his pride which was passed on to him by his father who struck it on a rock before dying fighting in the army. The movie’s name, Pan’s Labyrinth, relates to the Greek mythological god Pan. In Greek mythology Pan is the god of nature , shepherds and flocks. The movie depicts the Roman mythological version though which is called Faun. The Faun’s labyrinth is what the main protagonist, Ofelia, gets lost into. Even though she is warned by Mercedes not to go into the labyrinth she does and in the process dies. Adding to that, faun here does not appear to retain his human half as it does into works of mythology and is all in all a monstery goat form, symbolizing the whole movie’s fairy tale of monsters. The labyrinth itself is symbolic in the movie. It showed Ofelia’s desire to escape her current life and reality. She doesn’t want to accept the Captain as her father. Ofelia dislikes her stay at the mansion in the woods with captain Vidal. She asks her mother to leave but she refuses. She even asked Mercedes to take her away from that place. But the only escape she finds in the whole film is the labyrinth, which itself is riddled with many mysteries and dangers. The chalk that was given to Ofelia by the Faun helps her create doors and entrances to wherever she wants. This also showed a deep desire of Ofelia’s to escape her current environment. The chalk symbolizes her very desire of opening a door to where ever she wishes to escape to.

The sound that plays in the movie adds suspense in moment in that film that are in tense for example when Ofeila is running away from the Pale Man, a monster in the fantasy realm. It gets faster and the volume of the sound gets louder and louder as the monster gets closer. This she leave the fantasy realm back to the real world then it gets quieter.

In the film both the cultural context and the film element are related to each other and help enhance each other. The historical background is related to mise-en-scene when they had to make the costumes and choose which ones the actor would be wearing in the film the captain is seen wearing military clothes throughout the film. The historical part influences that way the background and the way the set was set. Also the geographical location also influences it too. The way economic status influences the costumes in the film and how things are done role that some of the actors play as well. 

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Pan’s Labyrinth: Cultural Context and The Film Elements. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“Pan’s Labyrinth: Cultural Context and The Film Elements.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021,
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