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Disobedience; the reason hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. The contrast between those who disobey courageously and those who obey blindly has been at the middle of conflicts throughout the existence of our modern world. In the visually stunning fantastical journey of Pan’s Labyrinth, director Guillermo del Toro is able to create a world of fantasy and war, filled with the conflict of disobedience. With both these worlds serving on either spectrum of this struggle, this theme becomes an engrained element throughout a majority of the scenes in the film. Del Toro portrays his fairytale with the heroes being the defiant characters through their continued disobedience. These characters come to illustrate that disobedience is able to oust out obeying blindly in both worlds that del Toro creates.
With the opening frames of the film, the audience is shown first glimpses of disobedience through Ofelia, the main protagonist. Before we are even introduce to the historical conflict of the Spanish Civil War (which serves as the ultimate foundation for which the character’s disobedience is built upon) Ofelia and Carmen, her expecting mother, are being driven through the words and come to stop. Ofelia’s first action in the film comes through her disobedience towards her mother as she is told to stay near the car, but still manages to ignore her mother’s wishes and explore the surrounding area. Immediately del Toro is able to reveal the essence of how audacious Ofelia can be, given also her fascination with fairytales in a unconventional world for them. It becomes apparent that through her inclination for adventure, Ofelia embodies disobedience, similar to that of the Spanish rebels. And it’s through this defiance, Ofelia is given something worth fighting for as she comes across the fairy that serves as her deus ex machine that guides her into the fantastical world that she was once apart of.
Defiance again emerges from Ofelia as she is completing the second mission given to her by el Fauno. In possibly one of the most iconic scenes from the film, she defies el Fauno several times which ultimately almost costs her life. She is instructed to listen to the fairies which will guide her and to refuse her temptations from eating any food that she sees placed. However as she navigates through the Pale Man’s lair, she refused to be guided by them; as she is pondering which door contains the dagger and when they try to stop her from eating the grape. Ultimately her defiance serves as a cutting edge sword, for although she chooses correctly, two fairies are sacrificed as she looks past there warnings of eating the food. Similar to the strife the rebels are undertaking, defiance has its sacrifices. Both stories are juxtaposed perfectly two show just how both defiance and obedience are in constant conflict. And Ofelia comes to realize this in the final scene of the film, where her defiance ultimately serves as the truest of sacrifices that allows her to return to her kingdom.
In the final scene, Ofelia’s last moment of defiance in the Labyrinth is what allows the conflict to end. She is given the choice, whether to blindly obey el Fauno and give her brother to him as a sacrifice or to defy him, which leads to her death. Ultimately, by defying him, Ofelia sacrifice her life for the life of an innocent (her new born brother) as she is murdered by her step-father Capitan Vidal. What may seem as a heartrending death, this was what el Fauno had meant the last task to be; for her to be disobedient. Her journey through the three tasks ultimately serve as a parallel to the first fairytale Ofelia tells to her little brother before he is born. She tells him about the blue rose that grows at the top of a mountain and if taken it would grant whoever had it immortality. But no one would dare climb the mountain which it grew upon because it was covered in poisonous thorns. Throughout the movie, Ofelia scales this mountain. “Men talked amongst themselves about their fear of death, and pain, but never about the promise of eternal life.” (Ofelia) As blind men who obey fail to see the promise of disobedience, Ofelia along with the rebels manage to claim this victory, with Ofelia literally being granted immortality as she returns to her father’s kingdom. Several time does she risk her life in order to complete the fantastical symbolism of the three tasks and it’s through her defiance that she manages to succeed whereas Vidal’s world of perfect order and obedience comes crumbling down.
Del Toro makes the conflict between disobedience and obedience clearly evident through the rebel fighters and Francisco Franco’s fascist rule, while also portraying disobedience as the path which one must know when to venture into. In this Franco fascist world in 1944 Spain, what Capitan Vidal does is what is he was expected to do under this dictatorship. As a captain, he sworn duty was to protect this “New Spain” from the disobedient rebels who sought to bring an end to this regime. Technically speaking on a legal basis, the fascist armada justifiably were doing right by killing off the rebels. However, del Toro goes through various scenes doing everything possible to show how barbaric and bestial Vidal and his men where, specifically in scenes such where he beats an old man’s face in with a wine bottle. These scenes are juxtaposed to those which show the rebels portrayed in a positive light, fighting for the true good of the people and Spain.
Doctor Ferrerio, whose line in his last scene before his death sums of the conflict of obedience, exemplifies how being defiant serves a much honorable cause than obeying blindly. As Ferrerio is called into the barn by Vidal to attend to one of the captured rebels (whom Ferrerio helps) he too is given the like Ofelia to decide whether to obey Vidal and patch him up so only be tortured more or disobey and put an end to his misery. But instead of conforming to Vidal’s orders, Ferrerio shows compassion and as a doctor and a friend, saves him. Being that Vidal’s life is so ordered, he can’t imagine being undermined and disobeyed. “But captain, to obey – just like that – for obedience’s sake… without questioning… That’s something only people like you do.” (Ferrerio) Like most soldiers in fascist Spain, Vidal mirrors the monotonous life of a clock, turning on a dial because that is what it’s programed to do. Unlike Vidal however, Ferrerio, the rebels, and Ofelia question the order of the film and ultimately serve as martyrs for a larger cause.
Disobedience becomes the arching foundation for which del Toro builds up this world of fantasy. Ofelia enters this world of fantasy, allowing her to defy the world around her and it ultimately save her. Being expressed throughout the whole film, del Toro uses the theme of disobedience to show the immortality it may bring, if one is courageous enough to walk through the thorns with eyes open, instead of blindly into a labyrinth.
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