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Pan’s Labyrinth as a Disobedient Fairytale

*This thought paper was originally written for a course in Art and Consciousness*

When thinking about Mental Postmodernism this past week, I was presented with information surrounding the idea of challenging the status quo and creating new rules (or no rules) of what it meant to be an artist. Peter Abbs defines postmodern thinkers are thinkers who “adopt… incredulity… to all meta-narratives and who allow no space for universals or essences of any kind.” Abbs also asks us to question the impossible systems that are already established to further understand what lay behind them. I appreciated the words from Malpas surrounding the arts and post modernism when they said that there are a “…number of critics who present postmodernism as a break with the modernist cultural project. They describe postmodern art as anti-elitist and keen to break down the distinctions between high art and popular culture in a way that the modernists were not, playfully subversive of the seriousness of modernist art, and even more formally experimental in terms of their ironic use of a range of materials and styles to communicate.” Malpas also reminds us that postmodern art is generally associated with art and artists whose work emerged after World War II.

What I know about the development of the film industry is that the children of those soldiers who returned from war wanted a clean break from the path their parents took. Thus, eventually thrusting us into an era of independent cinema making that included convention breaking camera and editing techniques along with the telling of rule changing narrative stories such as Rebel Without a Cause or The Graduate. These filmmakers not only challenged the rules of what a work of art could be, they challenged society and pushed back against establishments like the Catholic League of Decency and the Hayes Codes in order to tell new stories in their own voices. I believe Guillermo del Toro did the same thing for the Fairytale genre when he created Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a disobedient fairytale. It takes what we know about the conventions of a fairytale and flips it on its head creating a horror film in its wake. Pan’s Labyrinth explodes the limitations of what a fairytale can do by recontextualizing traditional fairytale stories. The main character of this story, Ofelia, becomes ensnared in a magical quest while a political drama goes on around her. By not allowing these two separate story lines to rely heavily on one another, and by creating confusion and mistrust in both the audience and the characters throughout the film, del Toro refuses to provide us with an all-encompassing explanation or final image. It is left to the audience to imagine whether or not Ofelia’s magical quest is just a coping mechanism for her sad life or a hallucination. Pan’s Labyrinth disobeys the rules of a fairytale story and presents us with new and alternative ways to view the particular art form therefore challenging the established rules set in place by giants such as Disney, for example. It is in this way that I feel Pan’s Labyrinth fits into the mental postmodernism theme.


Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth


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