Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Pan's Labyrinth is a 2006 dark fantasy film about a little girl trapped in a miserable situation who seeks desperately to escape her life into an alternate fantasy world.
About two years ago, I wrote a really cynical article insisting that the alternate fantasy underworld wasn't real and that Ofelia was just playing pretend in order to escape her very wretched circumstances.
I didn't always feel that way, though.
I Used to Believe
In 2006, when this movie was first released, I was in my early twenties. In fact, I was twenty years old, which is very young, and as a result, I hadn't yet become a hardened, cynical, jaded adult who didn't believe in Make Believe.
In other words, I hadn't yet become Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), a key character in the film. Instead, I still believed in magic, I still believed in wonders and adventures. And so, when I saw this film, I loved it, and my childlike soul really believed that the magical world Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) sought to escape to was real.
Then fast forward about ten or so years, and I've become this bitter thirty-something who hates everything, hates people, and no longer believes in magic . . . Thus, my old 2019 article.
But Pan's Labyrinth was on Netflix recently and I couldn't resist watching it. When I did, I noticed all the signs that were in the film trying to tell the audience that the faun and his magical world was real . . . These were signs that I had noticed in my twenties but I failed to acknowledge them when I was being bitter and hurt in my thirties (the world had disappointed me so, so much) because I think at the end of the day, people see what they want to see.
So if you're a bitter and jaded person, you won't believe that Ofelia's fantasy world is real, and like her mother in the film, you will dismiss her. But if you still have music in your heart, then you will see the underworld as a very real and beautiful place.
I think the fact that I was able to recognize the fantasy world as real again was just a result of my heart having healed after the world's many abuses. Now . . .I believe in magic again.
Del Toro Did This Deliberately
So with my faith in magic restored, I got online and stumbled across a Reddit thread where users discussed the fact that del Toro (as he stated in an interview) had actually done this on purpose, leaving the film just ambiguous enough that the viewer's interpretation would be determined entirely by their outlook on life.
Symbolizing this dichotomy of interpretations are Mercedes and Ofelia.
According to del Toro in the interview, Mercedes is the adult, cynical version of Ofelia. She is who Ofelia would have become had the little girl chosen the real world over magic. Mercedes doesn't believe in fairy tales and even tells Ofelia as much.
But I also think there's a deeper meaning to Mercedes' lack of faith. She isn't just cynical.
Ofelia Wasn't the First
During my recent re-watch, one of many clues I re-noticed appeared in the scene with the Pale Man.
While undergoing the faun's tests, Ofelia comes to the dining room of the Pale Man, a horrific creature that eats little girls, using his delicious feast to lure them to his table.
On the floor near the table …. is a pile of shoes. Little girl shoes. And on the wall are gruesome pictures of the Pale Man eating little girls. This suggests that Ofelia is not the first human girl to be tested by the faun (Doug Jones, Pablo Adán ) and the king's desperate search for his lost daughter.
The Moon Princess was Scattered
I have a theory that the king's daughter wasn't lost in body but in spirit. Her spirit ran away to be reborn in the human world, but it scattered into fragments, living multiple lives as different little girls.
The tests were an attempt to collect all the fragments, which meant that each girl basically had to be killed for her soul to return to the other side and rejoin with the princess' body.
And what happened to the other little girls who tried the test? What happened to Ofelia? She and those girls all died.
Mercedes is a Fragment
It's my belief that Mercedes is one of these fragments of the moon princess, and this is why she has such an immediate connection with Ofelia.
The film gives us several clues regarding this.
- When Mercedes first meets Ofelia, she warns her against entering the labyrinth, almost as if she wants to prevent Ofelia from being killed by the faun (which must happen if Ofelia is to return to the other side).
- When Ofelia tells Mercedes about the faun, Mercedes tries to warn her to stay away from it but is interrupted.
- Like Ofelia, Mercedes has a younger brother who needs her protection from Captain Vidal (Sergi López). Because she chooses to protect him, her life is put in danger. Her relationship with her brother would imply that she chose him over the magical otherworld.
Other clues involve the mandrake root and the fact that Ofelia's mother dies immediately after she casts it in the fire (I remembered that incorrectly on my other article).
This is too big of a coincidence to be the imaginings of a little girl. And to be honest? I think the faun set Ofelia up. He wanted to take away any attachment she had to the mortal world, and so he gave her the mandrake root, knowing that her "mother" would destroy it and thus destroy herself, leaving Ofelia no reason to stay in the human world.
The interesting thing about the faun is that he's kind of wicked and manipulative, but ultimately, he's a good guy. His end-goal is to bring back the princess by whatever means necessary, and he's probably under pressure from his boss, the freaking king.
The other very obvious clue (which I had forgotten about in my other article) was the chalk door.
After her mother's death, Ofelia is shut away in the attic with no hope of escape. The faun comes to her and gives her a piece of chalk, which will allow her to create a door.
Without the chalk door, there was no way Ofelia could have left the attic, stolen her brother, and then made it all the way to the labyrinth. Just no way.
What's more, when Mercedes comes to rescue Ofelia, she finds the chalk door. Because she once went through the same trials with the faun, she knows immediately that Ofelia is in the labyrinth and runs to save her.
A Bittersweet Ending
My interpretation of the ending has a lot to do with my theory.
Mercedes arrives too late at the labyrinth to discover that Captain Vidal has shot and killed Ofelia. She falls to her knees and weeps over the girl's body.
I think this was so devastating to Mercedes because she blamed herself. She knew about the faun and knew that Ofelia was trying to enter his world through the labyrinth, and yet, she failed to properly warn her that entering said world would mean dying.
So when Mercedes falls to her knees and weeps, it's a mixture of sorrow and guilt. As she told Ofelia in the film itself, she doesn't believe in magic or fairy tales. To her, the faun is likely just an evil creature out to kill children. She has no idea that Ofelia really did cross over to a beautiful world.
In said otherworld, the queen is Ofelia's mother (Ariadna Gi), and I've always assumed that the king of the underworld resembled her mortal father, the tailor who died. (I've never really been able to interpret that further. Maybe the queen of the underworld followed her daughter into the mortal world? Whatever . . .)
Regardless of whether I believed the fantasy world was real or not, the ending of the film always made me happy, knowing that Ofelia knew some happiness in her life, whether real or make believe.