Thursday, December 14, 2006

PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006)—The Evening Class Interview With Guillermo Del Toro

I may have been too hasty choosing my 10 favorite interviews of 2006. Meeting Guillermo Del Toro at the Ritz Carlton for a brief chat about his latest film Pan's Labyrinth has rendered that list obsolete. Without question, Del Toro has been one of the individuals I have most wanted to talk with all year. I didn't have access at Toronto and wasn't able to attend San Diego's Comicon as originally planned and so the opportunity to hook up today felt very much like a gift for the holiday season. Guillermo is friendly, down-to-earth and charmingly cusses a blue streak. Not for the prudish nor the spoiler-wary.

* * *

Michael Guillén: First and foremost, congratulations on winning the San Francisco Film Critics Circle award for Best Foreign Language film earlier this week.

Guillermo Del Toro: I love it.

Guillén: As well as comparable accolades and nominations across the board, including the recently-announced Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Del Toro: It's just fantastic.

MG: …and well-deserved. Pan's Labyrinth is certainly my favorite movie of the year.

Del Toro: Fuckin' A!

Guillén: Foreign-language, whatever, it is my favorite movie of the year; a truly visionary piece.

Del Toro: Thank you.

Guillén: I first saw Pan's Labyrinth at the Elgin Theater during the Toronto International where you and Ivana Baquero introduced the film, then again here in San Francisco, and will be seeing it again this evening at the San Francisco Film Society screening.

Del Toro: You're going to see it again tonight?

Guillén: Yes.

Del Toro: That's great. Because I think one of the things the movie has, hopefully, is every time you see it there's little details that surface.

Guillén: That's what I've noticed so far; it's rich in detail. Pan's Labyrinth is textured with redemptive transgression. Can you speak to why doing the wrong thing ends up being so right?

Del Toro: I love the way you put it. There's a song by Rufus Wainwright—"Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk" it's called, I think—and it says, "Why is it that everything I like is a little bad for me?" Instinct will guide you more than intellect towards what's right for you and actually more naturally right. Disobedience is one of the strongest signals of your conscience of what is right and what is wrong. When you disobey in an intelligent way, you disobey in a natural way, it turns out to be more beneficial than blind obedience. Blind obedience castrates, negates, hides, and destroys what makes us human. On the other hand, instinct and disobedience will always point you in a direction that should be natural, should be organic to the world. So I think that disobedience is a virtue and blind obedience is a sin.

Guillén: Why do you eroticize cruelty? Your villains are thrillingly virile. First, Eduardo Noriega in The Devil's Backbone; now, Sergi López in Pan's Labyrinth. You've made it near to impossible for me—a queer-identified male—to trust a handsome stud! [Guillermo laughs.] At the least you have revealed to me that—if I'm going to go out on the town tonight—I really would rather leave Dr. Jekyll in the lab and go out with fucking Mr. Hyde. [Guillermo laughs again.]

Del Toro: Well, it's the revenge of the guy who grew up being a chubby, not-very-attractive guy. That's the revenge of the nerd. One of the dangers of fascism and one of the dangers of true evil in our world—which I believe exists—is that it's very attractive. That it is incredibly attractive in a way that most people negate. Most people make their villains ugly and nasty and I think, no, fascism has a whole concept of design, and a whole concept of uniforms and set design that made it attractive to the weak-willed. I tried to make Sergi López like all politicians that are truly evil—well-dressed, well-groomed, well-spoken, gets up from his chair when a lady enters the room, gets up from his chair when a lady leaves the room. I'd much rather be with a slob that is cool. It's very rarely that when somebody is that worried about the outward appearance, there's something truly truly wrong within. The opposite is often true. When people aren't comfortable just being in their normal level, just being—I don't have a cool pair of shoes, I don't have a cool pair of pants, but I'm all right—that's actually a sign of comfort, that something's at peace within. Extremes are incredibly powerful in cinema and the fact that this 11-year-old girl is much more comfortable in her skin than this fascist that hates himself so much that he slits his own throat in the mirror and negates his father's watch and does these crazy things, that gives the girl power and gives the other guy the illusion of power and the choice of cruelty. Choice is key in what we are. You choose to be destructive or you choose to be all encompassing and love-giving. Each choice defines who we are, no matter what the reason behind it is, because everybody values the reason behind the act, or the idea behind the act more than the reason. The idea behind the act, they value it more than the act these days.

Guillén: The contrast between the two is profound in this film. In your fantastic Guardian interview with Mark Kermode you contrasted the curvilinear, uterine design and the fallopian color palette of Ofelia's fantasy world against the colorless right angles of the fascist world. That comment reminded me of the Austrian painter Hundertwasser who has a line I've long loved: "The straight line is godless."

Del Toro: I agree. What a great line! Who said that?

Guillén: Hundertwasser.

Del Toro: Oh fuck. Can you write it down for me?

Guillén: Sure.

Del Toro: Thank you. The straight lines are an obsession with perfection and perfection is unattainable. Perfection is a conceit. Perfection actually lies in fully loving the defect. I think that's perfection. It's like what the guy says in Hellboy, he says, "We like people for their qualities; we love them for their defects." It's true in life. It's the same. I remember that one of the first reactions that the critics had to Edvard Munch's paintings was that they were technically flawed and "ugly to look at." They were saying, "He not only is a bad painter, he chooses to paint only disgusting subjects." And you go, "What the hell are you talking about?" Humanity is like that. Humanity should be flawed and imperfect and fucked up and loved because of that, not in spite of that, because of that. I remember also the Marquis de Sade who used to say a beautiful line; he said, "I understand murder for passion." He said, "I not only understand it, but I condone it. What I don't understand is murder for an idea. Or for a law. That is perverse." To kill somebody because he broke an idea or he broke a law? I agree with him. When we send somebody to the electric chair because he killed one person but we give a purple heart to somebody because he killed dozens for the "right" idea—patriotism, liberty, democracy, whatever the fuck you want to invent—I find it completely perverse.

Guillén: It borders on the insane. All of your previous films have a fairly prevalent and overt use of Catholic imagery, but Pan's Labyrinth almost completely avoids it, and yet your friend Iñarrítu said this is probably your most Catholic film.

Del Toro: He said that, yes.

Guillén: Is the omission of visible Catholic detail just a coincidence? Or was the church's position and sympathies with the Francoists during the civil war something you considered as you planned out the symbolic strategy of the film?

Del Toro: When I was researching the movie The Devil's Backbone, I found the absolutely horrifying—not only complicity—but participation of the Church in the entire fascist movement in Spain. The words that the priest speaks at the table in Pan's Labyrinth are taken verbatim from a speech a priest used to give to the Republican prisoners in a fascist concentration camp. He would come to give them communion and he would say before he left, "Remember, my sons, you should confess what you know because God doesn't care what happens to your bodies; he already saved your souls." This is taken verbatim from that speech. The Pale Man represents the Church for me, y'know? He represents fascism and the Church eating the children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them. There is almost a hunger to eat innocence. A hunger to eat purity. I didn't want to avoid it, but I did not seek Catholic imagery. Nevertheless, I understand that redemption by blood and the rebirth by sacrifice is a Catholic conceit. So I accept it without any problems because I think that sexuality and religion come from your imprint in an early age. Whatever arouses your spirit or arouses your body at an early age, that's what is going to arouse it the rest of your life. Everything will be subordinate to that. It's a personal choice and it's a personal experience. I don't shame myself about being a lapsed Catholic and so if that cosmology appears in my movies, I'm fine with it.

Guillén: When I was a student of the mythologist Joseph Campbell, he taught me that it was—in some ways—inappropriate the way kids in the '60s went gaga over Eastern mysticism. They could learn from it. They could enjoy it. But it wasn't really their path no matter how much they wanted it to be and they would always deep down at heart be Christians needing to resolve spiritual issues in a Christian way. Their template—or as you say imprint—had been set.

Del Toro: They will always be a Western man looking at the East. Where your feet stand does not limit your gaze but it does limit what perspective you judge it from.

Guillén: Your orientation.

Del Toro: I can read all the fucking books about Taoism I want; I'll still be a Catholic boy reading them. There's no way of avoiding that.

Guillén: Another thematic image that I kept picking up from Pan's Labyrinth involves the relationship between Ofelia and Mercedes. First, you have the stelae in the middle of the labyrinth with the sculpted image of the faun/father, the girl and the baby; then you have Ofelia holding her baby brother; then Ofelia is killed and you have Mercedes holding Ofelia's baby brother. These three images were equivalent for me and served as symbolic substitutes for each other, insinuating a parallel structure between Ofelia and Mercedes. Moreso than between Ofelia and her mother.

Del Toro: You're absofuckinglutely right!! I'm amazed and happy. You win the prize. You're the only fucking guy that has noticed that! I thank you very much. The idea for me is that you're born with a mother and then you find another on the way. You are born with a brother and you find another one on your way. You fabricate your family as you grow up. Mercedes is the future of Ofelia if Ofelia chose to stop believing. Ofelia asks Mercedes, "Do you believe in fairies?" And Mercedes says, "I used to when I was a child. I used to believe many things that I don't believe in any more." That's why the attraction is so strong. They see each other in each other. They see their strength. Mercedes loves the purity of this girl and Ofelia instinctively knows the nature of this woman. They form a mother and daughter bond. That's why it's so tragic for me that Mercedes cries for Ofelia at the end because for Mercedes the girl died but we know she didn't. That is very Catholic. Ofelia is in a better place within herself. She may objectively cease to exist but this is where I think the epilog of the movie is incredibly important and moving. If you die and your legacy is one little flower blooming in a dry tree, that's enough of a legacy for me. And that's a magical legacy. If she had not done the things she did, the tree would have never bloomed, but, because she did them, there is a little flower blooming. On the other hand, she dies at peace. She dies at peace with what she did. She's the only character in the film who decides not to enact any violence. Not to take any lives. Even the doctor takes a life. But the only one who chooses "I will not take any life because I own only mine", that's the character that survives, spiritually. The fascist dies the loneliest death you could ever experience and the girl … [I'm reminded] of the quote by Kierkegaard that said, "The tyrant's rule ends with his death. The martyr's rule begins with it." It is the legacy—no matter how small it is—that makes Ofelia survive that episode. The movie is like a Rorschach test where, if you view it and you don't believe, you'll view the movie as, "Oh, it was all in her head." If you view it as a believer, you'll see clearly where I stand, which is it is real. My last image in the movie is an objective little white flower blooming in a dead tree with the bug watching it. So….

Guillén: I'm glad to hear you say that. This is the dispute going on among people who have seen your film. Was Ofelia in her fantasy world? Was it a real world? I keep saying such questions pose a false dichotomy.

Del Toro: Yes, of course. And it's intimate. If the movie works as a piece of storytelling, as a piece of artistic creation, it should tell something different to everyone. It should be a matter of personal discussion. Now objectively, the way I structured it, there are three clues in the movie that tell you where I stand. I stand in that it's real. The most important clues are the flower at the end, and the fact that there's no way other than the chalk door to get from the attic to the Captain's office.

Guillén: Yes, and again referring back to the dynamic of their dyad, Mercedes notices the chalk door; they aren't just in Ofelia's imagination.

Del Toro: Objectively, those two clues tell you it's real. The third clue is she's running away from her stepfather, she reaches a dead end, by the time he shows up she's not there. Because the walls open for her. So sorry, there are clues that tell you where I stand and I stand by the fantasy. Those are objective things if you want. The film is a Rorschach test of where people stand.

Guillén: In your interview with Will Lawrence for The Telegraph you stated: "There is a moment in everyone's life when they have the chance to be immortal, not literally, but like at the moment they don't give a fuck about death—then they're immortal." Could you talk a little more about that? I thought that was a fascinating comment.

Del Toro: Here's the deal. My father was kidnapped in 1997. He was objectively kept hostage for 72 days, right? The first day you think you're going to die. The second day you're absolutely certain you won't survive. The third day you cry at the drop of a hat because you think this is hell and this and that. And then there comes a point in which you realize that you are made prisoner along with him. You are also a hostage of the hostage situation. There is a moment in which you have to will yourself to be free because you are. You say, "If it is true that he is a prisoner, it is also true I am not." There's a moment where you start functioning again. You have to will it.

People think that when they talk about immortality, they talk about immortality in the most pejorative terms. A guy who lives 180 years or 1000 years, that's immortality? It isn't. It's physically impossible. I don't believe in it. But I believe in a form of immortality which is: if you think of your life as a long laundry list of things to do, which is I have to wipe my ass, brush my teeth, change my clothes, get laid, experience oral sex, all this stuff, you have to do it. You have to go through your check list, right? One of them, it says: dying. Why should one of them be more important than the rest? The moment it ceases to be important—your death, not other people's death; I really have a tough time with somebody dying because of the love I feel for them—but in my personal life dying is as unimportant as changing my shoes and my socks or brushing my teeth. It's just another thing I have to do. It's part of the laundry list. So at that moment you become somewhat immortal, which means you're immune to death. That is in Pan's Labyrinth actually. If people watch it carefully, the precise wording of the faun's words to the girl is: "You have to pass three tests before the full moon shines in the sky. We have to make sure that your spirit is intact and not become mortal." That's the real purpose of the tests. It's not if she gets the dagger and she gets the key, those are the mechanics of the test, mechanics which she can then proceed to fault. She can flunk the tests. The mechanics of the test she succeeds in. She believes in herself. She does what she thinks is right. She fucks up here and there but—when the real test come, when she is cornered with no other options but to either kill or give her own life—she chooses to put her own life at risk rather than the kid's. That's a real test. That's what makes her immortal. That's what makes her that she has not become a mortal. So in the movie all the tests are a misdirection and you actually go back and watch the movie and realize that my thesis is that the Faun is the Pale Man in another guise. He's the trickster in another guise. So is the Faun. And the proof of that in the movie is that at the end when she goes and rejoins her father and her mother and the baby in the other world, the fairies that the Pale Man ate are all around her. The same fairies. I coded them in three colors—green, blue and red—so when they reappear you could know, "Oh, those are the green, blue and red fairies."

Guillén: I'll watch for that tonight.

Del Toro: Watch for it tonight! The great thing about the movie, the beauty about the movie is that you can watch it many many times and every time you'll find a new little layer and a new little detail.

Guillén: Well, I wish I had the chance for multiple interviews like I've had the chance for multiple viewings of Pan's Labyrinth. But I need to wrap up. Thank you so much.

Del Toro: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Cross-posted at Twitch. My thanks to Todd Brown at Twitch and David Lowery at Drifting for their suggested queries.

12/20/06 UPDATE: SF Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston understands that "children mean resistance" in Del Toro's films and, in an insightful comparison to Bong Joon-Ho's The Host, notes: "Both Bong and Del Toro measure the sins of the world against a girl's heroism, and while they've learned about the power of spectacle from Steven Spielberg, they haven't swallowed his saccharine formulas—or pursued his nationalist and reactionary political tendencies."

12/30/06 UPDATE: Sara Schieron's Bay Guardian interview with Del Toro covers eggs, ghost sightings, lucid dreaming, Catholicism, the "supranatural," uterine imagery and more.

01/01/07 UPDATE: Dave Hudson does a masterful job of updating the critical response at The Greencine Daily. Also, Del Toro, Iñarrítu and Cuaron on Charlie Rose via Twitch.

02/21/07 UPDATE: The condensed (and censored) version of this interview published by Entertainment Today has gone up on line.

02/23/07 UPDATE: I'm beginning to wonder if there's anyone who hasn't interviewed Guillermo del Toro? Or more importantly, if he will ever exhaust the wealth of stories that he seems to possess? Part one of Canfield's recent interview at Twitch is of particular note because of its mention of a book that Guillermo wrote on Alfred Hitchcock, allegedly published in Spanish by the University of Guadalajara Press, and never translated into English. I would love to read what he says about Hitch!


HarryTuttle said...

It's great you got this interview!
We learn a lot about his motivations. I see you score a few points about fantasy, the Carmen-Ofelia relationship... And the revelation that Pale Man is Pan in disguise is a shocker!
Del Toro has an interesting discourse for justification, and crafts movies well, yet I'm still not convinced by the correlation of the two. His apologia of Catholic values (eternal life, redemption, self-sacrifice, non-violence) with the magic of monsters, reincarnation and pagan idols is somehow bogus.
I didn't notice the baby (only alive member of the family) was in the golden kingdom (heaven) at the end, how does it proves the existence of the fantasy world if the baby is both on Earth and in the After-Life?

So what are your impressions after the 3rd viewing? ;)

I like Hundertwasser too. I discovered his work through architecture, his buildings are worth the look too. He filled the corner of rooms and windows with curvy shapes to soften right angles.

Michael Guillen said...

As ever, Harry, thanks for your articulate reactions. I'm sorry that even Guillermo's own words do not convince you of his own perspectives and intentions.

With regard to the non-appearance of the baby in the final "golden kingdom" scene, I think you're being much too literal and (if I may so) a bit stubborn. First and foremost, the fantasy world does not need to be "proved". As Guillermo said, either you subscribe to the invisible world and its seemingly illogical and contradictory essences, or you don't. And if you do, or if you don't, it's purely a personal matter.

But to try to answer your question, I would suggest that you consider the fantasy world and the so-called real world as parallel universes, not sequential ones. Perhaps because we are trained to think of heaven as something after our life is over, we find it difficult to hear Christ's own message in the Gospel of Thomas that the Kingdom of Heaven cannot be reached by anticipation; the Kingdom of Heaven lies upon the face of the Earth and people do not see it. This is, indeed, characteristic of the aesthetics of depth. Shifting to Grecian conceptions of the Underworld, Hades, with Hades/Pluto as its reigning monarch, there is that delicious detail that his cloak renders him invisible. The by-laws of consensual reality, tethered to our five senses, convinces us that if we do not see something, it does not exist. And that's where faith comes in. Or what the shamans call "having to believe." The same could be said about atomic physics. Just because we cannot see the molecules in their frantic dance does not mean the chair is "really" solid.

Again, to indulge Guillermo's conceit, the baby is mortal, and therefore is not showing up in the immortal realm ... yet.

After a third screening, and the opportunity to interview Guillermo and listen to his generous Q&A, I remain convinced that this is my favorite movie of the year, even though the Pale Man sequence terrifies me and the Half-Chelsea sequence makes me want to run screaming from the theater.

As I promised him, I wrote down the Hundertwasser quote on the fly jacket of a volume on Hundertwasser's art and brought it to Guillermo at the screening. It made him so happy he wrapped me up in a huge hug, much to the surprise of Graham Leggat and--for that matter--myself. Guillermo is such a warm, wonderful soul.

Anonymous said...

This interview makes me want to see it for a third time.

I'm glad he admitted that his perspective on the fairy tale elements were that they were, indeed, real. I suspected as much, given the objective shots early in the film of the insect observing the action. It seemed so clearly stated, so early on, that the fantasy was real that I was a bit confused by the shot of Vidal witnessing Ofelia speaking to thin air at the end.

Michael Guillen said...

But, I suspect, that's the rich conundrum. The invisible world exists, even if we can't see it. This has been a presiding principle of my life since childhood. In the fifth grade I read Exupery's The Little Prince in which he stated quite clearly: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."

HarryTuttle said...

Guillermo's own word are illuminating regarding his intentions and perspective indeed, but it isn't Gospel, the filmmaker has obviously a conflict of interest in convincing me it is flawless.
I'm not arguing with you whether it's your favorite film of the year or not, I believe you. As far as considering the coherence between what the director meant and what ends up on screen, this is something we have to discuss in details. For instance I note several points, where in my opinion, Del Toro's words here contradict what is in the film.

You have to admit that if Pale Man is only pretending to be scary to test Ofelia, we are not in the realm of actual dangerous fantasy creatures, but more like the Cookie Monster in Sesame Street. He says he's against the Disneyification of fairytales and then there is not a single ill-intentionned monster in his fantasy that could hurt Ofelia. His monsters look scary but are harmless. That what the auteur says, it's not what I read in the film myself.

re: the baby in the golden kingdom, I asked you because he says he is there ("And the proof of that in the movie is that at the end when she goes and rejoins her father and her mother and the baby in the other world") and I didn't remember seeing him. So you say he is not?

Your parallel worlds suggestion is really interesting, however I'm not sure the film emphasizes very well this theory. For instance the thing about seamless travelling-transition between reality and fantasy would work well to prove your point, but they are only cutaways to another place of the real world. There is one plan-sequence going from reality to the magic kingdom when Ofelia tells a tale (about the flower of immortality) to the baby in her mother's womb. And another one at the beguinning (I think right after the opening shot of Ofelia bleeding), with the insect flyover on the magic kingdom underworld. But neither hints at simultaneous realities. The bookend shots (of the opening shot) introduce the film with the idea of a before/after Ofelia's death, even in the magic kingdom. The sequentiality of actions is induced by the film plot itself, and never tries to prove otherwise.
You realize that the reality of shamans, the reality of Greek mythology, the reality of the Bible, the reality of Quantum physics are not compatible? Fairytales can make up their own rules, ok, but once you pick one reality it implies to comform to its built-in limitations. Believing in an invisible God is different than seeing monsters that others cannot see, or reaching another dimension through transe, which would be blasphemous under christian laws. I'm just saying God doesn't recognize the existence of fairies and Pagan creatures don't know Christ.

That's cool you gave him the Hundertwasser book! If we see a set inspired by Hundertwasser's design in his next movie we know who to thank ;)

HarryTuttle said...

I hope you (and Guillermo) won't mind if I deconstruct what is said in the interview.

"Can you speak to why doing the wrong thing ends up being so right?"

Your question introduced a fascinating philosophical paradox, with right and wrong being coincidental (or misunderstood initially). But it doesn't say that Wrong is always right to do. What was interesting in the narration is how the perception of right and wrong evolves along the initiating journey.

But Del Toro misses the point and pretends Disobedience is the right thing to do, because he assumes that blind obedience is against instinct therefore always Wrong.
Christianity demands blind obedience, one that is Right, because God knows better than our sinful instincts. So clearly Del Toro's speech is against a certain order in reference to a particular case that doesn't make a general philosophical rule. He's thinking about Spanish Inquisition maybe, about the collusion of Church with Franco, about his own experience with Jesuit education. So this moral lesson should be developped a particular character in the film, not as an absolute rule that even well-intentionned characters experience. That's why I disagree with his dodgy construction of archetypes teaching absurd morals.

"Instinct will guide you more than intellect towards what's right for you and actually more naturally right. Disobedience is one of the strongest signals of your conscience of what is right and what is wrong. When you disobey in an intelligent way, you disobey in a natural way, it turns out to be more beneficial than blind obedience. Blind obedience castrates, negates, hides, and destroys what makes us human. On the other hand, instinct and disobedience will always point you in a direction that should be natural, should be organic to the world. So I think that disobedience is a virtue and blind obedience is a sin."

Look how he contradicts himself : "intelligent instinct" (oximoron?) knows what's Right, and faith (blind obedience) is a sin.
I wonder why he borrows so much Christian symbols if he's an atheist. The perverted representation of a martyr with stigmata (or is it Christ?) is blasphemous against the Christian religion itself, not only against bad Jesuits or a Franco-friendly Church.

Reel Fanatic said...

Great interview .. I'm virtually certain that Mr. Del Toro's flick will easily be among my favorites for this year, if I ever get to see it! .. I'm hoping it gets a fairly wide release, but given the way those things get decided it's probably not likely

Michael Guillen said...

Keith, I certainly hope you're wrong because I really would like to hear your own reactions to the film. Let's hope the powers-that-be have the good sense to steer a screening your way.

Harry, I love your deconstructions. It's like playing chess. First and foremost, Del Toro is far from an athiest. I don't think he's ever professed to be and I certainly don't think of him as one. He, like myself, is a lapsed Catholic. That usually means--speaking primarily for myself--an exhaustion with the magesterium, or the administrative body of the Church, even as we maintain an enchantment or engagement with the theatricality of the Church and a love--if not even a faith--in its imagery. I would suspect that he, like myself, has a great faith in the invisible world, even if he is a bit tired of its Catholic inflection. That might be why he was so drawn to the Celtic inflection, even though the Catholic underpinnings remain.

If Guillermo believes, as I do, and as Hundertwasser does, that the straight line is godless, then it makes perfect sense to me that he would contradict himself and dodge equations that didn't serve him in the moment. Especially in a Q&A moment, wherein a director must be given as much slack as possible. Can you imagine being grilled by either an uncomprehending or a pandering audience? I shudder to think.

I can't recall right at the moment if it was William Blake or Coleridge, certainly one of those perverse Romantics, who equated the contradictory nature with genius. Certainly
Walt Whitman, who would have all worlds and all time, embraced what was contradictory in his nature and in others. So I guess I fundamentally have no problem when Guillermo contradicts himself--and I, too, took note of when he contradicted himself--because to me it's like trying to say two seemingly separate comments about the same thing. I keep my eye on the intention and forgive the limitations of language, which is often tethered to the either/or demands of syntax when the poetry lies in the diagnonal slash. Or to put it another way, I can see contradiction as a diagonal slash and can see the diagnonal slash as the oar a boatman uses to connect one bank of a river to another.

I have been accused my whole life of contradicting myself. Again, I saw it as expressing myself variously to state the same thing. Or, more accurately, realizing I can think two opposing thoughts at once, let alone feel two opposing emotions at once. If not more. Why just the other day Brian Darr was teasing me for saying that Frako Loden and I never see eye to eye on any movie at the same time that I asserted she has taught me everything I know about Asian film and that there are certain films we both love. Exaggeration is affect. Perhaps even contradiction is affect. It's just a way of getting multiple aspects of a point across, both of which can have an equally valid valence, even if both validities don't quite mesh and, logically, seem to negate each other.

But far be it for me to assert that anyone should like a contradictory nature in another. I'm aware through personal experience that it drives some people to distraction. And I respect that. Even as I disrespect that. Heh.

As for "pretending to be scary", I don't think that's what Guillermo said. He said these very scary adversaries were part of an experience to test Ofelia about her own mettle. They weren't pretending to be scary. They *were* scary. The scene where the Pale Man is rushing after Ofelia and swiping at her legs had me cringing in my seat much more than the half-chelsea sequence. You could put a Christian spin on that and recognize that the original meaning of Satan (according to Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels) was that of adversary. A "satan" originally was an angel sent by God to test someone. He was an adversary to test their mettle or a disadvantage they must convert through inner resources into an advantage. It was only later that a "satan" became--not only capitalized and personified as a single individual--but equated with evil, as if anything adversarial is evil. In shamanic tradition that individual or force or agency or even situation might be called a "negative shaman", which is to say you will learn a lot through a negative experience. So I disagree with your characterization of the Pale Man "pretending" to be scary or evil or dangerous, because--in effect--you're saying that he knows that he's testing Ofelia, and though there's something to be said for the value of a boogeyman knowing he's a boogeyman, I don't think that's the case here and I don't think that was what Guillermo was saying.

To put a Buddhist spin on it, there's that moment where Buddha is sitting beneath the Bodhi tree and he is tempted, first by desire, then by duty, then by the terror of warring troups raging at him. It's at that moment that he touches the earth and is protected against what can now be understood to be mere illusions.

We are talking conceptions of the heart which have their own chambered logic and intelligence.

Returning again to the baby in the Kingdom of Immortality. You're right. Guillermo says he's there and he's not there in the film. Far be it for me to speak for Guillermo but, perhaps in his enthusiasm, he was projecting ahead to when the baby brother, needing to defeat his own mortality, would one day join his immortal family. A given in a way and yet, at the same time, not so. Ofelia came hazardously close to not regaining her immortality. Who knows what will happen to her baby brother? I imagine that Guillermo, however, who probably knows aspects of this story edited out of the film, has already preconfigured the immortal achievement of the baby brother. Again, that's where I cut him some slack, not knowing for sure.

This also brings up the determinant of sequentiality. I proposed that you look at these two worlds as parallel universes, not parallel sequentialities. You're setting them side by side like two timelines in narrative sequence and that's not what I meant at all. I meant that they can inform each other through whatever sequence they have, complementing each other by aspect. Time as aspect rather than sequence is a really tough nut for most people to crack and most, quite frankly, don't even feel inspired to. Biographical creatures that we are, I think we are allured by narrative sequence. The other is a little heedless of ego, which is never very attractive really. For me it's a much richer understanding of time and our participation on that playing field.

Actually, I do think the film emphasizes the parallel structure as Guillermo pointed out in there being two keys, two doors, two dining rooms, etc. Maybe not contradictory to each other. Maybe not even substituting each other. But certainly aspects of each other.

"The sequentiality of actions is induced by the film plot itself, and never tries to prove otherwise." Again, I disagree. The film's first image is an inversion. Cocteauesque in a way. With the blood going back into her body rather than trickling out. Right there the normal rules of sequentiality are inverted, not only for poetic effect, but quite purposefully I think.

"You realize that the reality of shamans, the reality of Greek mythology, the reality of the Bible, the reality of Quantum physics are not compatible?" I realize nothing of the sort. On the contrary, my training has been to the contrary. When Joseph Campbell first met the theological Martin Buber, he had recently returned from India and an immersion in Hindu culture. Buber gave a lecture on the face of God. Campbell poised the question that, having just returned from India, he noted that they saw the face of God everywhere. To which Buber responded, aghast: "You seek to COMPARE?"

And there you have it. Whether reality systems within their own definitions and systems of thought are compatible or not doesn't concern me. What is ineffable is the mother, or the matrix, of all systems of thought. In my humble opinion of course.

"God doesn't recognize the existence of fairies and Pagan creatures don't know Christ." Or so they claim. When I was in the temple of Jerusalem, there was an image that haunted me for weeks afterwards. It was an image on a cloth over the altar of the risen Christ flanked by two sheaves of wheat.

Upon my return to the United States, I learned a lot about Hellenistic Christianity. About that specific application of syncretism. So yes, you're right (in a way), Dionysos is never mentioned nor acknowledged in the Christian faith; but, the inference is unmistakable and resurrection--to paraphrase Willy the Shake--by any other name is still resurrection.

Inversely, I don't agree that pagans don't recognize Christ. My training in Central America and my love for folk Catholicism and interest in Santeria evidences just the opposite, that Christ has been incorporated into a body of pagan practice.

So, as interested as I am in your critiques and as respectful as I am of your beliefs, I remain unconvinced by your analysis. Perhaps I am the one who is the most stubborn after all?

Anonymous said...


This was the best interview I've read all year. Made me want to run out and see the movie again. I'm seeing it for the 4th time tonight and can't wait to try and spot even more details in the final sequence.

As far as the line between reality and fantasy I think there are some great moments that Del Toro put in to make you question or wonder which POV we are seeing. At the first of the film there is a great moment when Ofelia first discovers the fairy and we see her then get back into the car and head back down the road. However the camera is pulled back showing us the fairy following it. This showing of the fantasy element minus Ofelia there physically next to it is a strong statement. This is one of the few moments where we don't have Ofelia there to show us the fantasy. Another POV is now showing us the fantasy element existing within Ofelia's world. This almost makes me wonder if the overall POV of the film is being told by her Dad or some type of guardian angel.

Anyways, Maya I hope you got my e-mail about joining FFM as your CIA spam detector might have prevented my e-mail from reaching you ;)

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to note a further POV perspective would be this is very much like a Kierkegaard-esque tale on Del Toro's youth. Where instead of writing in literal pose of his life and his opinion he uses a story with other characters to tell it.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a bit absurd for Harry Tuttle to claim that "Fairytales can make up their own rules, ok, but once you pick one reality it implies to comform to its built-in limitations." The beauty and originally of Pan's is that it combines these disparate elements, yet in the end we all feel that it makes some coherent statement of truth and sense: that is not contradiction, Tuttle, but paradox. I think Tuttle seriously misses the point of art when he writes that a film has to chose between being set in "the reality of the Bible, the reality of Greek mythology, or the reality of Quantum physics." He says that these are "not compatable." No kidding -- that's the point. Google John Keats and Negative Capability. Google Magical Realism. Read Marquez's "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."

And is Del Toro an atheist as Tuttle claims? That certainly wasn't included in this interview, and based upon his films and his words here I think he is far from atheism. This film honors Christian values--sacrifice, non-violence, love, honesty, atonement, loyalty--but condemns blind obedience to anything (including the Church, which is pretty clearly the concept behind the ogre with the eyeballs jammed in his stigmata). The film seems to say to me: these things Christians value--faith, belief, eternal life, self-sacrifice, innocence, redemption--these things are all Good, but one has to follow such things because they come from inside of him, not because he is told to follow them. Del Toro also says in this interview that he believes in true evil -- something that atheists usually don't concede.

So what's the concensus: is Del Toro an Atheist, a Believer, or somewhere in between?

Mayvelin said...

In pan's labyrinth we find many elements that try to convey the meaning of fairness. But not only that, it is done in a very unique manner; Del Toro is trying, to my perspective, to teach us some Spanish history. Just as Carmen Martin Gaite in her book, El cuarto de atras, we find very similar approaches to this concept of the civil war. Both authors find their own unique and fascinated way to describe what at one time in history froze the many lives of Spaniards.
The elements such as the pale man and the frog, etc, are just a way of saying how the girl, even in a crucial situation, such as the war, is still being a girl. No matter all the stuff that is happening around her, she is still being a girl, making good and bad decisions. One can say that at the same time she is being used as a symbol that making the wrong decisions is not always bad. When the soldier whet to the general, accusing an old man and his son of doing something wrong, not hunting rabbits, according to them, they were making the right decisions. But we clearly see the end results, which are very cruel... they both end up killed and both were innocent. So, this film is clearly a criticism to explicit obedience. But, the way Del Toro says, "On the other hand, instinct and disobedience will always point you in a direction that should be natural, should be organic to the world. So I think that disobedience is a virtue and blind obedience is a sin," I think that the word always is very compromising as he is implying that we must always do what we think is right, but what about those who could care less for the lives of others, is this doctrine applicable to these people, or are they just being excluded. Because, if we say "ALWAYS" that means there are no exceptions.
But, I agree with most people, this film was truly one of the best ones, if not the best, of the year and that is why I have decided to do a complete report about it in my class dealing with the civil war of Spain.
It Very well done, Guillermo Del Toro.

Anonymous said...

The softness of death.
After the film, I felt quite and quiet comfort reguarding death.

It made me think that life was actually on re-wined. That birth is actually a death and eventually you return to your eternal life. That our time on earth is a fantasy in itself.

The Pale Man. Is he not Goya's monster? Goya going deaf, in angst of his condition and watching the destruction of the Spanish Civil war around him.
He paints a monster chewying the head off a small human like creature.
A depiction of the horror of war.

Also the Pale Man, reminds me of the biblical story of doubting Thomas. Where Jesus shows him the wounds in his hands after his resurrection saying, "you see yet still do not believe"

The eyes in the hands. As if to say, "I am here, I am in the flesh, I am not a dream, I exist"

The Pale Man also reminded me of the child game of peak a boo, with just a twist of major cheating.
If you play a game of peak a boo with an infant, you will observe alot of fear in the child until the face reappears.
The Picaso Pale Man can create our most primal fear, that being the recognition of human facial structure and expression.

Pan here seems to represent facing our fears, accepting the demons within, learning through trial and error.

The little fairy creatures, able to morph to suit it's suitor. Are representative of service, aid help. "you have to serve someone"
Humble bugs, bees, beasties, those who toil, those who aid, those in the background and in the shadows.
those of us who suffer silently and sacrafice for the good of others.

Bizet's Carmen was a harlet and Hamlet's Ophelia was a suicide.
Was this a story of purgatory? A penance for sins?

Michael Guillen said...

Thank you both, Mayvelin & Anon, for your generous comments that add to the rich weave of this film.

Susan said...

Maya, I'm grateful to hear you describe what you see in Mr Del Toro'd 'lapsed' catholicism. I thought straight away when I read Mr Harry tuttle's comment about DelToro being 'an aetheist',-"NO!- there's nowhere mentioned by Mr Del Toro any such thing!". I think a lot of people think this way of lapsed catholics. They assume aetheism. I am a lapsed Catholic- & at times I mention my troubles with God to people & ENDLESSLY I've had them hear me say I dont believe in God- which astounds & perplexes me!. They cannot at first HEAR what I am saying- my struggles with God, & with Catholicism. I LOVE the way you described the lapsed Catholic dilemma -as you see it- that many people have. It was a perfect description of my dilemma also. I hate the catholic church's rubbish and corruption, I'm seeking 'the feminine-half thats been denied in it (ie -the unconcious, the feminime, the dark side, etc), with the help of people like Joseph Campbell, & yet I walk into a Catholic church and often I EXHULT!,-& proceed to kneel and pray to Mary!. Thanks for clearing this up- for all those on the blog- who have cant see this dilemma scuh as Mr Del Tor, yourself, myself and no doubt many others experience.It is a DEEPLY DIFFICULT & painful, real,struggle for me- this is no interesting, intellectual analysis deal for me- it is a core drama enacting itself WITHIN me, within my psyche, and with my God. I feel less alone-when I know others feel this pull, It is one of the 21st century's big struggles for many. Please pay attention, Harry- this person is telling you more- and it is more than you knew. All the best to Harry too. Cheers, SoozMct

Susan said...

Also- to Maya, & Harry, & the others blogging on this topic- I want to say I really am impressed & calmed too - by the manners & respect with which you conduct yourselves on this blog. May not be a big deal to you, but Ive been attacked & made wrong,& abused when posting comments & trying to partake of communication with people on a topic important to me- & its RIFE on the net. I made a decision for myself that I would not abuse, just disagree- across the board. Reason being- the internet provides a vehicle which can allow the cowardly part of me to get my way-I can say things here I would NOT say to the person's face-its easy to fall into! So Ive made a bottom line for myself to stop this -to not breed that dark behaviour in myself. I broke it once, heatedly- I have an apology to send. But I really feel differently here in this blog- disagreements going about but leading to trading ideas that do and dont disagree- thank you. Im gonna keep this site recorded to read up on things for its somewhere for a sharing/conversation/a listening to & giving of ideas & interpretations. Sooz (PS_Pans Labyrinth has already meant so much to me- and I shant call it that anymore- he said he didnt wsnt the faun to be interpreted as ONLY Pan- changes the intent.)

Michael Guillen said...

Susan, I can't express enough how pleasurable it is to have you comment on an entry that has been sitting on the shelf for over six years. It confirms my hope that these conversations remain of relevance and interest out there in the ether. If Guillermo's words, or even mine, have contributed even the slightest to the confirmation of your personal faith, I can only be thankful. I too remain fond of the Marian aspects of Catholicism and long ago distinguished between a spiritual impulse and a religious one, or a religious one informed by a spiritual one. May your journey be a blessed one.

Susan said...

Thank you very much Michael.
Yes, it could have been yesterday that that was posted far as im concerned. Seeing as it addresses a deep and long-standing issue thats sort of unfolding over ther last century, rather than just whats happening this week, it therefore reamins very helpful, and will continue to do so. Guillermo's propositions also are about essential human needs therefore the topic wont date quickly. Thanks for your wordsd, Susan

Michael Guillen said...

I might also recommend another film to you that might be of interest. Same time period, same perspective of the child, perhaps not quite as fantastical, but beautiful in its own dark right. That would be Augusti Villaronga's Black Bread, which is still on the festival circuit, and not yet released in theatrical; but, keep an eye out for it, either at the moviehouse or on DVD. And a precedent for both Black Bread and Pan's Labyrinth is Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive, which is available on DVD. All three are in a lineage of films that envision childhood as the spiritual resistance to fascism. Or, pertinent to your concerns, the spiritual resistance to what is fascist in the Catholic hierarchy. Again, thanks for stopping by.

Susan said...

Thanks michael, sounds like my thing right now.. I will,'Sooz. (ps- I betcha I enter this comment 2-3 times- sorry- cant work this 'word verification' thing they make me do)