#14: Pan’s Labyrinth – Top 25 Films of the Decade

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo, Roger Casamajor, César Vea

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro

Why it made the list: In the introduction to this series, I mentioned that only one foreign film made my list (due to the fact that I find them less rewatchable since you have to devote your full attention to the film to be able to read the subtitles). I briefly considered just limiting the list to English films to account for this imbalance, but couldn’t bring myself to leave one of the most stunningly original films of the decade off my list.

Guillermo del Toro does what he does best with Pan’s Labyrinth (perhaps better than anyone else): creates a astonishingly immersive world that leaves viewers in complete awe at both its scope and the imagination on display. With a budget of about €13.5 million, he’s able to create a more full and involving world than James Cameron did with twenty times that much, all while injecting it with a dose of the stark realities of the Spanish Civil war. He does this while working with largely stock characters, recognizing the power of archetypes that you can exploit when working in the fairy tale genre.

By using simple character types, the film is able to focus on the fairy tale itself, and both use tropes of the genre to its benefit and subvert those tropes to great effect. It takes a few viewings to get past the wow factor of the film to appreciate the depth of storytelling that goes along with all the myth building and phenomenal character design, which is probably a good argument for why I should rewatch more foreign films more often (as I’m sure some of them would have cracked this list if I did).

Significant scene: It’s easy picking out a dominant scene in Pan’s Labyrinth. One of the most arresting scenes of the decade, and just plain creepy as hell, Ofelia’s visit to the den of the Pale Man is an undeniable “wow” moment. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more effectively terrifying character design than that of the Pale Man (as portrayed by Doug Jones), even when you consider that this very film provides another strong contender for that title (The Faun, also Doug Jones). Just looking at his picture below gives me the willies.

You can’t watch the scene without screaming out at Ofelia to leave those damn grapes alone (most likely while watching through your fingers, which is sort of ironic when you think about it). Sure, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where you’d sit in a room with this guy (even without seeing his scariest feature — the eyes on his hands) and decide to challenge the rules the Faun set before you got there. Especially since the collection of bones behind the pale man confirm that the rather graphic art on the walls aren’t exaggerations. But here again, Del Toro leans on the conventions of fairy tales and the fact that his child protagonist isn’t entirely rational. Ofelia goes after the food the same reason that Hansel and Gretel go into the gingerbread house or Goldilocks fucks with the Bear family’s house. Because she’s a child and thus impetuous and bad at thinking through the consequences of her actions. Because the demands of the story require it. And, within the reality of the story, she’s really hungry. And thus her desire to address this hunger nearly ends in her death at the hands of a monster, perhaps serving as a parallel to the unfortunate farmer and son who were slain earlier in the film by Vidal when they were merely hunting rabbits.

The Pale Man

Yeah, I'd steal this guy's food.

25. Up (2009)
24. The Hurt Locker (2009)
23. Lost in Translation (2003)
22. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
21. The Bourne Identity (2002)
20. Serenity (2005)
19. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
18. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
17. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
16. Hot Fuzz (2007)
15. Munich (2005)

2 thoughts on “#14: Pan’s Labyrinth – Top 25 Films of the Decade

  1. Pingback: Top 25 Films of the Decade – The Full List « Critically Speaking

  2. Pingback: #12: Children of Men – Top 25 Films of the Decade « Critically Speaking

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