Last week, I had the immense pleasure of seeing one of my all-time favourite films, Pan’s Labyrinth, in the cinema for the first time. The tale of childhood innocence in the face of civil war and violence is one which was introduced to me for the first time at a young age, in the Spanish lessons of my early teenage years. I immediately fell in love with its air of mystery, its fairytale formulation and the gruesome aspects of horror which permeate it.
This film has stuck with me for almost ten years now, as something I keep coming back to no matter what other films are on my list of favourites at the time. I think it’s the air of mystery and magic surrounding the feminine throughout the film which really captivates me, something which I am going to explore in this post.
On watching this film this time around (for what was probably about the tenth time), I noticed the significance of the stages of divine womanhood. These are, of course, Maiden, Mother and Crone. These stages are found in Paganism and I believe it is something which Guillermo del Toro aimed to explore in this coming of age story. The film depicts the progression of Ofelia into the early stages of womanhood, through her three trials set by the Faun, in order to prove her worth. These three stages are often represented by three stages of the moon – the waxing and waning crescents, and the full moon itself.
The Faun tells her that she is the descendant of the underworld, a moonlit kingdom of mythical beings and intangibility. The plotline is therefore pitted against the progression of the lunar cycle, with Ofelia’s tasks given the time limit of the advance from crescent to full moon. In Pagan beliefs, the crescent moon represents the first of the stages of the divine feminine, namely Maidenhood, whilst the full moon represents Motherhood. Throughout the film, Ofelia, therefore, progresses to a more adult stage of her life. Although the role of Mother is not fully realised, she does, however, become the mother figure for her younger brother after Carmen dies in childbirth.
The birthmark on Ofelia’s left shoulder, the waxing crescent, is one which represents the stage of Maidenhood, in which Ofelia begins the film. The progression to the next stage is not something which is fully realised but is hinted at through her coming-of-age tasks which she must complete in order to be able to return to the moonlit kingdom of her true parents.
The divine feminine is of course, merely one small aspect of this fantastic film. It’s worth watching for so many wildly different reasons; the meticulous evil of Captain Vidal, the breathtakingly terrifying Pale Man scene, the beautiful score by Javier Navarrete, the social commentary on the Spanish Civil War and the wide-eyed innocence of Ivana Baquero (Ofelia) – all supervised by the watchful eye of Guillermo del Toro. This film is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Oh yes, and it passes the Bechdel Test.