What a great film!
A perfect film.
Realism side by side with fantasy, the two threads joined by one girl alive to both worlds.
Two separate stories but one common theme: evil obeys without questioning and demands that others do the same; goodness refuses to play that game.
A man smashes a man’s face in with a bottle and then shoots the dying man’s father. A man keeps pointing his pistol at a dying lad of twenty while the boy in bleeding exhaustion bats the gun away; a cat plays with a mouse before shooting it dead. A man delights in torturing another man until the victim’s hand is inflated distorted and utterly useless forever. He would go on but the doctor mercy-poisons the torturee, for which insubordination the man shoots the doctor. A man shoots a young girl for trying to run away with his son / her brother. We’re speaking here of one man; we’re not listing all his crimes.
The man asked the doctor why he did not fix the tortured fellow up for some more torture. He asks the doctor why he did not obey the command given to him. The doctor says because only men like you do that.
The girl sacrifices her magical princesshood and kingdom to keep her baby brother safe; thus she passes the final test and while her earthly body bleeds its last, she is admitted into the magical kingdom, where she reigns — it is said — with kindness and virtue for centuries.
There’s more, including that painful mistake where the girl eats two grapes when she’d been told not to, giving rise to terrible tragedy.
But we’ll pass that over for now.
The film shows what political evil is and what it does. Political evil is might makes right; and what it does is replace human thought, heart, and soul with empty, mindless, heartless, soulless brutality. Political evil is the decision to abdicate honest feeling, thought, and action; what it does is throw one’s world into a bottomless abyss of fear, cruelty, and violence: For, if one is no longer led by the intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual tension within one’s own mind heart and soul, what is leading one? Nothing that is meaningful to one. And nothing with the ability to say, “that’s enough”.
What then for us now?
How to act while we’ve clearly still enough liberty to peacefully defend liberty against political evil?
The film showed faces smashed/splashed in; bones crunching; saws grinding flesh and bone; torture tearing apart one human’s body while inflaming another’s bloodlust; bullets and bodies everywhere.
Were the rebels right to fight with violence?
Or would it have been wiser to wait out the evil peacefully? Just hide in the woods or move to another country? That way they could’ve perhaps avoided both violence and capitulation to evil laws. I don’t know. And of course who would’ve guessed that in 1975 Franco would die and for the sake of the new democracy replacing his dictatorship, right and left would agree on the Pact of Forgetting?
Donald Trump — is it wisest if we simply forget you? USA — is it wisest if we admit that Donald Trump attempted to subvert democracy and that that is a grave crime against the USA and humanity, but that rather than fan the flames of his madness, we will not seek legal recourse against him but instead focus on changing the rules so that the next would-be tyrant will have less success?
Because, USA (and Trump too, though you Trump may not understand this), we really lucked out here. The inability to believe that political evil can happen to us, combined with extreme partisanship and the disinformation campaign that preceded him but particularly blossomed under Trump — all that plus the gazillion other details that come together to create human futures could have given Trump another four years to consolidate his power, which could’ve come at the price of completely dismantling our democracy — or at least setting us on the path towards more and more political dishonesty and fear, a path which heads straight towards tyranny, secret prisons, poisoned rivals, state media, the inability to be oneself without fear of violent reprisal.
We lucked out. How do we make the most of this lucky break? The gods have granted all of us — including Trump — a reprieve from the folly he wrought. Perhaps the wisest course is an agreement to remember Trump’s crimes and address the loopholes within our system while forgetting Trump himself, whose power is built on empty noise.
With his desperate hailmary shotgun attempt to overturn the election results and the willingness of many to nod along and some to even blatantly aid and abet, Trump provides us with one (hopefully) last image of how close we came to being undone by one foolish person’s inability to understand how beautiful and precious representative democracy is. The system needs to be repaired.
Maybe the best way to repair the system is to stand up and together say:
“We forgive you, Donald J. Trump. You are a fool with no respect for democracy or the honesty, accuracy, competency, transparency, selflessness, and shared joy that democracy seeks to enthrone (at the very reasonable price of not enthroning people). You should never have received power. We will work now to improve our system of government so that we do not repeat this mistake. You have willfully harmed a system that keeps hundreds of millions of people safe from violent oppression and you sought to do worse than you achieved. That is a terrible sin, but we must now devote all our time and energy to repairing the damage you’ve done. Our democracy is ailing and we cannot afford to give any fuel to your persecution fantasies. So to you we say: ‘Go in peace. If we could make you see how much you have hurt us, we would — for your sake and ours. But we can’t, so please just go in peace'”
In fantasy, pure hearts always win. In realism, pure hearts are often bleed to death. In fantasy, the physical and logical rules give way to the rules of storytelling and faith in timeless human values like Truth and Goodness. In realism, the physical and logical rules are not broken, even if human minds, hearts and bodies must be broken upon them.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, the heroine dies nobly in the real world to be born heroically into the fantasy world. But the doctor dies nobly in the real world to lie dead and lifeless in the mud. And yet we witnesses believe that in some very real sense — ultimately realer than both the fantasy kingdom and the bloodied mud — the doctor also lived and died in the higher realm where Truth and Goodness always win because nothing else is really all that real. Why? The film whispers to us that this is so — that cruelty is as meaningless as it acts, but that kindness — whatever cruelty would lead us to believe — is meaningful, is eternal, is Real. And we believe the movie when it tells us this. Is it deceiving us? Or is it showing us what we cannot help but know? Or what?
Authors: Willard & Whistletown