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Pan's Labyrinth


During Franco's Spain (roughly 1950's) a young girl is forced to deal with her new father (a brutal officer in Franco's army) and pregnant mother while a fantastical faun challenges her to prove she's the reincarnation of the King of the Underworld.

What I Thought

Warning: After finishing my review, I had to come back up here and warn you that I start to just drone on and on and on in my review. Skip if you get bored.

History is a funny thing. I would say that the last two American generations (i.e., people under the age of 40) have become pretty disconnected from history and think it is something that has happened "back then" or to "those people over there, on the left, in the funny hats." Partly it's because (and I'm sure I'm going to get flamed over this statement) history hasn't smacked us upside the head the way it has in previous generations. If you go back one generation more (people born in the 40's and 50's), these were people who lived through WW2, the Korean War, Vietnam, the 60's protests, JFK, MLK, women's lib, Stonewall, and the sexual revolution.

We had what, exactly? Only the youngest 60's kids remember Nixon and Carter. I barely remember the Iran hostage crisis (I was 6!). Then we had the Iran-Contra scandal (not even the brightest 12 year old could follow that!); German reunification (and at 14, my only real memories are that I was a bit miffed that my brand new expensive National Geographic atlas was already out of date!); Gulf Wars I; Sept 11; and Gulf Wars II. I don't want to trivialize the importance of these events, but they are all things that happened (and are still happening) far away from most Americans. Your average person really isn't affected by these things except knowing about "a friend of a friend". I especially don't want to trivialize the emotions people felt after Sept 11, but do any of us (who haven't been directly affected) really remember anymore? Honestly?

During the last decade, many people have asked "why aren't there more protests" or why is there such disaffection and political disconnection with today's generation. I would say it's because of this: Basically, we're settled in. We think that the status quo has always been there (since it's pretty much been there all our lives) and that nothing will ever change. When I say "status quo" I mean the usual Republicans vs Democrats, America is "the richest and most powerful country in the world", of *course* women and African-Americans are equal, who'd say anything different? Food is readily available. Land of plenty. No world wars. No depression. Etc.

(Aside: ABSOLUTELY all this happens in the rest of the world! Remember though, I'm talking about "us", we average, employed, consumer Americans, who go home to our families every night, drive our car to the supermarket, etc. Never in the history of history have so many people had such a high standard of life!)

Because "history" has become something really far away from most of us, we forget that only a generation or two before, our country was a very different place. Democracy COULD have lost to Nazism during WWII, there was a time that the future of the United States as a democracy was in doubt during the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. There actually was this monolithic empire called the USSR!

This was brought home to me recently when Al Sharpton was on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, talking about how his great-grandfather was a slave owned by the Strom Thurmond family. He made some comment (I'm paraphrasing) of "this was my father's grandfather" and Jon responded with "I *knew* my great-grandfather", meaning that this happened to people you could talk to and know. To Al Sharpton, slavery wasn't some historical thing that happened hundreds of years ago, it's something that was very reachable here and now.

My personal examples of being touched by history: My grandfather was in the Soviet army in Korea and was present when the demilitarized zone was created. Granted, he was on the wrong side, but just thinking about that 'historical' moment makes it more real when I know my grandfather was there. My other half grew up under a brutal military dictatorship in Argentina where people were "disappeared". My parents escaped communist Poland by sneaking out of the country on a "vacation" and smuggling their diplomas in hollow hair dryers and double-lined purses. This isn't "history", it's my very own background, and I think your average American these days has lost this sort of connection. Which, if you ask me, is why race relations still aren't very successful here... when white Americans approach the issue of slavery and equal rights, they consider it as happening to ancestors; when African Americans approach these topics, that happened to relatives.

Nevermind that this may be a sign of a healthy country. I'd much rather have politically apathetic students and live in a "mostly everything is fine" country rather than go back to the major uphevals of the 50's and 60's! I'll take my cities without riots, thank you very much. Um, except for Miami that is: we are allowed to burn a few tires in the streets now and then (disclosure: I grew up in Miami).

And now we come to Pan's Labyrinth which made me look up Spain's Franco regime and led to my above musings. Did you know that Franco ruled quite brutally until 1975? That's already within my lifetime. Once he died, King Juan Carlos fairly quickly guided Spain to be a constitutional democracy. This is SPAIN, one of the shining bastions of liberal democracy in the world today and this happened only 32 years ago. History isn't just something in the distant past, and your ancestors are still your relatives. My mind is boggled.

OK, it's not really boggled since I like reading history books (worse is I like to lecture which is why it's taken 150 paragraphs for me to finally mention the freakin' movie). But you know what I mean. This is the type of connection to history that many people have lost these days.

What's the whole connection to Pan's Labyrinth? Well, the movie has two storylines. One is the little girl's story as she escapes into her fantasy world to perform the faun's tasks (faun: a mythological creature, half human and half goat. Why not call it a go-man, I don't know... those crazy Romans. The most famous faun was Pan, not that he appears in this movie, but just like changing the "Philosopher's Stone" to the "Sorcerer's Stone", the movie was named to appeal to American backgrounds). The storyline other is that she has a new father, an officer in Franco's army, who is brutally trying to crush anti-Franco rebels in the hills around them.

I was actually more interested in the historical part and wish it was more a movie about that war. The fantasy bits were just dull and not very well thought out. No parallels were drawn between the fantasy and the very real and brutal reality, and in the end you really don't care all that much. Given how critics gushed for this movie, I had expected a much better movie than I actually saw. "You will come out changed" one reviewer said. Yeah, I want to read more history and dump the faun.


All photos and text copyright Ryszard Kilarski, unless otherwise noted. Clip art, drawings, paintings are either free domain or copyrighted by the artists.