The Realism of Pan’s Labyrinth

Matthew Perfetti

Dr. Monique Tschofen and Daniel Browne

ENG 705

11 April 2017



Pan’s Labyrinth is my favourite movie and I always wanted to create a project discussing why it’s such an interesting film from not just from a literary perspective but also technical.  The critique talks about the realism in the movie through its choice of setting, actors, props and makeup design.  The project will be that of a video commentary format; it will be accompanied by actual clips from the movie as well as other clips in general to further help my argument.  This will be then uploaded to Youtube to avoid any annoying driver issues form the playback.

A short summary of the movie for those who have not seen the film.  The Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro is a story about young girl named, Ofelia, moving in with her new step-father during the Spanish-Civil War 1944; her imagination and curiosity take her on an adventure to find out her true origin.  She meets a wise old Faun (half-man half goat) who guides her on her quest but can he be trusted?


Process in creating the project:  The Original Ideas and Way of Editing

The project originally was only going to discuss exclusively on the child acting and how it differs from other movies, this was then changed to the argument of realism because the previous argument did not fit with the criteria.  However, the style of the project was kept the same of it being video commentary.  Video editing has been something I’ve always done as a pastime hobby since I was young so it was an obvious choice for me to choose this as the way of presenting my arguments on a visual platform.  Although I’m not equipped with the best software’s for movie editing, example Adobe Premier and After Effects, my trusty old Corel Studio X8 will work just fine for what I’m doing.

Process in creating the project:  Approaching the Argument

I will be approaching my critique through clips and comparisons to help prove my argument; taking ideas such as acting performance or costume design and discussing it in detail on how it relates to realism.  All my commentary will be backed up with not just facts but also personal insights I picked up from watching the movie many times to help bring a different perspective to the argument.


Process in creating the project:  The Argument itself

Presenting my critical argument was tricky for me to make it sound interesting.  Usually realism isn’t something that isn’t quite fun or as interesting as non-fiction (depending on the reader) because when people watch or read things, they usually want something that isn’t possible in their world; impossible scenarios are always interesting.  Strangely enough however, Pan’s Labyrinth doesn’t feel that much out of this world when compared to other fairytale’s but instead feels very possible.  This stems from the setting being real and not some made up fairytale land and how actor’s given very realistic lines that doesn’t seem out of place for the time period.  Ofelia acts like a real kid while the adults act like actual adults and the scenario’s they are put in are real and actual happened in history with just the characters being fictional.  But then you ask, what about the mythical creatures like the Faun or the Fairies, how are those realistic? Well you got me there, but even so they still feel way more real than other mythical beings and there is a reason behind that.  Ever notice how a lot of magical or ancient beings are extremely powerful or have special abilities like being able to cast spells or turn inanimate objects into sentient beings? well in Pan’s Labyrinth, the great mythical Faun of the Earth doesn’t do much spell casting but more talking.  Despite his appearance, he’s very human and acts like a trickster, having no clear motives of good or bad.  This is relatable to real people who you’re not sure if you can trust.  Also the lack of CGI but instead using a real person in a costume with animatronics facial features brought this character to life.  Going back to CGI, what I notice is that no matter how much better it gets it will never look real; there will always be a line between something computer generated to something that is actually there.  A good example of that would be the 2009 Avatar movie which was praised for its use of CGI during its time but when looked back it doesn’t look as good as it used to be.  When you look back at Pan’s Labyrinth, the Faun and the Pale man never look outdated because a well made costume lasts forever.  That’s a huge aspect of what makes movie feel so real and I applaud Guillermo del Toro (Director) for that choice instead of using CGI for everything. However a huge question still remains, are the things that Ofelia see real or just part of her imagination? and if they are wouldn’t this just completely ruin my argument about the movie being realistic?  Well the answer to that would be a no, I know for a fact that what she sees is real because of many scene’s in the movie showing how her imaginary friends do effect the world around her, through giving her things that other people see or actual events that she fixes because of her “imaginary friends” told to her to do.  Example being the fig tree at the end of the film that was told by Ofelia that it was dying and could only be cured by killing the giant toad.  After the toad was kill we see the fig tree come back to life.  Now does this affect my point of view on realism?  No, the settings and characters are still real but the way the fictional characters are presented on the world are made to actually fit well with what we see.  What I mean is that the Faun and the fairies looks possible and not something that’s obviously made up;  The Fairies are more like an insect and the Faun is treated more like an actual person then a monster.  You don’t get that outer-worldly feel from these characters.  The fit right at home on Earth.


Process in creating the project:  The Inspiration

Honestly the biggest inspiration in creating this project idea was myself.  I hated how most children in movies, especially in the 80’s and 90’s, where filled with terrible depictions of kids.  Usually portrayed as obnoxious, annoying, spoiled and bratty, children where often used as a means of an obstacle for the main protagonist.  Movies such as Jingle all the Way, Christmas with the Kranks, use this trope to its fullest extent; as a child watching these films, I would always say to myself, “we don’t act like this” or “this makes kids look awful”, it was embarrassing and un-relatable.  However not all movies where like this, some strayed away from the common reused garbage and actually put thought into the screen writing; one of the most memorable ones for me was the movie Pan’s Labyrinth.  What made me enjoy this movie when I was young was that Ofelia did something all children did, imagine.  She had a great imagination and was egger to explore the world around her; her conflicts wouldn’t be what they actually where but rather transformed by her thoughts in a way she understood.  Each imaginary character can be seen as an allegory for how Ofelia viewed different issues during her stay at the new house.  It was relatable to me as a child, using your thoughts to try to escape from reality is something I would always do whenever I was faced with conflict.

The group of artist that my critique would make sense would be perhaps current critics are just general observer’s of movies.  Although I am not being a critic in this project, the insights that I expel may create different understandings for future critiques of the film.  I’m not trying to sound arrogant but rather hopeful that my understandings of the movie will help others in the future.


Ending Statement

I hope to shed some new light for this film and perhaps bring out a different perspective.  I’ve always wanted to make a project based on this film so getting the opportunity to do so made me very happy.  The realism in Pan’s Labyrinth is shown through the acting, each character is written to sound like actual human beings, they pause when they think and are not always talking and the visuals and setting do not rely on CGI but rather real life locations and props making the world feel more alive.  The story is realistic as well, Ofelia is like a child, she has wide imagination and handles problems in a mature way, the Faun although a beast is very human like as is shown through his personality.  The movie handles the idea of both imagination and reality well and that it’s ok to have realism even in a Fairytale; it’s proven here to be a great mix.

I’ve always loved video editing so creating this project was enjoyable and fun, hopefully that it’s translated well onto the big screen.







Pan’s Labyrinth. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

James Cameron’s Avatar. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.