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The Reeler Blog

Del Toro: "Thank God I'm Not in Charge of the Parenting Board"

Among the most frequently made observations in reviews of Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (opening today in New York; check out Vadim Rizov's review here) note how, despite the willful 12-year-old protagonist Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and the director's stunning, visceral grasp of fantasy, the film's violence suits it more appropriately to an adult audience. "A child could grasp its moral insights (though it is not a film I’d recommend for most children)," writes Tony Scott today in The Times; "Pan's Labyrinth itself may be too cruel and bloody for children, although kids would surely appreciate its exquisite yuckiness," adds Jim Hoberman this week in the Voice.

This is nothing new; the topic came up back around the time of the New York Film Festival, where the R-rated Labyrinth was screened as the closing-night selection and during which Del Toro spoke to local reporters about children's capacity for onscreen brutality. "There is a very perverse exercise in raising kids in which we, on the one hand, isolate them from violence that has any real weight and allow them to immerse themselves in violence that has no reality to it," he said in the interview. "On the one hand, you create children who are hypersensitive to adversity and pain, and you create children who are perversely addicted to the graphic nature of violence. So I would say that up to a certain point that I would allow younger kids than the rating (allows) to see it their teens or early teens. But thank God I'm not in charge of the parenting board."

But the violence in Pan's Labyrinth isn't necessarily limited to the fascist mechanics of Ofelia's stepfather, who murders and tortures (and is tortured) with impunity in the harrowing dawn of Spain's Franco era. It bleeds over -- literally and quite voluminously -- into the girl's unsettled fantasia, where a faun ordains a quest promising sanctuary after three unimaginable trials. At their most benign, Ofelia confronts a squirmy, massive toad; at their most gruesome, the Pale Man (a k a the palm-eyed creature you’ve seen photographed in every Labyrinth story since Cannes) chews the head off an agonized fairy.

So really, Guillermo -- where does this fit in the larger historical context of fairy tales as we know them? Are we really cool to take the kids?

"Well," Del Toro told me, "fairy tales, when they were created first, they were not only very disturbing tales, but at the same time they were meant to represent very dire circumstances at the time they were written." He raised a hand to tally off a list of misfortunes. "Famine. Plague. Not, in general, very nice situations, with kids being orphaned, being abandoned, etcetera, etcetera. And I think in that sense, the movie is just a continuation of that thread in the genre.

"I feel like the movie is a movie about the responsibility of disobedience and the responsibility of choice," he continued. "It's a movie about choice and about how your choices affect your destiny and who you are. It's a girl that refuses to obey either the magical creatures or the fascist captain. And how she essentially forges her own destiny. Chewing up fairies aside, I think that's a damn valuable lesson in this world."

I totally agree, and If the ticket seller gives you any hassles this weekend, you might try this one out. At any rate, Happy New Year -- I'll see you in 2007.

Posted at December 29, 2006 4:18 PM

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