Saturday, January 29, 2011

Once Upon a Time.

Lately it seems the only things I post are reviews. Actually it gives you a fair idea of what I'm spending my time doing - lots of reading, lots of watching, lots of listening. This all - all but the reading - happens while I knit.

Showing the knitting will have to wait - the light is so bad here in January that you'd not be too impressed with what I'm making if I took a picture of it during these dark days. In the meantime, let me tell you about Pan's Labyrinth.

The complications of life in the information age have divorced most of us from our folklore. Early humans resorted to invention in order to understand the mysteries of daily life - go back far enough, you will find stories to explain why the sun rises, why the moon's appearance changes every day. Guillermo del Toro thinks that, as the "external" mysteries are mysterious no longer, storytelling has turned inward - has focussed on the internal mysteries. Pan's Labyrinth explores the internal mysteries carefully - builds them into layers of significance. Only a few of them are apparent to the casual watcher - the most important threads are the invisible little strands, hidden behind the curtain, that hold the whole structure up.

Visually, the movie is gorgeous. Evocative in its use of colour and light, there is a whole story to be found just in the shadows, in the shades. The cinematography perfectly represents the paradox of the parallel universe, the realm of faery that is only a step removed from the daytime world: the two contained in one.

It's a truly excellent piece of work. It's a beautiful, razor-sharp story with all the things that are most important to us humans: longing, fear, loss, cruelty, redemption, hope and dismay.

I loved it.

It was so complicated and yet so simple. The characters are immediately recognisable, though sometimes reinvented. The princess. The servant girl. The spirit guide. The woodsmen. The dictator. There is a wicked stepfather. Other elements: the quest, the trinity, the sacrifice, the terrifying tasks. The violence.

I hated it.

I mean, I hated it. It freaked me out so deeply, I don't know what to do about it. I am not sure whether I can watch it again...because my BluRay player hasn't got a viewing option labelled "Never Show Me This Scene Again". The fairytale part was not the problem. The problem was the aforementioned wicked stepfather, who is a sadistic abomination straight from the pits of hell.

I can handle implied violence - an axe descending towards a shrinking captive, then the scene cuts away and you don't see the moment of contact - but I can't handle the kind of relentless, inhuman brutality in this movie. It all gets screentime. Less than a half hour in, I had my eyes tightly shut and my hands over my ears because I hadn't got to the scan-forward button fast enough to prevent my seeing and hearing a man being bludgeoned to death with a wine bottle, directly on his face.

I had to stop it and go do something else for an hour, during which time I debated whether I would even finish the thing.

I did finish it, but made damn sure I had both hands on the remote - left thumb on "mute" and right thumb on "skip". Also, during my intermission I had checked online reviews to see exactly what other scenes I had to watch out for - a good thing, as it allowed me to scan past the "man who gets tortured with hammer in face" and the "Pale Man monster with eyeballs in his hands, who eats babies" and the "man whose leg is amputated with a handsaw".

Obviously I'm still sorting out my feelings on Pan's Labyrinth. I really do not know which one I mean more: "I loved it" or "I hated it". As far as its intention goes, it's a smashing success. It's truly a fairytale, with all the archetypes which that genre contains. (And for an excellent discussion on that, see this post.)

Modern childrearing shuns the old tales, deeming them too violent for children - and in fact if we saw the fairytales we knew as a child "in living colour", as it were, we'd be horrified: imagine being a fly on the cottage wall while the wolf is eating Granny. Yerch.

But when Little Red and the Woodcutter arrive to save the day, Granny is exhumed from the wolf's belly not as mince, but in one piece - nightcap firmly in place. It's the bizarre appeal of folk tales - the cheerful lacquer we have painted over the dripping gore, hopefully leaving the moral of the stories intact, for the next generation of children to learn from and thrill over.

So I've decided what to do. I'm going to go brush my teeth (had to have cocoa to comfort myself after finishing El Labyrinto del Fauno) and while I'm doing that, I'm going to lacquer over the evil stepfather, firmly closing the shutters before the bottle comes out. I'm going to paint a rosette of fresh crocus on the princess' nightgown, and pretend it protects her from harm. I'm going to wash all the blood off and tell myself that the girl was not afraid, that the faithful maidservant arrived in time, that the doctor wasn't dead after all.

Because I have to go to bed now, and I've just heard a scary story.

I think I loved it.


kristieinbc said...

Wow. When I read the first part of your post I was thinking about watching this. The last half of your post cured me of any such thought.

Belinda said...

Dear Shan,
Yes, I agree with kristieinbc. I thank you for the warning that made me think the price too high. Some things I can watch--a war film where limbs get blown off-maybe because that truly happened-but torture and graphic brutality in a fairy tale or a horror film--no, can't do it. Somehow it sticks to the soul and lodges in the hard drive of the mind. I can't see that as entertainment.

kate said...

Yes. I saw this movie a few years ago now, and I can so clearly remember having these same feelings. So beautiful and so profoundly disturbing,

Dave Hingsburger said...

This is a movie that never tempted either of us. I don't like 'dream sequences' in movies, television or literature. I don't like that kind of fantasy. We have a 'sometimes' friend who regularly loves to tell us of her dreams. She does so in microscopic detail. We endure these 'magical' trips into the fantastic with as much grace as one can have while biting down hard on the inside of one's cheek. So, the movie simply would annoy.

Susie Hewer said...

Oh Shan, I could have warned you about that film! Mike rented it for a me a few years ago, specifically because I love fantasy, but I too was deeply shocked by the violence.

lizbon said...

I didn't want to comment on that movie before you'd seen it, but now I can tell you I pretty much hated it. For the exact same reason. I saw it in the theatre and never wanted to see it again. For me, it never fulfilled the promise of fantasy that it laid out, and the brutality of it felt completely unnecessary, and even illogical. And I'd had such high hopes, too; the previews made it seem Narnialike.