El Labertino del Fauno (2006), directed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is a story that lends itself to ripe interpretation. It is a story of fantastical events that escapes the boundaries of genre, mixing the time and space from which the historical events of The Spanish Civil War exist are articulated. “As a rule, allegory refers to a story with a double meaning-a primary or surface meaning and a secondary or under-the-surface meaning; a story that can be read, understood and interpreted at two levels” [Tanvir, 1]. If we are to agree (and we do) that El Labertino del Fauno is a film that uses many references to the stories of the past, what becomes empirical is how that use of fairy tales to expound upon the historical narrative is a way in which the film is able to dislocate history as one that is fluid and not fixed in the linear workings of the past.
The film begins with a narration of a fairy-tale which is juxtaposed with the scene of Ofelia and her mother making the straight and narrow voyage to their new home with the Captain. We first encounter aspects of the underworld that Ofelia will become consumed by when she waits for her mother who is sick with pregnancy. Ofelia discovers a stone eye and then the statue that is missing the eye. A large fairy-like insect seems to guide her as she replaces the eye, suggesting that there is another way of seeing the film and thus another way of viewing the historical context which the film articulates. And because it is Ofelia who controls that eye, we are invited to view the film through her power, through her gaze.
As Ofelia enters her new life with the Captain (who is symbolic of Franco), we know she does so with great hesitation. As we soon see, the Captain is a monster and does horrific acts of violence. In fact, because the acts of violence are so visually appalling, we are given a new account of history that does not ‘make nice’ the atrocities of war and tyranny. Del Toro, in effect, is taking back the gaze of the Imperialist Imaginary that has written history from the view of the conquerors and avoids the ugliness of historical events. In her article, Tanvir writes that what del Toro does not only with this very real depiction of the Franco character is ‘’to play not just the historical event but to explore its agents’[Tanvir, pg1]. In his use of fantasy that exists concurrently with the ‘real-world’events,
“del Toro [defies] the laws that define historiography and the real, hence the labyrinth. The very physical structure of the labyrinth is at variance with the decidedly straight, linear appearance of history in traditional history-writing tropes, particularly the annals as described by Hayden White, where the event is more important than the agent…forth a world in which things happen to people rather than one in which people do things” (Tanvir, pg.3)”.
In this way, he is giving back the agent of storytelling of the historical narrative to indigenous cultures who have long been occupied, colonized, and represented from the gaze of the Euro-American.
Del Toro himself goes on to describe the use of the circular structure of the labyrinth itself in an interview which Tanvir quotes:
“Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is actually a constant transit of finding, not getting lost. It’s about finding, not losing, your way…I can ascribe two concrete meanings of the labyrinth in the movie. One is the transit of the girl towards her own center, and towards her own, inside reality, which is real. I think that Western cultures make a difference about inner and outer reality, with one having more weight than the other. I don’t. And I have found that [the inner] reality is as important as the one that I’m looking at right now.”
Another interesting way that del Toro plays with concepts of the historical narrative is the use of concepts of time. The Captain’s pocket watch is a constant throughout the film. His life is dictated by his watch. Time in the underworld, by contrast is measured by moon cycles and hour glasses. As well, the representations of the Faun and the Pale Man are indicative of Cronus being the Greek mythological figure representing time, death and harvesting. The story of Cronus is one in which he retains power by ingesting his offspring, keeping them a part of him always. This theme has been an overarching justification for oppressive patriarchs throughout history.
The use of classic fairy-tale narration coupled with historical events suggests not only a reclaiming or subjugation of the narrative, but also a framework to comment on the very nature of historical narratives through Euro-centric tales. The beginning of the film begins on a very straight and narrow path, but it is through the circular labyrinth that Ofelia is able to find the truth. But more importantly, the triptych plot of the film, with three ‘worlds’ (the horrible reality that Ofelia shares with the Captain, the Underworld she shares with the Faun, and the underworld of those who wait in the mountains to make things difficult for the Captain) suggests that history is not a linear one dimension story. Timothy Miller describes the use of fantasy that parallels the real as an
“invit[ation for] us to consider the role of fantasy in the broader category of idealism, and his justification for the value of fantasy rests, much like Tolkien’s, in its ability to provide alternative worlds or paradigms that humans may pursue within reality: fantasy may liberate, not simply isolate. Moreover, this kind of justification of fantasy can extend to a justification of narrative more generally: when all fiction is really just a fantasy after all, what then is the use of fiction?” (Miller, 2).
Guillermo del Toro’s El Labertino del Fauno breaks the molds of genre with his use of allegory juxtaposed with history. He displaces the Western Narrative and the modes of Western storytelling. He reclaims those stories by interpreting them through the eyes of a new hero-Ophelia. And in doing so, he successfully re-writes the history of oppression through the eyes of those oppressed.