Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Labyrinths

Many years ago I wrote a film for the American Playhouse series on PBS. The title was Labyrinthos. When it was broadcast in 1982 the producers had changed the title to the meaningless King of America. And I mean truly meaningless because the film’s protagonist possessed not regal bearing, ambitions or exalted expectations. He would have been totally happy as a workman at any occupation that would have rewarded an honest day’s labor with an honest salary and a little dignity.

This young Greek immigrant, however, was not to be so lucky. Seduced from his homeland by promises of gainful employment, instead he found himself frustrated and befuddled by the abusive and degrading challenges of industrial exploitation. Something still quite familiar in America.

My thoughts on the labyrinth are generated by a recent viewing of PAN’S LABYRINTH. My earlier use of labyrinth as a metaphor was based on the familiar and usual concepts of the labyrinth as a disorienting place of danger and dread from which the only exit was the point of entry.

As I watched PAN’S LABYRINTH, I was curiously surprised to see that, though the physical appearance of the Faun’s abode was grim and ominous, it was actually a place of refuge, even salvation. The only danger it engages comes from outside sources. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro turns the classical concept of the labyrinth inside out. A more accurate designation for this structure—and title for the movie—would something like “Temple of the Faun”. This would not make the movie any better but it would give me less to criticize.

Actually, I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth too much to bother with any real criticism. For differing opinions on this film you can check Peterme’s commentary and my replying comment on this site: http://www.peterme.com/?p=510

I wasn't planning to see Pan's Labyrinth until I discovered that del Toro was also the co-writer and director of The Devil’s Backbone. This story unfolds in a boy’s orphanage in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war. The living conditions are dire and their stark presentation is not for the squeamish. It is, among other things, a ghost story, but the great horrors are inflicted only by the living.

Despite the grimness of these two films, I don't feel that del Tory is either a cynic or fatalist. Nonetheless, he doesn't leave his audience with much room for hope.

2 Comments:

At January 25, 2007 8:08 AM, Anonymous Stacy said...

This film's use of the labyrinth as a refuge, or as a process of transformation, reminded me a little of the meditative use of labyriths in some modern Christians' (and other Western spiritual seekers') practice (one example local to us: http://www.gracecathedral.org/labyrinth/). And so my only criticism of the use of the idea was that the labyrinth in Pan had dead ends - which are characteristic of mazes, not labyrinths.

 
At January 25, 2007 9:14 AM, Blogger BJMe said...

I see there are more and different labyrinth traditions than I was aware of. Del Toro's labyrinth was obviously reflective of his Christian influences, as per the Grace Cathedral example. The meditative nature of that pathway reminds me of doing the Stations of the Cross in my youth at church during Easter week.

Fingering the circular strand of Rosary beads also comes to mind as a similar process of meditation.

I was all too familiar with degrees of cruelty inflicted on innocents by Capitan Vidal - his mindless murder of two rabbit hunters in his mistaken search for weapons of mass destruction in their game bag was decidely less vicious than the ongoing slaughter conducted by our own Capitan Bush - but what wrenched me the most was del Toro's giving Ofelia a dying vision of a non-existent, beautiful afterlife while we see that, like Anne Frank, she is simply a young woman, now doomed to early oblivion. Against this reality, symbolic structures crumble to dust.

 

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