There was a young girl in the civil war-torn Spainish country, very alone in the world, her mother hung up with a new lover, all she had was the flights of often frightening fantasy brought on by amazing tales. It is surprising the similarities between Victor Erice's 1973 Spirit of the Beehive and Guillermo Del Toro's 2006 Pan's Labyrinth. Both have young raven-haired girls as protagonists. Both take place in the same decade in the same country and ask how their protagonists can comprehend and cope with the danger and unrest of their very similar situations. And in that, they are not surprising. Artists have been musing at the inner lives of children in trouble since, well, forever.
|Playing at death|
Culturally we romanticize the lives of children. We think back on a time devoid of responsibilities and filled with play and forget that the darkness we've come to accept as adults was still there and far more confusing to us, conflicting with the lessons our young selves are taught about a world made of order, not chaos. Because of this, childrens' lives are actually filled with more fear than adults. But we selectively forget to include this in our nostalgia. For both Beehive's Ana and Labyrinth's Ofelia, the fear presents itself in the form of civil war and rebellion, encounters with soldiers, good or bad, death an every day possibility.
But is it real?
As is sure to become a frequent theme in this series, the primary noticeable difference between our two films is one of degrees of intensity. The Spirit of the Beehive is the more subtle one this time, with Ana encountering just one strange creature, but Ofelia an entire world. Furthermore the violence in Spirit of the Beehive is always off camera where Pan's Labyrinth is rife with cringe worthy moments. Does that mean that modern audiences demand more blood or at least less nuance? Not necessarily, or at least not in this case. With extreme violence more common in films these days than in the early 70's, Del Toro is using a tool at his disposal and finding a new breaking point for our discomfort. Pan's Labyrinth may not be as violent as some modern horror films, but the contrast between the bloodshed and evil of the real world and the innocence and strangeness of Ofelia's world is effective. Victor Erice takes the opposite approach, utilizing what we don't see and playing up to what we fear we may see to induce in us a response. When the Frankenstein monster finally arrives, the moment is that much more grand because we're finally allowed into Ana's imagination.
|More than just fantasy|