Monday, March 10, 2008

Pan's Labyrinth - Catholic Movie Review

While the movie Pan's Labyrinth has some artistic merits, there are both obvious and subtle reasons to avoid it. Some of the obvious ones:

1. It is very violent. The protagonist's stepfather does things like beating one person's face in with a bottle, and torturing another until he begs for death.

2. The characters professing Christianity are all monsters and hypocrites.

3. The good guys are all creatures out of pagan mythology and their friends.

Spoilers follow.

The less obvious reason Pan's Labyrinth troubled me took a while to figure out, but I think I finally have it. Many of the people who liked this movie said they saw many Christian elements in it. For example, the heroine sacrifices herself rather than permit the sacrifice of an innocent baby, and is rewarded with life after death. This is a good thing, no?

Well, what the protagonist does is good, but the context makes the message all wrong. Essentially, what we have here is yet another attempt to say that the good stuff about Christianity can be had without Christ. This is the great theme that runs through most bogus modern spiritual substitutes for Christianity, including atheism. It should be easier for us to spot by now. After all, John Henry Newman pointed out over a century ago that the problem with atheistic humanism is that it thinks it can have the fruits of Christianity without the roots.

In Newman's time, it was humanists claiming they could have Christian morality without Christ. Now, it's pagans claiming, in fiction anyway, that they can have the whole enchilada -- redemption and eternal life -- without the redeemer and giver of life. The sad thing is, after decades of cultural decay, this ridiculous claim seems plausible to many, at least on an emotional level. And it is on an emotional and imaginative level that this movie will do its harm, by associating Christianity with sadism and death, and paganism with "truly Christian" nobility and eternal life.

I would recommend this movie only to mature and astute Christians whom it may help by training them to discern elsewhere what I think is a particularly insidious and currently widespread tactic of the enemy of mankind -- the fictional portrayal of Christianity as unchristian, and of paganism and atheism as truly "christian." Once you learn to recognize it, you will see it frequently.

Hmmmmm. I just found an interview with Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan's Labyrinth, at It looks like my surmises above about what he was trying to do were right on the money. It was not even subconscious, as it is with some. He apparently knew exactly what he was doing.


luvgabe said...

Thank you! This is the best review of del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" I've read.

Unlike the slavish praises heaped on this film by the mainstream movie reviewers, this review has pinpointed, with keen insight, what's wrong with this film. I hated "Pan's Labyrinth" for its bleakness and utter hopelessness, not to mention its allegedly Catholic characters who are portrayed as evil.

That's why I have trepidations about del Toro directing devout Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."

For del Toro's views on religion, go to

Vincent DiCarlo said...

Yes, can you imagine what Tolkien would have thought about letting del Toro having anything to do with interpreting his writing? Why not give it right to Screwtape and cut out the middle man? ;-)

Thanks for the links. Del Toro's opinions are very predictable, but it's nice to see that the predictions were correct. The observations confirm the hypothesis, I think. But how tiresome to hear those same old errors misportrayed as new and exciting!

andy said...

Thank you for allowing me to comment on this movie which I recently saw. One short scene has a priest not shown well, cavorting with the fascists (as mentioned in the delToro interview below). And, I'm not sure about your statement Mr. DiCarlo saying the fantasy movie promotes atheistic humanism, eternal life in a way other than through Jesus. Another movie series praised by Catholics, devout Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, does the same thing -- at the end, Frodo, Bilbo, and the Elves take a boat to a land of eternal life, and nowhere is Jesus shown or implied. Is this atheistic humanism? In this aspect, I don't see the negativity in a film which is supposed to be a fantasy. The girl giving up her life to save her half-brother, who even was fathered by the evil fascist, was very heroic and righteously biblical. The only visibly Catholic character was the priest shown for a few seconds, but this was 1940's Spain, where most everyone was Catholic. All of the mercenaries, Mercedes, the Doctor, the Mother & Girl, the Father & Son hunters, all of the heroes were likely Catholic. And sadly, the facists were also Catholic. Not all in the Church have been doing His bidding, we must admit.

BTW, do you know the background of Peter Jackson who directed LOTR? It's pretty dark, with some very morbid horror "comedy" movies. Have similar negative reviews been done on the LOTR movies?

The link in your review update seems to be broken, with the new one to del Torro's interview appearing here...

A copy of this portion of his interview does indeed show his hostility to Catholicism. Whether or not delTorro does an injustice to "The Hobbit" remains to be seen I guess...

MG: ... All of your previous films have a fairly prevalent and overt use of Catholic imagery, but Pan's Labyrinth almost completely avoids it, and yet your friend Iñarrítu said this is probably your most Catholic film.

Del Toro: He said that, yes.

MG: Is the omission of visible Catholic detail just a coincidence? Or was the church's position and sympathies with the Francoists during the civil war something you considered as you planned out the symbolic strategy of the film?

Del Toro: When I was researching the movie The Devil's Backbone, I found the absolutely horrifying—not only complicity—but participation of the Church in the entire fascist movement in Spain. The words that the priest speaks at the table in Pan's Labyrinth are taken verbatim from a speech a priest used to give to the Republican prisoners in a fascist concentration camp. He would come to give them communion and he would say before he left, "Remember, my sons, you should confess what you know because God doesn't care what happens to your bodies; he already saved your souls." This is taken verbatim from that speech. The Pale Man represents the Church for me, y'know? [He] represents fascism and the Church eating the children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them. There is almost a hunger to eat innocence. A hunger to eat purity. I didn't want to avoid it, but I did not seek Catholic imagery. Nevertheless, I understand that redemption by blood and the rebirth by sacrifice is a Catholic conceit. So I accept it without any problems because I think that sexuality and religion come from your imprint in an early age. Whatever arouses your spirit or arouses your body at an early age, that's what is going to arouse it the rest of your life. Everything will be subordinate to that. It's a personal choice and it's a personal experience. I don't shame myself about being a lapsed Catholic and so if that cosmology appears in my movies, I'm fine with it.

Vincent DiCarlo said...

I have seen some of Jackson's other movies, and I would not have expected him to do such a good job on LOTR. I saw some interviews of the writers, and they clearly loved the books and wanted to do them justice. I think they succeeded brilliantly and, now that Del Toro is out and Jackson is in, I am looking forward to the movie version of the Hobbit.