Electric Dreams

Dreams and Fantacy in Pan's Labyrinth

David Jenkins, PhD

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Jenkins, David, PhD (2007 June). DreamRePlay: Dreams and Fantacy in Pan's Labyrinth.
Electric Dreams 14(6).


Pan's Labyrinth is a fascinating film in its own right but it is also instructive to look at how director Guillermo del Toro skillfully combines a historical tale and a fairy story into a creative whole.

From my particular dream perspective that's valuable because the fantasy/reality "tracking" in the film has a great deal in common with the way our dream/waking lives cross paths.

Categorizing this film of two separate but connected plots is not easy. There is a harsh, sad story about waking life conflict (the aftermath of the defeat of the republicans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39) but it is not a war movie. The fairy tale is not of the cute, charming variety. Nor is there a "face your fantasy fears and you'll be fine" message.

From one perspective, the movie is about the juxtaposition of these two worlds, "reality" and fantasy. As it progresses, these two stories, always intertwined, also interact. Knowledge and actions in one arena affect the other.

The story is set in 1944 Spain, post civil war. The setting is not arbitrary. How familiar you are with this pivotal European conflict, the inspiration of a generation of radicals, will greatly affect how you first experience the movie. Clearly, del Toro, a Mexican, has something he needs to say about that titanic clash of wills. But within and through that outer political statement, there is a view of the imagination that few people connect with political tracts.

The main character is a ten year old girl, Ofelia. In waking life her father has died and her mother has remarried a sadistic army officer. He is in charge of capturing or killing the last rebel supporters of the republic who are holding out in the woods. The mother is pregnant and dangerously ill but the officer is more concerned that she give birth to his son than that she survive. The housekeeper and the doctor who attends her mother are both secretly aiding the rebels as well as truly helping the mother. In the fairy tale, Ofelia is a princess, aided by dragonflies, guided and challenged by Pan, a faun. Before the next full moon she must pass three tests to prove she has not become human. Del Toro handles the standard formula of the princess and the three tasks with an original twist of his own. I am giving away only a morsel of the plot when I tell you that she fails his tests and thereby, paradoxically, succeeds.

In this fairy land, Ofelia has allies, is given tasks to perform and decisions to make. She must also live and take action in the waking world as she struggles to help her mother survive, to resist her new "father" and to keep the secrets of the housekeeper. (If you listen to the DVD commentary, del Toro explains how he connects and distinguishes the two with the use of color, shapes and parallel activities).

Your dream life also has a parallel and intertwining effect with your waking life. Dreams have the great benefit that they are far beyond waking control so that the parallels run much deeper. Rather than being artful and artistic ways of making points, dreams are direct enactments of what is really going on for you They are, I think, superior to your conscious assessments of your life.

Del Toro clearly views the republicans as people whose imaginative power is stronger than that of the fascists who vanquish them. It's a fascinating working out of how to make sense of an oppressive system that lasted 40 years and a cause that retreated into the realm of the imagination.

Among the interpretations you could make of this film--and it can encompass many--one would be that "Might is right. but short sighted." Might really does triumph in the waking world; yet, in the long run, the people who hold true to their imagination are the more human and humane.


The point about your dreams is this: the issues that you are dealing with in your dreams are central to your vitality. To ignore your dreams is to lose touch with a core part of your humanity and imagination.

New Dream Group

When you have a waking-life problem that you've attempted to resolve over and over but never achieve satisfaction it's time to take a look at your dreams.

I will be starting a new dream group in which you will work on solving one particular waking-life problem. Although my usual approach is to follow the dreams wherever they lead, in this group you'll be using your dreams to tell you about one specific problem (money, weight-loss, career change, sleep improvement etc). The most difficult problems are typically much easier to resolve when we look at them from a dream perspective. Interested? Send me an email: davidj@dreamreplay.com.

Dream Groups

The Saturday drop-in group ($20) is from 10 am to noon at 2315 Prince Street in Berkeley. The nearest major cross street is Ashby and Telegraph. Please let me know if you are coming.

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David Jenkins
Dream RePlay
email: davidj@dreamoftheweek.com