DREAMS AND FANTASY
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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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