Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mythological reflections on Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth is a film that provokes strong reactions.
This is because the film taps into the mythos:  it mines a rich vein of symbolic meaning.

The reactions that the film provokes most viscerally are grief and horror, and yet these are more than counterbalanced by something else....some subtle feeling of meaning, of hope, that enables us to reconcile the murder of the innocent with a belief in a fair universe, a moral order. In other words we find that we don't have to deny our religion or, more accurately, our religious feeling,  even though the world is a cruel and stupid place.

How does it manage this? How does it swim upstream against the prevailing current of modern history, which is the current of nihilism, of meaninglessness? How?- by consciously plunging back into the mythos that we have become unconscious of as a society. The film's potent symbolic imagery triggers a response, a resonance within the deepest levels of the psyche. Del Toro ensures that this resonance has the best possible chance of being heard by switching off the viewer's extraneous mental noise. This is achieved through shock: we are literally shocked into attention,  undivided attention:  the phenomenal 'now'.

This awareness is pre-intellectual awareness; it is the awareness of the cave-man, the hunter; it is the awareness that created the first stories, the first myths; it is the awareness with which myth and all meaning is apprehended.

Now the ancient language of the soul can be heard clearly; the language that is as old as time; older. The language of the land, of the sea and sky and stars. The first principles from which all variety evolves in divine concordance. It is the very fabric of reality itself! It is the unmanifest! - the progenitor, the architect, the dream, the idea. It is the red and gold faery-tale world of pan's labyrinth that bursts creatively, intelligently into the grey, blue world of mundane reality, through the red and gold womb of woman. The woman is in both worlds, she holds the faery-world inside her and gives it birth into the universe, which is to say she gives birth literally to the universe, for the universe only exists as a relationship between a soul and itself.  The soul forgets itself as it is borne 'through the light' into the world and its journey from thence is simply a journey home. The roadmap back is a magical one, revealed bit by bit, step by step. It is a story that is conceived, written and revealed simultaneously.

In this story there is a hero and this hero is everybody.

Each of us lives a unique life, but the theme is always the same. Each individual life is a variation on a theme - one theme: ie the universe.

What is the theme? The theme is choice. To choose to act from the creative centre, rather than to react from habit or fear.

Choice presupposes value differentials: preferences. Preference is felt in the heart. To live actively, rather than reactively, is to be guided by one's heart. To choose such is to choose wisely, and bravely.

For as Ofelia discovers to act in accord with one's self can mean one pays the ultimate price in the mundane world: physical death. BUT physical death is guaranteed anyway! We can only, if we are fortunate, choose to die honourably or dishonourably. This is why the film is not simply tragic; this is why the film triumphs over tragedy absolutely: life only makes sense with death. Death is not the ultimate evil, terror or a proof of life's pointlessness, on the contrary: Death gives life its meaning! Death reminds us to act, to choose, because we haven't got long! Death relativises all morals and rules and laws. The knowledge of our certain death allows us to overcome the chains that bind us.

Pan's Labytrinth is a faery tale and like all faery tales it reestablishes the magical order of creation. It is the faery world which is far more powerful than the 'real world' because the faery world is is the very source of the 'real' world we accept as objective, out of habit and intellectual laziness. This is why Del Toro makes the faery world more detailed and vivid, and this is why the faery tale is always a story of magic - because those who understand the meaning of the story understand the meaning of magic: to be able to consciously influence reality. In other words the faery story reminds us that everything depends on us and us alone: We are more powerful than we have yet dared to imagine.

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