This week’s screening was one of the first feature length films that I felt twisted with my emotions. There have been few other films where I deeply care about what happens to the characters. Looking back, I did not see all the symbolism in the movie until it was pointed out by my classmates. However, I think it was a large part of why the film captivated me so much. Something about that film felt like there was more to the conflict than was shown. It was as if everything good about humanity and moral correctness laid upon the shoulders of Ofelia and Mercedes. Looking back at my notes after the class discussion helped me see some of the symbolism that I had previously not noticed, and here is my interpretation of some of the aspects of the movie and their meaning:
One of the first things I noticed about the film was the reoccurring image of what I thought was the horns of the faun. They appeared everywhere, from the tree in which the toad was under to the bed headboard of where the mother and Ofelia originally slept. At first I thought this was a comment on the undefined line between reality and fantasy in the film. The fact that these symbols kept showing up served to either give more proof of the faun’s existence, or show how it is easy to imagine such things in this timeline. However, during the discussion there was comments about the feminist themes in the movie. Knowing this, the horns also could represent a uterus, which is another common symbol for feminism. This makes a lot more sense because so much of the film revolves around the female leads and the inequality they experience. After all, the pregnancy of the mother is the great catalyst that brings these characters together. It ends up helping Mercedes in the end, as Vidal constantly underestimates her due to her gender which makes her cutting his face all the more satisfying.
For me, a good film is only as good as the bad guy. I love films such as the “No Country for Old Men” where the villain is so evil and so good at being evil that you know there cannot be a sappy ending with everyone shaking hands and walks away happy. For me, there must be this cold pressed determination mixed with an irrational love for their cause so that the villain is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. Meaning, the viewer always knows what they intend to do, but is constantly surprised by the lengths they go to achieve it. Vidal ranks up there as one of the best bad guys I have ever seen. His lack of human emotion, and blatant disregard for human life make him ideal for the role he plays. This is echoed in the symbolism of machinery and gears that seem to constantly surround him. In the background of Vidal’s room there are large gears and beams, he also is constantly carrying around his pocket watch. I thought of two interpretations of this that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The first is that his character is like a machine: Cold, calculated, designed for a purpose, and will keep marching towards that goal until he is broken (aka killed). This would make sense because his father broke the watch when he died, and gave it to his son as his final gift. The film shows that Vidal has every intention of doing the same for his son when he dies. This means that the life of Vidal is deeply tied to the watch, and it being a reflection of his character is highly possible. The other interpretation is that Vidal is just a cog in a greater machine. There is a quote in the movie, but I forgot who it was from, yet they call Vidal replaceable. Meaning when he dies, someone just as evil will take his place and continue where he left off. This is also likely why he is so insistent on having a baby boy. By him being so replaceable, he never truly dies if there is someone to take his place. His ultimate goal is to be exactly like his father because it is the only thing that will ensure immortality. However, his character is more complex than this as well. He seems to be aware of how evil he is, and hates himself because of the role he is forced to play. Doing a little back tracking, Vidal’s father was also in the military as a high-ranking official, and you often do not get to such rank without connections. This means Vidal probably came from a long lineage of military men, and never had a choice as to what he was going to be when he grew up. It is as if this brave and unyielding military figure is actually the biggest coward of the film because he never had the guts to tell his father or others around him that he did not want to follow in these footsteps. He very clearly hates himself almost as much as anyone else in the film. There is a scene where he is shaving in the morning, and takes the straight razor blade to his reflection and slits his throat. Also, when he is running up the hill during the battle scene with the rebels, he leaves cover and safety to run directly into fire and continue fighting. The captain continually shows suicidal tendencies, and wants the sweet release of death as it will mean he no longer must play a part he never enjoyed. The watch is such a good symbol to represent this because it is both linear and cyclical at the same time. It reminds Vidal that he is steadily and constantly moving towards his death, but the rotation of the hands represent how his role will long outlive him. He will be replaced, and he hopes it will be his son who fills his vacant position.
The end is more satisfying the more you think about it because it ties up both issues I addressed. Vidal tries to give the order on his death bed that his son be given his watch, and told exactly what time he died. However, Mercedes stops him short saying “No, He [Vidal’s son] will never even know your name.” This takes the power away from Vidal and puts it in the hands of Mercedes who is a woman, and someone who has been taking orders from him for her entire life. Secondly, it ends the cycle Vidal was caught in. With any luck, Vidal’s son will grow up to be nothing like his father, and will likely fight to undo everything Vidal worked for. The watch dies with Vidal.
The last thing I noticed about the film was the duality of reality. At the beginning, Ofelia is reading a story about how a princess escaped the dark fantasy world to come to the reality, which was bright and full of color. It is assumed that this is the backstory for the world of fantasy, and is confirmed when the Faun calls her royalty. However, most of the film is very grey and lacks color, and when Ofelia returns to the world of fantasy, it is bright and full of golden hues. This goes against the story, insinuating that world she left behind was the fake one, and it is her life as a princess that is reality.
Overall I really enjoyed this film. As I said before, it is one of few films that have deeply played with my emotions, and it also continued to do so long after I stopped watching. I found myself for days after still contemplating the film and what exactly each part meant. I think it is one of the first films we have screened in class that is something I would normally have watched for fun, but also has so much meaning behind it that I would have missed so much had I not viewed in the setting we did. I still have so many questions. For instance, I do not understand the role of the Faun, as he appeared creepy and deceiving for what seems like no reason. I also do not truly understand the role of the toad, or why the pale man had eyes in his hands. However, I enjoy making conjectures about them.