Another excerpt from my aborted series on Pan’s Labyrinth. I may post all of these (I ended up with ten or so), or I may pick a couple more that contained any particular insight. We’ll see.
Our first sight in the movie is incoherent; we’re panning horizontally across darkness flecked with light. Then, a bloody hand, and our first sight of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), bleeding from the nose and glassy-eyed.
The camera is constantly moving here, first panning, then rotating while closing in on Ofelia’s face, so that it might take you an extra moment to notice that the blood from Ofelia’s nose is traveling in reverse, as if whatever wound she’s received is being undone. It would have been easy, and might have amped up the surrealism of the moment, if the sound of Ofelia’s breathing were also reversed to match the visual. Played like it is, though, there’s an immediate, if subtle, unsteadiness to our sensory information, which heightens as the narration takes over and we zoom into Ofelia’s eye to be told the premise of a fairy tale.
The zoom transition into the eye opens up possibilities for just about anything in the next frame, but notice that the fantasy world we enter is just as dark, cold, and bleak as the dying girl; beautiful, but somber and monochromatic.
The Underground Realm is a place “where there are no lies or pain,” but the princess flees to the human world. Why? It’s what she dreams about; dreams escaping to the reality of their dreams. Generally, the fairy tales told throughout the film seem to match up less to their own internal consistency than to Ofelia’s emotional needs or immediate concerns as she reads them.
Something else to notice: The camera hasn’t stopped moving since we’ve had anything on screen. This isn’t really a virtuoso move, intended as “look at me” camerawork (the cuts aren’t being deliberately masked, and we aren’t being asked to marvel at cinematography); it’s more about emphasizing the seamlessness with which we can move between realities in this film’s universe.