Albert Einstein once said “if you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. ” Fairy tales can help children build their coping mechanisms. In the story, “Fairy Tales and the Existential Predicament” written by Bruno Bettelheim, states that fairy tales can help children cope with their internal and external problems. However, this theory inspired Guillermo del Toro to make the film, Pan’s Labyrinth to illustrate the social and interpersonal problems in the mind of the youth.
Pan’s Labyrinth is based on Bettelheim’s assertions of the psychological value that fairy tales provide children as they learn to cope with their “existential predicaments” in life. First, Bettelheim states that the polarization of good and evil are opposites that will never be drawn together. Bettelheim argues, “in practically every fairy tale good and evil are given body in the form of some figures and their actions, as good and evil are omnipresent in life and the properties for both are present in every man. It is this duality which poses the moral problem, and requires the struggle to solve it” (205).
In the film, the polarization of good and evil can be seen when Ophelia meets Captain Vidal and she stick out her her left hand and he grabs it and squeezes while saying “it’s the other hand Ophelia” (Pan’s). The line between good and evil is a very thin line. For example, the Faun illustrates how thin a line is between the forces of the good and the bad. The Faun portrays himself to be seen as a “good” guy but he has a moment in the film where someone can see that he can be intimidating and evil. Though Bettelheim believes “A person is either good or bad, nothing in between” (205).
However, in the film it shows a drawn line to help identify the good and the evil characters. Captain Vidal and his men would be considered evil by Bettelheim based on their actions and what they stand for. Captain Vidal portrays himself on the dark side due to his abusive power and his willingness to conquer the title of “almighty”. On the light side, Ophelia, Mercedes, the Doctor, and the resistance fighting against Captain Vidal’s Army would be considered the good characters because they stand for what they believe in and fighting for what needs to be done.
The evil and good in Pan’s Labyrinth can e easily detected threw out the film. By understanding the difference between good and evil, it leads to a sense of confidence and willingness to take a stand. Secondly, one must learn how to walk the walk and not be afraid of repercussions. Bettelheim believes that “The fairy tale… takes these existential anxieties and dilemmas very seriously and addresses itself directly to them: the need to be loved and the fear that one is thought worthless; the love of life and the fear of death” (206).
In the film, Ophelia gains assurance when the Faun helps her mother. Look, this is a mandrake root. A lant that dreamt of being human. Put it under your mother’s bed in a bowl of fresh milk. Each morning give it two drops of blood” (Pan’s). This develops Ophelia to gain a sense of assurance that her mother is going to be okay as long and the root stays under her bed. She also gains confidence of the life she is fighting for when she has to get away from the baby eater and it almost gets her. This illustrates what she is fighting for in her life is real. But most importantly Ophelia is gaining assurance in herself, because the most difficult phase in life is when one doesn’t understand themselves.
The fairy tale she loved so much became her life, it helped her cope with the problems that were going on in her life. Gaining assurance is a big thing in this film because fairy tales help children become more confident in their life and their dreams. Thirdly, being independent can come a long way in regards to turning words into action. “Originally ignorant of the ultimate things, find secure places in the world by following their right way with deep inner confidence” (Bettelheim 207). Once Ophelia gained assurance in herself she felt that she didn’t need anyone to look after her she could be independent.
Ofelia runs outside, holding her brother. She looks up. The moon is full. She runs toward the labyrinth. ” (Pan’s). When she ran away with her baby brother showed that she has no problem with being independent. But when the Faun told her to hand over her brother so he could use his blood to send her where she belonged she told him no. She chose not to disobey her own conscience. She chose to sacrifice herself for her brother. The sacrifice is a show of independence that Ophelia believes she can stand on her own. In addition to Ophelia being independent, she was brave, resilient, and strong.
She was more f an adult then most children her age. Ophelia showed independence when she went out on her own to complete her quests, when she didn’t ask for help when she took her brother away from Captain Vidal and ran away to keep him and herself safe. Her bravery was shown when she accepted and completed all of the quests she was give. She showed resilience when she stood up for what she believed in with out a second thought, when she chose not to disobey her own conscience. And lastly, she showed that she was strong when stood against the Faun and Captain Vidal.
She stood against the Faun when he asked er to hand over her brother so he can use his blood so she could go to the underworld where she belonged. Another time Ophelia showed she was strong is when Captain Vidal finally caught up to her she didn’t back down or run, she stood her ground. Ophelia became this way with the help of the fairy tales she read and lived. “The fate of these heroes convinces the child that, like them, he may feel outcast and abandoned in the world, groping in the dark, but, like them, in the course of his life he will be guided step by step, and given help when it is needed” (Bettelheim 207).
Ophelia is a hero, she risked a lot for the step by step quest she needed to complete and her life. Lastly, a person chooses how their “happy endings” are developed by taking the right path in life. Bettelheim states, “Only by going out into the world can the fairytale hero (child) find himself there; and he he does, he will also find the other with whom he will be able to live happily ever after” (207). “And it is said that the Princess went back to her father’s kingdom. And that she reigned with justice and a kind heart for many centuries. And that she was loved by all her subjects” (Pan’s).
The fairytales helped her cope with having to move in with an evil man that was suppose to be her new “father”, with her mother dying, and ultimately becoming an orphan. When Ophelia sacrificed herself for her brother she passed the final test to reunite with her parents in the underworld, she became brave, independent, resilient, and strong all of the qualities of a princess. When Ophelia got reunited with her parent in the underworld there was a message hidden in its content that its never to late, especially for family, one never stops being connected to family, right up until the end and sometimes even fter the end.
Ophelia got her perfect “happily ever after” when she died, she got parents who loved her, a kingdom who worshipped her, and a life that was not based in fear or loneliness. In conclusion, Pan’s Labyrinth is based on Bettelheim’s assertions of the psychological value that fairytales provide children as they learn to cope with their “existential predicaments” in life. Guillermo del Toro proves that someone can have a “happily ever after” no matter how it is translated. Guillermo del Toro gave Ophelia her “happily ever after” just not in the traditional way they are usually told.
She got the closure she was looking for in the fairytales. Ophelia was not afraid to walk the walk and not be afraid of repercussions. The fairytale she loved so much became her life, it helped her cope with the problems that were going on in her life. Ophelia attains her Bettelheim “happily ever after” because even though she died, she got what she always wanted to reunite with her “real parents” in her kingdom in the underworld, because it is never to late to be with family before death and even after death, the connection is to strong to be broken in such a way.