There’s been some talk on the Wide Wide World of Web (courtesy Joy on My Name is Earl) recently about the three Mexican directors and their triumphs with the three movies that have come out in the last few months: Babel, Children of Men, and Pan’s Labyrinth (or, directly translated, The Labyrinth of the Faun). Babel did well at the Golden Globes; Children of Men is the latest from Alfonso Cuaron (of A Little Princess, the 3rd Harry Potter movie, and Y Tu Mama Tambien), and Pan’s Labyrinth is being hailed by almost everyone as one of the best movies in years or even decades.
Last weekend, we saw Children of Men. At the time, I decided I needed to process a bit before I could write about it. It was well-acted, well-written, thought-provoking, all those things the critics like. Plus, it has Monkey’s secret boyfriend in it (Clive Owen). The movie takes place about 20 years from now and, at the time of the film, no children have been born in the world in 18 years. The film basically shows what’s going on in society as a result of people realizing they’re the last people there will ever be, as everyone has given up hope that any children will ever be born again. Apparently, the whole world except England has completely gone to shit, and England is a totalitarian state treating any non-citizen as a terrorist.
I think what I liked best about Children of Men is that despite its abjectly depressing setting, despite how dark and miserable it was, some people still seemed to hold a glimmer of hope for the future and humanity. Also, perhaps less good, it was the only movie I’ve ever seen that made me want to run right out and get knocked up, just to make sure I could. Can you imagine? A world where there aren’t any children, at all, for an entire generation?
Even more depressing, dark, and amazing was Pan’s Labyrinth, which we saw last night. I’ve always been a big fan of fairy tales, and this movie is a fairy tale in the most traditional sense – no Disneyfied happily ever after here. The film does an incredible job of switching back and forth between fantasy and reality, and in the end you’re not quite sure which was which – every adult character seems to be harboring fantasies of his or her own, quite opposite to the realities that they don’t want to see. There were some wonderfully subtle parallels between the story of the girl, her mother, the captain, the conflict between the facist royalists and the socialist fighters and the story of the little girl who finds out she’s the princess of the underworld and must undertake a series of tasks in order to reclaim her throne.
I have to be honest; there were some really graphic scenes involving injuries and incredible violence, and a couple of scenes had me covering my eyes or hiding on Hulk’s shoulder. The makeup and special effects were perfect, though, showing you how gross war and torture really is. The movie also features one of the most perfect villains I’ve ever seen on the big screen – most of the time when he was on camera I was on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, afraid of what he might do next.
Probably my favorite aspect of this film was the discussion of fantasy as the milleu of the child or innocent – several adult characters tell the little girl that they once believed in fairies, but then they grew up – and tell the girl that she’ll discover soon enough how horrible the real world can be. But there is nothing in the film to show that the girl doesn’t understand this already; the fantasy world isn’t an escape so much as a coping mechanism for what amounts to being a really screwed-up childhood. I loved the allusions to different fairy tale archetypes – the three tasks, the solutions having a “twist,” the clever protagonist outwitting the monster. Even the ostensibly “good” creatures are disturbing and kind of freaky – the bad guys are scary as hell. If I had seen this movie at age 5 I probably would have had nighmares about eyes-in-hands guy for years and years. It’s not a children’s movie by any stretch of the imagination, despite the fantasy elements.
Seeing Pan’s Labyrinth has inspired me to do more research into the academic discussion of fairy tales and their role in various societies. (I also want to see it again in the theater, possibly tomorrow. It’s that good.) Children of Men made me want to spawn. I’m almost afraid to find out what crazy things Babel will inspire (seing as how it has Gael Garcia Bernal, it might just inspire some naughty fantasies), but I really want to see it to complete the Mexican director trifecta of late 2006. I recommend Children of Men, but I might have to insist that every one of you who reads my blog run out and see Pan’s Labyrinth if at all possible. Just make sure to take someone along whose shoulder you can hide in for the really gruesome bits.