Pan’s Labyrinth – A Psychological Analysis

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Pan's LabyrinthEd. – The following is a psychological look into the 2006 Academy Award winning film Pan’s Labyrinth. The essay delves into Freudian concepts and their prevalence in the film, the Social Role Theory and the relationship between fantasy and reality.

A little girl’s fantasy takes stage in the mountains of fascist Spain at a military camp fighting against the rebels.

Ofelia, a child with a wild imagination, travels with her weak, pregnant mother to meet her new stepfather, a merciless captain of the Spanish army. Upon her arrival, she discovers a labyrinth, is later led by a fairy to middle of it, and meets a faun that tells her that she is a princess from another world. He promises her that she can go there and be reunited with her father as long as she completes three tasks for him. In her attempts to complete these tasks, Ofelia is forced to deal with the reality of mortality and learn the difference between right and wrong even if that means self-sacrifice.

Concept #1:  The id, the superego, and ego

Freud made a footprint in psychological history when dividing the mind into three sections that exhibit forces upon each other to maintain regularity. Those three elements are the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the part of the mind that aims to please itself through instant gratification, while the ego subdues it (the id is animal instinct and the ego is the being reacting to societal constraints). Most consider the ego, the self.  The superego is the law, rewarding good behavior and punishing poor behavior.

The scene that best displays Freud’s theory of the mind is during Ofelia’s attempt to complete the second task given to her by the faun. Under the faun’s instruction, Ofelia must retrieve a dagger from within a tomb-like chamber without eating food on the table. Ofelia retrieves the dagger without taking a second look at the food, but on the way back the grapes entrance her. At the head of the table is a creature without eyeballs and large folds of skin indicating a very gluttonous person prior to his demise. Upon eating the grapes, the creature is awaken and attempts to eat Ofelia, but she is able to escape.

The creature represents the awakening of the id within Ofelia by succumbing to the impulse to eat the grapes. Ofelia realizes what she has done and the self (ego) stops eating and runs from the id to escape it eating her and ultimately overtaking her judgment. The superego surfaces and is immediately noticed through the expression on her face.

Concept #2: Breaking the Social Role Theory

The Social Role Theory is the idea that men and women behave differently in social settings because of the pressures that society places on the representation of gender.  Although the film exudes the concept of social role theory through a male-dominated camp with women working the kitchen, one scene shatters the differences between men and women.

Discovered as a spy for the rebels, Mercedes is captured by Captain Vidal and taken to a barn to be tortured until she gives him information. He makes a statement to another soldier that he never expected this form Mercedes because she is a woman. Here she says that the only reason she got away with treason was because she is a woman, which demonstrates that Vidal’s eyes were blind to Mercedes actions because of his expectations of women to be weak and dumb.

Even further, she is able to escape the ties that he used on her and is triumphant in wounding Vidal with a knife and at the end of the movie; he falls dead at her feet. The role apparently change in the movie from beginning to end, starting with Mercedes being his servant to her being is Grim Reaper.

Cultural Similarity: Children Use Fantasy to Cope

Pan’s Labyrinth offers incite to the cultural similarities between the United States (U.S.) and Mexico; the most powerful similarity is children using fairy tales to cope with the pressures of an adult world. In the U.S., children are expected to deal with hard feelings such as loneliness and regret and get through experiences like divorce and financial instability just as adults do.

A coping mechanism common in children in many cultures seems to be the use of imagination to develop fantasies that solve and deal with events that are all too big for them. For example, Ofelia uses a mandrake root to save her mother from a fatal pregnancy (even though it does not not help, it make Ofelia feel as though she is doing something to save her mother). In fact, Ofelia develops an entire story, which drives the plot of the movie – these tasks are created in order to cope with the death of her father, her ailing mother, and villainous stepfather.

Pan’s Labyrinth offers an insight into child development, gender roles and expectations, and the impulses that come from inside our minds. In summary, the movie helps adults see the flaws that everybody has and how to overcome some of society’s largest obstacles.

A creative and health conscious journalist pursuing dual degrees in nutritional biochemistry and literature.


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