I saw Pan's Labyrinth on Monday night, and I'm still feeling inspired by the story, nausated by some of the action, and generally down on the state of humanity.
The movie tells two interwoven stories: that of a battle between Spanish fascists and a guerilla band, and that of a girl caught up in a fairy tale. The girl's mother is married to the fascist Captain, extremely pregnant with his son and heir.
The fascist Captain is clearly the villain of the story, combining a distinct lack of interest in his wife as anything other than the bearer of his son with a professional interest in torture. His politics are cheerless, his interrogation style brutal, his depth of perception limited. His direct opponent, the resistance fighting in the hills and in his base, is a bit smarter, suffers more, and likely has a better cause - but is quite capable of inflicting death and pain itself.
Ofelia escapes this bleak world to a fairy tale with its own darkness, one in which she's the heroine but not always perfect. Her ally is a faun (hence the title) who isn't necessarily to be trusted either, and the rules of this world seem as rigid as the Captain's fascism.
On its multiple levels of possible interpretation, the New York Times asks:
"Pan's Labyrinth" is a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale. Or maybe it's the other way around. Does the moral structure of the children's story illuminate the nature of authoritarian rule? Or does the movie reveal fascism as a terrible fairy tale brought to life? The brilliance of "Pan's Labyrinth" is that its current of imaginative energy runs both ways.
I see the story illuminating many things, not least of which are the dark side of humans seeking power, of the panic that sets in when we are powerless, and the peace that comes only after self-sacrifice. (There's a lot of sacrifice.)
I started this post with a fairly clear vision of parallels between Ofelia's experience and Quakerism, but I'm finding them hard to articulate, so maybe the right answer is just to suggest that despite the violence, this is a movie that (adult) Quakers would do well to see. It's a story I'm sure none of us want to live, but it's important viewing on multiple levels.