Archive for September 1st, 2007

(Update: here’s a link to Daniel’s more enthusiastic review. "A few weeks ago" turned out to be May.)

After Daniel’s recommendation of this movie a few weeks ago, as well as those of a couple of other people, I put it on my Netflix queue. My reaction was, in a nutshell, mixed. The movie does indeed have a beautiful, moving, and very Catholic-compatible resolution (I hate to say “message,” as it’s not that heavy-handed). But I don’t know that I would have stayed with it till the end if I hadn’t had some idea of what was coming. NOTE: SEMI-SPOILERS in the following discussion—I’m not giving away key specifics, but I may say more than you want to know in advance if you haven’t seen it.

Everyone has his threshold of toleration for cinematic violence and horror. Mine is pretty low, and my wife’s is even lower. I thought we might be in trouble when I read the fine print on the “Rated R” notice at the beginning:  “For graphic violence and some language.” When we got to the face-smashing scene about ten or fifteen minutes in, my wife said “I don’t think I want to watch any more of this.”

So we bailed and watched something else, and I watched the rest of Labyrinth in snippets over the following couple of days—in snippets partly because it was hard to find an entire hour & half free, and partly because I didn’t especially want to stay in the film’s world for very long at a time. There are several very gory scenes, and the magical realm which Ofelia enters runs the gamut from creepy to disgusting to nightmarish—a justifiable artistic choice, but very unpleasant to experience. I was, however, glad I persevered, because the end really is beautiful, and while not intentionally Christian certainly expresses a key Christian truth.

Aside from the violence, I had a more fundamental complaint. In my opinion the two interlocking stories, one set in the real world and other in a magical world, don’t work well together. The reason is that the real world story can’t decide how real it is, in that it simultaneously wants to be an accurate picture of Spain 1944 and a simplistic picture of good-vs.-evil, as nuanced as orcs vs. elves. If you want to tell a convincing real-world story about the complex tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, it doesn’t work to make one side the Most Evilest People in the World and the other noble and saintly. Either the setting of the real-world story should have been somewhat less real and more mythic, not pinned to a specific conflict that is still very relevant, or the enemies should have been portrayed in a more humanized and balanced way.

I watched a third or so of the film, skipping around, with the director’s commentary turned on, and it seems that he really did intend to be saying something about fascism and the Civil War, although I didn’t get any clear sense of what, beyond “fascism is evil.” Americans can brush this off, but it makes me wonder what’s going on in Spain—does this level of hatred still exist between the two sides? And if it does, is it a good idea to fan it with this kind of demonization?

By the way: the objection on the part of some Catholics to the film’s slight to the Church is overstated. It’s just a brief scene, although the priest’s one remark is not only vicious but un-Catholic: El Capitan talks about killing the peasants like the vermin that they are, or words to that effect, and the priest says something like “That’s fine with the Church—we only care about their souls; it doesn’t matter what happens to their bodies.”

So: worth seeing, if you don’t mind the violence etc.

Maclin Horton


Read Full Post »