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The Ending of Pan’s Labyrinth

March 21, 2007

SPOILER ALERT******SPOILER ALERT******SPOILER ALERT

Now that’s out of the way…

I was going to write a full review of Pan’s Labyrinth, but time constraints and laziness got in the way. Besides, what more is there to say? I agree with the other critics. It’s a masterpiece. So I thought I’d focus on the ending, which popular critics are barred from discussing.

Incredibly, the ending is somehow both tragic and happy. Ofelia dies, but in death she finds peace, fantasizing that she is reunited with her mother in a beautiful kingdom (or actually being reunited with her mother for eternity, if your inclination is more spiritual). Even though her life is too short, she fulfills one of our fondest hopes: that we die happy.

Interestingly, only at the end of the movie is it certain that the fantasy world is truly make-believe. Because the film starts with shots of the mythical kingdom, we’re predisposed to believe that Pan’s world is real, a magical reality beyond the reality we know–Narnia rather than Oz. The second shot in the film is of Ofelia reading a book about the fantasy world. On paper, this would suggest the preceding images of the kingdom are just a figment of Ofelia’s imagination, but the entrancing visual evidence is so strong we’re not so sure. Numerous fantasy films before have the used the strategy of suggesting that that the fantasy world is not real, only to end in a way that proves that it is real. We’re not about to fall into the trap of not believing again.

But given that the fantasy world is just a product of Ofelia’s imagination, what’s the point? Well, if one imagines the film’s story with Ofelia talking to walls instead of Faun, and nosing around a rotten tree rather than chasing a giant toad, then a dark narrative becomes a horribly depressing one. The tale is reduced to a child going to live with her cruel stepfather, her mother dying in childbirth and the stepfather shooting her. The end.

But Ofelia’s fantasies, imaginary as they may be, give meaning and purpose to her life. The fantasy is not merely an escape, it also motivates an act of heroism (when she takes the baby from Captain Vidal). The fantasy gives her the strength to bear an awful situation. It offers hope when her mother is dying, and gives her resolve in the face of danger. In its way, her attachment to the fantasy world echoes the motivating power of the great illusions that guide our lives: the ideal of a soulmate, belief in God, the promise of permanent happiness. Her plea to an imaginary creature not to kill the baby is no different than a mother’s prayer to God to save her sick child. It’s not the success of the prayer that’s important, but what it means for the supplicant.

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44 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2007 2:38 pm

    I would tend to disagree with your assessment that the fantasy world is only make believe. In fact, the director himself has stated that he believes the Underworld to be real. He points out the tree that blooms only at the end as proof of this.

  2. bro permalink
    March 21, 2007 7:53 pm

    If you wish to read into the ending further, it could be said that the girl’s adventures are a metaphor for the entire spanish civil war. She’s essentially fighting against the state in the form of her stepfather, and winds up sacrificing herself for the good of the future generations

  3. March 22, 2007 2:38 am

    I agree with bro, but I’m not so sure about the idea that the underworld is supposed to be real. Doesn’t the final scene, where we see the Captain watching her talk to thin air–while Ofelia thinks she’s talking to the Faun–proof that the underworld is not real? If it were, you would think it would offer some protection against the Captain. Even if it is real, what does it matter? Its impact on the real world is only psychological or metaphysical, not physical–which makes it no different from religious fantasies.

  4. April 5, 2007 1:13 pm

    I’m not sure why, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. I’ll try to figure out why when I see it on DVD. However, I do agree that, overall, the film is a masterpiece.

  5. Nick permalink
    June 8, 2007 4:15 pm

    When i first saw this movie, i watched the end and said to myself “Oh i see.. The fantasy world was in her head the whole time.” That simple quote started a heated debate with my sister and I that lasted a while.

    Personaly, i think its obvious its not real. Theres proof everywhere.
    When the colonal steps into the middle of the labyrinth and sees her standing alone. Or when shes “princess” and her mothers the queen. That being said, there was one single peace of evidence to support the realness of it. What the hell was up with the Mandrake? It was alive, for sure. And when it died the mother died.
    All in all, the fantasy world was make believe, which is the true beauty of this story.
    And even id the director believes in the underworld, it certainly gives no ties to this movie.

  6. Danny permalink
    June 22, 2007 1:36 pm

    I just saw this movie for the first time last night, and the ending is killing me, that’s what brought me here.

    Anyway, I tend to feel that the whole thing was made up (and it’s depressing to think that!), but there are two things that bother me about this. First is the very end, with the flower blooming on the tree. With that, it seems like the director is confirming that the fantasy world is real. And second, how did the girl get out of the room to take the baby? There were people guarding the room, and instructed to kill her if she tried anything. The only reasonable explanation as to how she got out is with the chalk the Faun gave her.

    • Jaz permalink
      January 13, 2013 4:46 am

      Excellwnt point. Which i turn would mean the Fantasy World was Real!

  7. Bluez permalink
    July 1, 2007 4:28 am

    i just saw it a couple of minutes ago and it was awesome. the ending just showed that it was the only way for her to escape her real-life. maybe the flower blossomed because the tree was alive and wasn’t dead at all to begin with and it was all in her mind. but then you could also say that the stepfather saw her talking to nobody because he was completely delusional from the medicine the daughter put in the vodka and had no idea what was going on. either way, a great movie.

  8. MIKE permalink
    September 21, 2007 1:00 am

    Does it matter if the fantasy is real or not? The girl dies happy and I the baby does not have to grow up with a sadistic… well you-know. Whether the fantasy is true or not, the ending is as it should be. Simple as that.

  9. John permalink
    October 17, 2007 6:55 am

    The whole point of the ending is that you can’t tell! You don’t know whether it was all in her imagination or not, and there are many strong arguments for either side, most of which have already been mentioned. There is no way to tell whether the stepfather couldn’t see the fawn because it didn’t exist or because he wasn’t a child. Or maybe it was because he wasn’t an immortal. That is why the ending is so beautiful.

  10. October 19, 2007 3:56 pm

    Endings that are uncertain suck. Fortunately, we can logically figure out the truth in this case.

    There was plenty of evidence that the fantasy elements were true. Ophelia was reading the book which told her of blood just before her mother’s crisis. Ophelia’s mother did get better when the mandragora was under her bed. These are either mistakes or proof that the fantasy was real.

    Assuming that everything was real up to Ophelia’s death, the question becomes, did she make it to the underworld or simply die? Considering the fairy who’d been eaten before was present, I say she was dying and saw what she wanted in her mind just before she died. Not only that, but what’s with that goody-goody “you chose not to spill the blood of the innocent” crap? I’ve let people give my kids shots and take their blood because I know it’s what’s best for them. She couldn’t spill a single drop of his blood to save them both? That’s a little over the top, even for underworld rulers. The whole premise of that test is bogus.

  11. October 29, 2007 11:14 pm

    What was “real” was only in the eye of Ofelia. Keep that in mind. The exertion the mother had killed her, not the root in the fire. Pay close attention to how the scene was edited.

    It was all a fantasy to her, and despite my research, I strongly believe the mother was the Queen at the end, only under major makeup.

  12. Red Fang permalink
    December 15, 2007 7:09 am

    you guys didnt read the first post? Take a look to the directors interview http://www.aintitcool.com/?q=node/31084

    SPOILERS
    Basically the pan was the frog and the pale man, so the tasks were all set up just to test Ofelia. The end is the real one.

  13. June 30, 2009 12:53 pm

    I think there’s way too much supernatural stuff going on for the fantasy world not to be real. How else do you explain her mother’s improving health and then sudden death if it wasn’t the mandrake? How did she get into the Captain’s presumably guarded room to take the baby if she didn’t have the chalk that could make portals?

  14. Dao permalink
    August 2, 2009 11:05 am

    I agree with john. The whole point was that the audience is not supposed to be spoonfed the story. I hate films that end with everything neatly tied up so the audience can leave happy in the knowledge that they dont have to think for themselves. My favourite part in the movie IS the ending because 1, considering the political implications in the film, civil wars end, fulfilling everybody’s dreams, but nobody knows for sure that the happiness is true and long lasting. 2, it shows that ophelia died happily knowing that she did the right thing, whether or not the events leading up to it were real is unimportant.

  15. Doudou permalink
    August 8, 2009 8:06 pm

    Ok, the REAL ending… It was all a dream. The next day, Ofelia wakes up realizing that she had her first period.

  16. Saker permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:29 am

    Why do people keep saying that Vidal’s inability to see the faun proves its all make believe? Everybody knows that grownups can’t see fairies. :D

    There was too much magic/fantasy stuff affecting the RL storyline. 1. Mandrake root 2. Ophelia’s escape 3. Flower at the end 4. The labyrinth opening for Ophelia so Vidal can’t catch up

  17. Dr kashif permalink
    December 21, 2010 9:13 pm

    The sole purpose of this movie is to make people believe that fantasy world exists,in the ending narrator says that ” she left behind small traces of her time on earth visible to only those who know where to look”

    so that ending sentence explains that her traces will be visible to those who believe that fantasy world exists.
    In ending she was smiling while dying which explains that she was very happy that she has completed all the tasks and she was enjoying her presence there.

  18. xinunus permalink
    March 18, 2011 4:59 am

    That is true!! Ofelia was cornered and the labyrinth opened up for her to escape at the end. How do you explain that?

    I also believe that the father, or anyone that was human, couldn’t see the Faun because they were human. Remember what the Faun told Ofelia about time running out and that she was going to be human forever if she didnt complete the tasks. She wasnt 100% human yet, she was apparently still a fairy and that is why she could see the Faun and no one else could.

    They could make a sequel with the baby boy you know. Just saying ;-)

  19. EEF permalink
    April 5, 2011 4:05 pm

    After ewatching an interview with the director, Ive realised I have been looking at the film in the wrong way. Of course there are many arguments as to whether the world of Ofelia exists or not but really it doesnt matter if the world is actually real in a provable tangible sense because it is real for Ofelia herself. If you think back to your childhood and some of the explanations you provide yourself with, not because your stupid or foolish, but just because that is the logical conclusion your brain comes to. For example I used to think little men sat in my stomach to change the food i ate into liquid. Yeah its weird but no one forced that view upon me, it was just my childlike brain that thought of a logical conclusion as to why my food changed in appearance as it went through my body. So although we may know medically that Carmen dies of blood loss or childbirth, Ofelias only reasonable eexplanation is that it was the mandrake that did it. The fact is, the fantasy world may not be real but it does exist because it is Ofelias interpretation and explanation of the events that are taking place around her.

  20. Olly permalink
    September 26, 2011 7:06 pm

    The mandrake was given to her by Pan an apparently imignary figure. Assuming that if Pan is imiginary then anything he gives Ofelia is imiganary. But both the Captain and her mum saw and held the mandrake.

    • Dez permalink
      January 24, 2014 4:36 pm

      GOOD one! Never thought of that! The mandrake definitely provides a connection between the RL story and fantasy

  21. Erin permalink
    October 9, 2011 8:00 am

    All I keep wondering though is why the chalk door disappears the first time when she faces the monster but the second time she uses it to escape the guards come in and the door chalk door is still there. If the chalk worked the chalk door should disappear right?

  22. KKjdls permalink
    November 20, 2011 8:54 am

    well, I think the fantasy might be real. how else could the girl have gotten herself into the office where the baby was? And the blood sort of seeps back inside the girl’s body. Well,,, I think her mortal body may have died, but her soul retreated back to the underworld.

  23. December 3, 2011 11:11 am

    I think you’re capable of review a fantasy movie without making statements which suggest that anyone who believes in God or anything outside of nature (in real life) is holding on to an “illusion”. Humble yourself, because the confidence you have in your claims are founded on pride and not fact. If all the knowledge that exists in the entire universe and beyond were represented as one whole (that is 1 or 100%), how much knowledge do you think humanity has? Let’s be generous and say 5%. To make the statement that belief in God is absolutely a delusion and that nowhere in the 95% of the knowledge we do not have, could God possible exist, is indeed the most grand delusion of them all. Again humble yourself, and stick to reviewing movies, not universal and eternal matters.

    • December 25, 2011 11:16 pm

      You religious people need to stop being so sensitive to comments about “god”. You believe in “god”. That’s great. Other people don’t believe in god. That’s fine too. Just because you believe in “god” doesn’t mean that other people have to. Just because you believe in “god” doesn’t mean that it’s true. The writer wasn’t trying to force his/her beliefs on you but to spark a discussion about the ending of Pan’s Labyrinth. If you don’t like that, then get out; don’t leave a comment.

    • Sarah permalink
      November 1, 2012 6:01 am

      I think you missed the point here.

      • Dez permalink
        January 24, 2014 4:38 pm

        by “illusion”, I feel the author may have meant that religion (“God”) is one of many social institutions which are used in society to provide comfort/meaning without having any solid basis for its prevalence.

  24. Maverik permalink
    January 17, 2012 3:44 am

    pan wasn’t real, all the “magic” that occurred in the movie was just Ofelia’s imagination. The moral of the story is that faith can help you through tough times… If you disagree with me, then you are wrong. nuff nuff

  25. January 21, 2012 2:30 pm

    I read this review while watching the movie as I got a bit frustrated with it, I disagree with one thing tho , it’s the chalk and doors where the girl walks though that’s real no way could she get from the office to the other room, It feels more like she is not of the real world as we see it and her death is a release becaouse she knows she’s going home … That’s my view I too was going to do a review but laziness got me haha great article tho ! Thanks

  26. wendy moyra angela darling permalink
    January 21, 2012 11:31 pm

    I think the underworld is inner earth the “Garden of eden” Like the story of persophone and the evil one, who steals her from her home while walking in the fields and brings her to hell .which is here on the earth surface .You can see that by the evil behavior the humans.Humans are capable of.schocking evil…. Upper earth is the place she has been reincarnating untill she can remember how to see.She is using a different part of her brain because she is an immortal .Her blood helped her transport back home to inner earth. Back to her etherial body. like the Atlantians who used to live here on the surface. Because the evil one runs upper earth ,He makes everything upsidedown here in hell…. This is a testing ground for people to find their way out of the flesh prison we live in..

  27. February 12, 2012 8:09 am

    I want to thanks for posting this article while not the standard bias that’s thus prevalent in these days’s writings. This content is straightforward information.

  28. Randy permalink
    June 21, 2012 6:13 am

    The first time I saw the movie I thought the fantasy parts were in her mind, but that has changed. If you remember the Faun gave her the mandrake root to cure her mother, and it worked, until the Captain found it and her mother destroyed it. So where did it come from, why was it working and how did the Captain and Orfelias mother see it and hold it if it didn’t exist? Second, near the end of the movie, when locked in her room, she used the magic chalk to get out. Once again showing it was real. Lastly, I read an interview with the director and he said the fantasy parts are real, not imaginary. So my original impression and this well written article were both incorrect.

  29. September 28, 2012 4:23 am

    Personally I watched that scene,there is an essay that I read that it was a metaphor of womanhood,when Ofelia become princess Monna her cloak is red which one signify her womanhood-which is the mensuration. Even the way it was dripped,shows the death of the child.

  30. Christian Darius permalink
    November 8, 2012 6:54 pm

    I believe that the entire fantasy world is created in Ophelia’s mind because her life is empty and sad.She wants to believe because there is nothing else,even when she is seconds from death.She even tries to take part of the blame for her mother’s death.I don’t find this movie in particular to be a masterpiece,but it’s a good movie,especially if you are weak minded and believe in fairy tales.This movie is actualy pretty grim if you see it from a intelligent point of view.Family in which father dies,mother gets married to a insanely violent man,has a child with him,dies at childbirth and stepfather shoots her late wife’s girl for no good reason.Still a good movie compared to what they pass off now for movies.

    • Oliver permalink
      November 10, 2012 6:14 am

      You’re missing the point of the entire movie (and movies in general). You are supposed to view it from an unbiased standpoint and let the movie bias you. You are not supposed to come in expecting reality from a fantasy movie because of real-world intelligence. The fact of the matter is that the ending is left vague so you don’t know if the movie’s storyline is depressing of exciting. You don’t know if what happened actually happened. That’s what makes this movie a masterpiece. It is incredibly open-ended. It should be no different for the weak-minded or intelligent, as it is up for interpretation.

  31. November 17, 2012 4:27 am

    It seems to me that many people are forgetting the “fantasy world” that Ophelia (Moanna) is Princess of: The Underworld, which alludes to the afterlife, or the land of the non-living. So to return to her “home” she MUST die. That is how she passed the final test, by spilling her own blood and dying. It is evident that she is leaving the mortal world and entering the “spiritual” Underworld, in the final scenes when she is shown to rise up from where she is mortally wounded, despite the mortals still seeing her lifeless body at the ruins.

  32. November 17, 2012 4:37 am

    In my opinion, the explanation for why Vidal did not see the Faun, and only Ophelia could interact with these creatures/beings is that the film is referencing the fact that as we age, typically we lose a belief in things like fairies, and supernatural beings etc, As we grow older, we begin to only see the world for what it is, rather than what our imagination will allow us to see and believe. This is made clear, to me, in the movie where Mercedes tells Ophelia that she at one time did believe in fairies, but no longer held that belief, and that she was told to be wary of fauns. So Vidal cannot see what he does not believe in.

  33. jamalam permalink
    December 27, 2012 12:31 pm

    Del Toro has stated in interviews that the supernatural elements of the film are in fact real.
    There were a number of events which are tricky to explain otherwise:
    1. Vidal holding the Madrake/Mother’s recovery.
    2. Ofelia escaping her guard via a chalk drawn doorway.
    3. Ofelia’s escaping Vidal in the maze via a chalk door.
    The film frequently references the theme of belief vs. disbelief. Adults repeatedly tell Ofelia to stop filling her head with nonsensical fairy tales. Assuming the magic was real, Vidal not seeing the Faun is no great surprise; it’s magic! A common attribute of fairy tale creatures is being invisible to unbelievers or adults.
    Ofelia’s body does die at the end… But her mortal body only. It’s stated in the beginning that Ofelia was actually a reincarnation of the original Princesa, so it’s her immortal fairy spirit that is granted access to the Underworld Kingdom. Ofelia perishes but the Princess lives on.
    However, another theme of the film is choice. Vidal is chastised by the Doctor for being a man who unquestionably obeys his superiors. Ofelia also has to grapple with the problem of whether or not to unquestioningly obey the instructions of the Faun. She is ultimately rewarded, at least in her own mind, for thinking for herself and doing what she believed was right. Given this theme, maybe we have some freedom to disregard the statements of Del Toro and conclude, based on our own critical analysis of the film, that the magic was all in Ofelia’s mind. Perhaps.

    There are very strong arguments either way, the fact that we can have such a debate is a credit to the film. Personally what i like to think is that Del Toro is telling us the truth, that magic is real in Ofelia’s world and that her bravery was rewarded after death. What i know is that Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterful demonstration of film making.

  34. Yeti permalink
    January 12, 2013 8:41 pm

    The supernatural things in this movie are real to Ofelia. But they are not real to the other people.
    Suppose this movie really happened in Spain, and you would search for the tree with growing flowers again, and you would find a labyrinth nearly the same to the one from the movie. You would always find proof, this is part of the confirmation bias which all people have. This is what the movie says in the end, if you look closely, you will find ‘proof’.

    But we, as non-religious sceptical adults, obviously do not believe in underworlds and afterlives. So, she was talking to thin air. Only for believers amongst us will claim they have proof, I mean, how else did the mother get better?

    The brilliant thing of this movie is, that it resembles real life. In real life, believers ask the non-believers questions like that, how else did the world start to exist? (uuhm, maybe it’s a big bang, or a big bounce.. and theories are constructed) which is answered by the non-believers. Although I believe that non-believers are still right, look at how far it has brought technology and understanding of our universe. (I must note here, that without believers maybe the non-believers never thought it was worth it to find it out) speculation and fantasy is always required to make the next step into discovering the unknown.

    It seems as if humans are destined to discovering the unknown, forever.

  35. ijit permalink
    February 6, 2013 9:14 pm

    I think the fantasy world was real she just messed up the last teSt. But she thought she passes do the ending was in her head. Or something like that

  36. June 18, 2013 10:03 pm

    if you pay attention at the beginning, she puts the eye back into the statue, which allows her to see into the magic realm

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