Pans Labyrinth & Dystopia

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Pans Labyrinth & Dystopia

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  • This article was downloaded by: [UNSW Library]On: 16 July 2014, At: 03:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Socialism and DemocracyPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/csad20

    The Antifascist Aesthetics ofPan's LabyrinthKam Hei TsueiPublished online: 20 Sep 2010.

    To cite this article: Kam Hei Tsuei (2008) The Antifascist Aesthetics of Pan's Labyrinth ,Socialism and Democracy, 22:2, 225-244, DOI: 10.1080/08854300802083422

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08854300802083422

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  • The Antifascist Aesthetics of

    Pans Labyrinth

    Kam Hei Tsuei

    Were the first potential parents who can contain the ancestral house. Wilson Harris, The Whole Armour

    Hollywood projects itself as a liberal and tolerant social institution,even as a liberatory agent in the fight against prejudice and bigotry, acourageous proponent of humanitarianism. It is, of course, a ridiculousconceit and a necessary illusion, one well nourished over the past 30years by the Christian Right in its endless attacks on Hollywoods so-called atheistic secularism and anything-goes cultural relativism. Inthis way the religious Right and liberal Hollywood form a closedcircle. Corollaries of each other, they are also like mirrors in a funhouse,for any person who passes through the apparatus must forget that thewhole experience has been put together by those who own and controlit, in order for the mirrors to produce the desired illusory effects.

    Occasionally a film is distributed by Hollywood that breaks free ofthis closed circle, a film that in fact did not come from Hollywood at all,that is neither a pretentious independent production nor the work ofa veteran auteur like Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, or SidneyLumet. A film with mass appeal in terms of its aesthetics, yet boldlydissonant and disjunctive ideologically. This happened in 2006 whenHollywood released Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Torosmonster movie El laberinto del fauno, marketed to American moviegoersas Pans Labyrinth.

    While the films content, the establishment of fascist rule inFrancos Spain, helps to explain why Hollywood chose to distributeand market the movie to American audiences that is, as a way ofboth appealing to the strong anti-Bush sentiment in the country andshowing at the same time that fascism is something that happens some-where else, that in the US such barbarism is unthinkable its mythicaldimension, which constitutes Pans Labyrinths total form, offers a newpopular cinema aesthetic. My suggestion is that del Toros aesthetic

    Socialism and Democracy, Vol.22, No.2, July 2008, pp.225244

    ISSN 0885-4300 print/ISSN 1745-2635 online

    DOI: 10.1080/08854300802083422 # 2008 The Research Group on Socialism and Democracy

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  • brings to the surface a startling absence in Hollywood film: the lack ofmovies that use ancient or pre-capitalist mythology to animate storiesabout modern capitalist social relations. In general, the Hollywood aes-thetic does the opposite: it superimposes present-day capitalist socialrelations onto all history as if capitalism has no pre-history as if ithas always existed exactly the way it is today.

    Freud argued that this kind of creative artistic activity, in whichancient myths are called on to explain events in the present, belongsto the realm of mass psychology, or the collective psyche as asocial space. The mass, according to Freud, wants to be dominatedand suppressed and to fear its master. The expression of mass psy-chology comes through the collective unconscious the unconsciousfoundation that is the same for everyone.1 For Freud, the two greatsocial institutions through which mass psychology expresses itselfare the army and the church. Here the masses are inspired to extremes,knowing neither doubt nor uncertainty. Here they are encouraged tocompensate themselves for being a helpless target for all the taxes,epidemics, sicknesses, and evils of social institutions.2 Here is wherethe poor, says Freud, act out their libidinal attachments, namelyself-love, parental and infant love, friendship, general love of human-ity, and even dedication to concrete objects as well as to abstractideas.3 Since being loved is the goal, the army and the church spendmuch of their resources trying to satisfy this desire and gear theirentire propaganda apparatus to it. Yet these revered institutionsalmost always fail in making people feel loved. Consequently, thearmy and the church become home to a universal compulsive neuro-sis, where people find ample opportunity to fashion their ownsystem of delusion.

    Freud pointed out the obvious, that in the army and the churchpeople merely echo the real human experience of being loved andthus in this distorted form every sort of perversion imaginable(and unimaginable) can then be carried out. If a culture has not gotbeyond the point where the satisfaction of some participants requiresthe oppression of others, [who may constitute] the majority (and thisis the case with all contemporary cultures), he argued, then, under-standably, the oppressed will develop a deep hostility towards

    1. Sigmund Freud, Mass Psychology and Other Writings, trans. Jim Underwood (London:Penguin Modern Classics, 2004), 22, 26.

    2. The Letters of Sigmund Freud, selected and edited Ernst L. Freud (New York: BasicBooks, 1960), 46f.

    3. Freud, Mass Psychology, 41.

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  • a culture that their labor makes possible but in whose commoditiesthey have too small a share.4 Freud never got to see firsthand thetotal expression in Europe of the universal compulsive neurosis he died in 1939. But he would very likely have agreed that the failureto prevent fascist hegemony in Germany and elsewhere was a failureto see in the commodity logic of capital the seed of authoritariansocial control.

    With the decline in US society of the church and the army as thetwo great social institutions (in the sense of mass appeal) and theirreplacement by Hollywood, Freuds theory of mass psychology orthe collective unconscious is useful for a study of fascism andHollywood cinema. My aim in this essay is to center this type of analy-sis on what we might call del Toros outside aesthetics. His approachto filmmaking comes not only from outside the Hollywood system ofcultural production, but also outside its closed ideologies, in particularthe ideology of US liberalism the notion that the mission of the US isto fight fascism and make the world safe for democracy. As we will see,del Toros fascist monsters are loaded with pre-capitalist mythicalcontent of a kind that enables a full objectification of historicalfascism, that makes the invisible reality or collective unconscious offascism present. And that this is precisely what the Hollywoodaesthetic always avoids.

    The monster mash

    It would be a cliche to say that, because I am a Mexican, I see death in a certainway. But I have seen more than my share of corpses, certainly more than theaverage First World guy. I worked for months next to a morgue that I had togo through to get to work. Ive seen people being shot, Ive had guns put tomy head, Ive seen people burnt alive, stabbed, decapitated . . . becauseMexico is still a very violent place. So I do think that some of that element inmy films comes from a Mexican sensibility.

    Guillermo del Toro

    To judge by the most commercially successful Hollywood films,the desire for apocalypse is the American masses deepest wish fulfill-ment in response to the horrors of life under capitalism, that theirabiding wish is to see capitalism destroyed utterly.5 What might

    4. Freud, Mass Psychology, 11, 117.5. Of the 50 top-grossing movies of all time in the United States, only one isnt about

    either the supernatural/paranormal or an apocalyptic event the 2002 film My BigFat Greek Wedding. This low-budget movie about normal everyday people embroiledin the chaotic, frustrating, and often joyous details of normal everyday American life

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  • replace capitalism is as alien to Hollywood cinema as the movie aliensare to their audiences, yet that is not the point in Freuds terms. Thepoint is that capitalist culture has produced social alienation on ascale so vast and extreme that vastly extreme responses to it are theonly appealing ones. Everything in between, such as political reformor realistic hope for making a better world, is rejected as pure fantasy.

    In this aspect, my analysis of Hollywood cinema is not new ororiginal. The treatment of ideology as a camera obscura or set ofoptical illusions, of an upside-down world in which historical realityis inverted into fantasy and fantasy into historical reality, goesback to the Romantic era (Left and Right alike), and before theRomantics to Vico. Frederic Jameson has referred to this procedureas thinking about culture in terms of a dawning historicity in therealm of taste. Jameson, accordingly, uses the term ideograms todescribe the artifacts of capitalist mass culture. Such thinking aboutculture, he writes, is marked by the will to link together in a singlefigure two incommensurable realities, two independent codes orsystems of signs, two heterogeneous and asymmetrical terms: spiritand matter, the data of individual experience and the vaster forms ofinstitutional society, the language of existence and that of history.6

    As a result, one sees a clash not merely between illusion and reality(between what really happened and how we imagine it happened),but between the language of particular illusions and that languagesconstantly shifting terms and vocabulary in relation to epochal histori-cal change. In the case of film language, and in the monster movie genrespecifically, the clash of asymmetrical terms, between ideology andhistory, is of course expressed visually and thus involves a set ofanalytic procedures different than those used in literature or musiccriticism. Nevertheless, as a system of signs film invites the samekind of the interpretive analysis as other artistic fields, so long as the

    rests at number 50. Next to the other 49, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is like an evolution-ary biologist forced to sit through a Billy Graham sermon at a sold out footballstadium: in front of it is a spectacular religious monolith. Most of these filmsfeature swashbuckling humans with superpowers fighting back rampaging forcesof catastrophic evil (Spider-Man, Batman, Men in Black, The Incredibles, Transformers,Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix), while the rest are about rampa-ging catastrophic evil getting the better of the humans (Jaws, Titanic, Jurassic Park,Independence Day, Twister), or animals who have replaced humans in this eternalbattle between good and evil and turn out to be more successful at it (Shrek,Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc.).

    6. Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 6f.

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  • two conflicting heterogeneous and asymmetrical terms are treated asthe creative force of all artistic activity.

    It might come as a surprise that the monster movie is by farthe most popular genre of Hollywood cinema. It is not at any rate theromantic comedy, the gangster flick, the musical, the western,the detective movie, the psychological thriller, or the road movie. Allthe piles of awards heaped on to such genre films notwithstanding,American moviegoers much prefer monster movies and reward thefilm studios handsomely for producing an enormous excess of them.Yet these monster movies are not monolithic. There are a greatvariety of monsters in fact, compared to the romantic comedy forexample, the monster movie genre is astonishingly eclectic andtotally unpredictable.

    Doubtless this is part of the monster movies mass appeal. Whereasthe romantic comedy is essentially a date movie (strictly a means to anend), the monster movie is pure cinema, pure in the sense of offering tomoviegoers a fully conceived alternate universe, a social space math-ematically constructed in images through which peoples everydayfears and hopes are transfigured into a special visual language imposs-ible to translate or transfer outside those two thrilling hours in adarkened theater. That said, the monster movie is certainly aformula-type genre film. Here it should be stressed that I am thinkingof the monster movie in broader terms than is customary in film studiesand in Hollywood marketing and advertising, where horror movies,fantasy films, disaster movies, alien movies, and sci-fi flicks areusually divided into discrete categories. I find this kind of categoriz-ation of little use, since moviegoers themselves appear to draw no dis-tinctions between them. If the film has a sufficiently kick-ass monster init, whether he, she or it is an alien, a phantom or ghost, a terrifyingsupercomputer, a malignant wizard, a vicious dinosaur, a greatstorm, a freak of nature, a stuffed demonic animal or toy or Satanhimself, the masses will pay to see it. Therefore, when I say monstermovie I mean any movie featuring a massively destructive force com-mitted single-mindedly to annihilating the human race. From thisopen-ended beginning, things fall into a fairly straightforward order.There are fascist monsters and monsters of the apocalypse. Movieswith fascist monsters tend to be films of the apocalypse (or the endof the capitalist world), and movies with monsters of the apocalypsework according to a fascist logic, in terms of their dominant ideograms.In general, the Hollywood aesthetic prefers the latter.

    The Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro made El laberinto delfauno (2006), which has been translated for American moviegoers as

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  • Pans Labyrinth, although there is no such Pan character in the film.There is a faun (a goat-god or horned beast), but in del Toros construc-tion of the mythological figure the Greek Pan archetype is fused withRoman as well as other ancient religious concepts of the great goat-god to produce a new antifascist archetype. It seems likely, however,that the English translations choice of Pan, instead of faun, wasbased not on American moviegoers general knowledge of ancientGreek mythology, which is very doubtful, but rather on Disneysversion of the archetype, Peter Pan.7

    Del Toro was born and raised in Guadalajara, Jalisco state. Whilehis films for Hollywood are remarkably fresh and elegantly singularin visual style, he is nevertheless better known in the US mediafor his close friendship with two other Mexican filmmakers, AlfonsoCuaron Orozco (Great Expectations, Y tu mama tambien, HarryPotter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men) and AlejandroGonzalez Inarritu (Amores perros, 21 Grams, and Babel). The Mexicantriumvirate has indeed taken not only Hollywood but the entirecinema world by storm, collecting dozens of nominations and severalprizes, from Cannes and Venice to the Golden Globe and AcademyAwards. In addition to his intimate association and working relation-ship with Cuaron Orozco and Gonzalez Inarritu, del Toro is famousin world cinema for having rejected a hugely lucrative deal withWarner Brothers to make the third Harry Potter movie in favor ofwork on his lifelong obsession: turning the Hellboy comic, a DarkHorse Comics character created by Mike Mignola in 1993, into amajor motion picture, which he achieved in 2004. Hellboy is alreadyconsidered a cult classic, and del Toros sequel to it, to be released inJuly 2008, has become one of the most anxiously anticipated films inrecent screen history.

    El laberinto del fauno is explicitly about fascism, but is of interest notsimply because of its subject matter but above all because of del Torosiconoclastic approach to the rendering of fascism on screen. In obvious

    7. In Greek mythology Pan is a goat-god and an important nature spirit. His namemeans herdsman, and Pan plays a central part in many ancient Greek legends,such as the battle with the Titans and in the myth of Echo. In both tales Panbecomes closely associated with his famous flute. The Roman version of Pan isFaunus, from which the Indo-European name faun derives. Many ancient religionshave a Pan-like god or horned beast, and in most cases he is an archetype of virility.Of course many Americans associate Pan with Walt Disneys version of the archetype,Peter Pan, a boy who refuses to grow up. Del Toros version of Pan is a hybridic re-creation of the ancient concept of the goat-god, and thus the term faun is muchcloser than Pan to what del Toro intends.

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  • ways, the film came through Hollywood by way of a distinctivelynon-US sensibility, a Mexican sensibility in which the question offascist dictatorship is perceived by the filmmaker both personallyand historically. In del Toros case, following his fathers kidnappingin 1998 he was forced into exile, a condition in which he remainstoday. But what makes del Toros artistic approach to fascism so differ-ent from that of the run-of-the-mill Hollywood production, such asSteven Spielbergs Schindlers List, is his construction of a transcendentfascist-monster archetype. Schindlers List, in contrast, offers fascistsocial types that cannot exist anywhere but in Nazi Germany.Moreover, unlike Schindlers List, where there are antifascist Germancapitalists and fascist German capitalists (a clever ideological inventionon Spielbergs part, since in reality there were no German capitalistswho opposed fascism), in El laberinto del fauno, all the capitalists arebehind fascism, which is shown, as we shall see, in one of the filmsmost compelling scenes.8 First, however, it is necessary to describedel Toros visual style and how he constructs his distinctive fascist-monster archetype.

    From El laberinto del faunos opening scene, we understand our-selves to be entering a magical place that is nevertheless coldly histori-cal. We are in Francos Spain, but we are also deep in the verdantwoods, where shards of brilliant light are knifing through thick anddamp foliage above. We are traveling with a fascist cavalcade, butwe are not with them: we are neither prisoners of fascism nor its unwit-ting accomplices. We occupy, in terms of our gaze, a strategic locationsharply dissonant and ideologically disjunctive in relation toHollywoods representation of the fascist experience. In del Toros ima-ginary, fascism is directly in front of us to see and fear, but its power isthrown into direct relief against forces much larger than itself. Impor-tantly, fascism in del Toros vision is not an unhistorical, faceless,and invincible evil monolith extending its reach everywhere, nor is it,in the manner of Spielberg, hypostatized into period piece ethno-drama (German Nazis and Jewish victims). Rather than Satanic orethnic, it is thoroughly human, made by particular human beings for

    8. Henry Ashby Turner sets out in his history of the German capitalist class and Hitler-ism, German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler (New York: Oxford, 1985) to disprovethe myth that German financiers were responsible for significantly funding theNazi Party. He shows that the bourgeois parties the DVP (Deutsche Volkspartei),the DDP (Deutsche Demokratische Partei), and the DNVP (Deutsche NationaleVolkspartei) were in fact badly disorganized and as a result had no coherentpolicy in favor of Nazism. But he provides no evidence that even a single Germancapitalist offered any organized resistance to fascism.

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  • specific political ends. Fascism for del Toro is much more than anindividual lust for totalitarian social control this has been the self-serving bourgeois interpretation. Rather, it is a systematic attack onnature, in particular on the relationship between mother and child.

    As del Toros camera begins following a young girl through thewoods (the fascist cavalcade has stopped so that the girls pregnantmother can vomit by the side of the road), the fascists are left behindto guard their vehicles. From this point forward the fascists scurryaround like rats on the margins of del Toros narrative he neverallows them any centrality. So we realize right away that this will notbe a movie about the fascist mentality or how everyday peoplebecome fascists. This liberatory feeling dawns on us the deeper theyoung girl, Ofelia, moves into the forest. For there she meets a fairy,who will soon take her to the fauns labyrinth which is in a differentplace in the woods. Like all of del Toros mythical figures in the film,the fairy is strikingly concrete. Always gender-free, his fairies avoidthe typical sort of crude Hollywood anthropomorphism wherebyimmortal mythical characters are loaded with mortal human attributes,a tactic aimed apparently to make them less alien, but which usuallyhas the opposite effect: it closes off the imagination to everythingwhich is not immediately recognizable or that lacks instant humanpotentiality. Del Toros fairy in this opening scene is tiny, and is seenfluttering around like a butterfly, incapable of human speech butgifted at physical gesturing. His fairies will play a central part in thetale he tells.

    Before we meet the faun, we meet the fascist. He is Captain Vidal,dispatched to the mountain village of Navarra by Franco to exterminatethe antifascist resistance there. He is Ofelias stepfather, and Ofeliasmother Carmen implores her young daughter, who has yet to meetthe man (the cavalcades purpose is to deliver the pregnant Carmento Captain Vidal so he might personally secure his heir, for he has con-vinced himself that Carmens unborn child is a boy), always to addresshim as father. Ofelia flatly refuses, and for the rest of the movie wewitness the consequences of her lucid intuition, that Captain Vidal isnobody any decent human being would ever call father. That hermother has fallen in love with such a monster does not, however,concern Ofelia. Her mind is always in another place.

    This utopian place in Ofelias mind is constructed by del Toro intwo ways: through a lugubrious lullaby that begins and ends thefilm, and by overlaying the films main story of historical fascism inSpain with an ancient resurrection myth. In del Toros use of themyth, based on the Mother Goddess archetype, a young princess

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  • wanders away from her kingdom of eternal happiness in search ofwhat lies beyond, only to find herself desperately lost in the world ofthe mortals. In response her parents, the king and queen, order thatall the portals to the human world be opened in the hope their lostdaughter will one day stumble onto one of them and be returned toher place at the throne. After all but one of the portals have been unsuc-cessfully used up and long since withered away, those in the kingdomof eternal happiness come to fear the very worst, that their princess hasbeen disappeared by the mortals and will never return until a fatefulday in the mountains of Navarra, when Ofelia meets a fairy who takesher to the faun.

    Karen Armstrong has identified the Mother Goddess myth asthe most popular myth of the Neolithic period (80004000 BCE). Ameeting with the mother goddess, she says, represents the ultimateadventure of the hero, the supreme illumination.9 At first indefinable,since Del Toro renders him with the same dangerously potent ambigu-ity found in the ancient Greek and Roman myths of the goat-god, thefauns true identity becomes clear soon enough. He belongs to thekingdom of eternal feminine happiness, sent by the king and queento guard the last remaining portal to the human world, which thefaun has embedded inside a labyrinth deep in the woods. The faunexplains to Ofelia her true identity as well as her destiny: a return tothe throne where she will rejoin her mother the queen and her fatherthe king. First though, she must complete three tasks before themoon is full. And at the same Ofelia is carrying out the three tasks,Captain Vidal is carrying out his own, a massacre of the antifascistguerrilla movement. Not only is there a doubling of characters(mortal Ofelia and Princess Ofelia; mortal Carmen and QueenCarmen); there is also a doubling of narratives. This mythical doublingtechnique is not the only thing that distinguishes del Toros movieabout fascism from those of mainstream Hollywood, yet it isthe most crucial and enlivening. A slight digression here is thereforerequired.

    Doubling is an ancient aesthetic practice; it can be found in thebronzes of Benin in Africa and in the sacred Ugaritic texts of ancientMesopotamia (for example, in the epic of Gilgamesh) down to the elab-orate cosmology of the Mayan Indians, articulated systematically in thePopul Vuh, the great Mayan Quiche book of life. In ancient Greektheater doubling is also fundamental, seen in Oedipus the King forinstance, where Oedipuss blind misrecognition of the doubling

    9. Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth (New York: Canongate, 2005), 54.

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  • principle is the source of his tragic fate. It is all through HomersOdyssey as well.10 Psychoanalytic theory tells us that psychicdoubling is the beginning of all human subjectivity: the moment inwhich the infant child realizes, in sheer terror, that mommy is notsimply an extension of herself but a real person, with needs and inter-ests of her own. In defense against this frightening reality, the childcreates her own double, to serve as a reliable mommy substitute butalso to anchor the fragile self in what has become a fallen andhostile world of other people and their own demanding subjectivities.This double will become in Freudian theory the ego, which undergoesin his revision of his initial theory its own process of doubling. In fact,due to the power of narcissism and what Freud referred to as thedynamic capacity of the unconscious to absorb and then reconsti-tute blocked narcissistic desires, the doubling process never finallyends.11

    Tellingly, Freud in his final years went back to the ancient roots ofdoubling, in his then extremely controversial work, Moses and Monothe-ism (1938). Here he argued that all along there were two men calledMoses, the ancient Egyptian Moses and the Midianite or HebrewMoses: the former a prince, priest, or high official belonging to theancient monotheistic cult of Aton (1358 BCE), and the latter a son ofthe Midianite priest Jethro, who belonged to the cult of the volcanicgod Yahweh (around 1000 BCE). Freud was very reluctant to publishthe text, and consequently only its first two parts appeared duringhis lifetime.12 It is, as Edward Said pointed out in his 2003 studyFreud and the Non-European, a truly revolutionary work, carefullyopening out Jewish identity toward its non-Jewish background.13

    Freuds underlying thesis, as he stated it in the foreword to the lastessay of Moses, is that progress has forged an alliance with barbarism.Because, he wrote tersely, The corruption of a text is not unlike amurder. The problem lies not in doing the deed but in removing the

    10. See Armstrongs Short History of Myth for a concise and eloquent explanation ofancient doubling, in particular her chapters The Early Civilizations and TheAxial Age.

    11. Freud writes in The Ego and the Id (New York: Norton, 1989) that When the egoassumes the features of the object, it is forcing itself, so to speak, upon the id as alove-object and is trying to make good the ids loss by saying: Look, you can loveme too I am so like the object (24). This antithesis between the coherent egoand the repressed which is split off from it, Freud argued, is the beginning of psy-choanalytic practice (9).

    12. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones (New York: RandomHouse, 1939).

    13. Edward Said, Freud and the Non-European (London and New York: Verso, 2003).

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  • traces.14 Removing the traces of the non-European (Egyptian) roots ofJudaism and Christianity has been done in the name of progress, but itis in fact an act of extreme violence, a mass extermination at the level ofpopular memory, which itself carries recognition of an original murder,that of the first Moses, who according to Freud was killed by the Mid-ianites in response to the severity of his law. The second Moses then,the Hebrew Moses, is an ancient masquerade: a collective attemptamong the Jews to remember their crime of murdering the first Egyp-tian Moses, their real father, and to atone for it. Freud explains:

    Putting our conclusion in the shortest possible form of words, to the familiardualisms of that history (two peoples coming together to form the nation, twokingdoms into which that nation divides, two names for god in the source writ-ings of the Bible) we add two new ones: two religious inaugurations, the firstforced out by the second but later emerging behind it and coming victoriouslyto the fore, two religious inaugurators, both of whom went by the same nameMoses.15

    Yet in the end it is the baffling staying power of monotheistic beliefthat provokes Freuds controversial query, the task of finding out, hesays, how those who have faith in a Divine Being could have acquiredit, and whence this belief derives the enormous power that enables it tooverwhelm Reason and Science.16 Here the connection betweenFreuds theory of the double Moses and mass psychology and delToros narrative of fascism in El laberinto del fauno lies in what Freudcalled the ancient ambivalence of the father-son relationship. Orig-inally a father religion, says Freud, Christianity became a Son reli-gion. The fate of having to displace the Father it could not escape.17

    Thus, to unravel the masquerade of appearances, as theCaribbean novelist Wilson Harris has nicely put it, is the true task ofthe artist, who needs to assume the role of the lost child in order torecall what has been erased from the oppressed communitysmemory to deepen its insights into the soil of place in whichancient masquerades exist to validate the risks a community maytake if it is to come abreast of its hidden potential.18 Ofelia is a lostchild in precisely this sense, and through her del Toro tells his storyof fascism. But before turning back to his movie, it is important to

    14. Freud, Mass Psychology, 202.15. Freud, Mass Psychology, 210.16. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 157.17. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 175.18. Wilson Harris, A Note on the Genesis of The Guyana Quartet, The Guyana Quartet

    (Boston and London: Faber & Faber, 1985), 13f.

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  • note another compelling connection to Freuds theory of mass psychol-ogy: that it took a non-European to recall for the masses of Spain itstraumatic past. To judge by the lack of any mainstream Spanish filmson the subject, the Spanish peoples failure to murder Franco the fakefather (whose brutal fascist regime was allowed to persist until 1975)is a deeply disturbing memory that they are still unwilling to bringinto the light. This helps explain del Toros double narrative and thecharacter-doubling which drives his plot. Since Francos fascism hasbeen given in Spain a kind of unchallenged hegemony at the level ofofficial national memory, in which both the historical crimes of hisregime and the heroic antifascist resistance to them are kept inpsychic limbo, the only way to unravel this masquerade of appear-ances is through recourse to ancient myth, in this case the resurrectionmyth. It is a simple idea but a rare one in Hollywood cinema.

    For now it is enough to register two basic principles of artistic cre-ation in relation to mass psychology. First, that to recall a deeplyrepressed traumatic past can certainly be done by the artist withoutrecourse to ancient myth or aesthetic doubling, but that a rationaland scientific approach to the past will have little if any impact on apolitical unconscious completely invested in unrequited love and in acorresponding singular desire to see the real world in which welive where the satisfaction of some participants requires the oppres-sion of others totally abolished so that eternal happiness can springto life. It goes without saying that making this argument throughrational and scientific critique for example, by proving that the inher-ently destructive and radically alienating nature of capitalism moreoften than not produces fascism has consistently failed to move themasses of humanity. Whenever the working classes and the poorhave taken up arms against capital, it has been to avoid mass starvationor another catastrophic war. And second, in the absence of such immi-nent real apocalypse that is, the visible presence of fascism themasses of people are not thinking of proletarian socialist revolutionbut instead are consumed with endless daydreaming and fantasyabout a totally different world, which under a capitalist-controlledmedia usually takes the form of monotheistic religious belief, that BigDaddy Capital will save us all hopefully in the form of an apocalypse.

    Del Toros narrative of fascism is a rejection of the monotheisticreligious turn. His concept of religion comes not from Catholicismbut from Mexican spiritualism or the Obra Espiritual, as it is popularlyknown. The Mexican novelist and anthropologist Elena Poniatowskahas written authoritatively of spiritualisms mass appeal to theMexican poor. Their cultural roots have been disturbed by television

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  • and radio, she says, and for them, spiritualism is more satisfyingthan Catholicism: the emotions are stronger, and they are treated likepeople. Spiritualism makes men and women feel as if they werechosen by God from among all the whirling souls on Earth. Sheargues that in the Obra Espiritual, Men and women of all ages recog-nize the catharsis that occurs when they are spiritually possessed bytheir protectors.19 This is clearly evident in El laberinto del fauno,where the lost child Ofelia is spiritually possessed by her double thePrincess Ofelia, who with the help of the faun and his fairies protectsher from fascism. The fascists, in contrast, who carry out their mas-sacres of the poor on behalf of monotheism and the Fatherland, areleft unprotected. Not only have they cut themselves off from theancient past, from spiritualism in the popular sense, as the religion ofthe poor, but they have also committed themselves to eradicating allmemory traces of it from the land they are militarily occupying. Andthis seems to be the underlying motive for Captain Vidals extermina-tion campaign in the mountains of Navarra: to make sure the ancientresurrection myth of the Mother Goddess never happens again.

    Here the tragedy of El laberinto del fauno emerges in full view, thetragedy of Ofelias mother Carmen, who has forbidden her daughterto walk through the woods and who constantly admonishes Ofeliafor reading fairytales. And yet Carmens heart is not in it, thus Ofeliais able to pursue the faun and the mission he has laid out for herwithout constraint. Meanwhile Captain Vidal, being a misogynist, isblind to the subversive activities of Ofelia and even more so to thoseof Mercedes, a local villager whom he has hired to manage his house-hold. Above all he is indifferent to the fate of Carmen, her sole purposeon earth being to bear him a son. Mercedes is the real hero of the storyand a different side of the Mother Goddess archetype. Sister to the anti-fascist undergrounds commander, she also leads a double life, playingthe part of a docile peasant woman in the face of Captain Vidal, whilestealing from him medicines and supplies and delivering messages forthe resistance. All this doubling will come to a head when CaptainVidal discovers, much too late for him as it happens, Mercedes antifas-cist activities and Ofelias support of them. The resistance prevails, butit is not a happy ending, not by Hollywood standards: Carmen dies a

    19. See Elena Poniatowskas masterpiece, Heres to You, Jesusa! (New York: Farrar, Straus& Giroux, 2001), for a full description of the Obra espiritual, in particular her elegantIntroduction to the text, which is a memoir as told to Poniatowska by JosefinaBorquez, a working-class Mexican woman born and raised in Oaxaca, who spentmost of her life in the barrios of Mexico City.

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  • horrible death in childbirth and Ofelia is murdered by Captain Vidal.As the films beautiful and haunting lullaby returns once again, theblood of Ofelia, who has been shot in the back by Captain Vidalbefore she can enter the portal, drips into the portal, triggering her res-urrection. As the lullaby continues we see Ofelia enter the kingdom ofeternal feminine happiness, where she is welcomed by her father andher mother Carmen, rendered by del Toro in magnificent splendor, indazzling rich red and gold hues. A huge chorus then rises to its feet inthunderous applause, to thank Ofelia for never once compromisingwith fascism.

    A myth happens all the time

    A myth is an event that happened once, but which also happens all the time. Anoccurrence needs to be liberated from the confines of a specific period andbrought into the lives of contemporary worshippers, or it will remain aunique, unrepeatable incident, or even a historical freak that cannot reallytouch the lives of others.

    Karen Armstrong

    Utopia wants speech against power and against the reality principle which isonly the phantasm of the system and its indefinite reproduction. It wantsonly the spoken word; and it wants to lose itself in it.

    Jean Baudrillard

    As earlier alluded to, the general approach in Hollywood to histori-cal fascism is non-mythical, even anti-mythical. Rather than liberatingfascism from the confines of a specific period, it does the opposite itde-universalizes and then sublimates the bourgeois roots of fascism byeither making true stories about it (Sophies Choice, Marathon Man,Schindlers List, The Pianist) or concocting freakish, thinly-veiled allego-rical monster tales about invading foreign terrorists hell-bent on impos-ing fascism on democracy-loving Americans and destroying their wayof life (True Lies, Independence Day, 300).

    Armstrong shows that in the ancient world, a symbol becameinseparable from its unseen referent. Because likeness constitutessome kind of identity, it makes the invisible reality present.20 In Ellaberinto del fauno, the underlying invisible reality is a MotherGoddess Utopia, where the motherchild bond or the Eternal Feminineis the foundation of all human happiness. Del Toro, who was raised bya female community headed by his grandmother, is explicit about thisin the film: what enables the visible antifascist resistance to succeed are

    20. Armstrong, A Short History of Myth, 69.

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  • its invisible women organizers, invisible in the sense of usingcunning dual identities to trick the fascists. For example, when amale medical doctor tries to use a double identity to fool CaptainVidal, in order to give the resistance medical supplies, he is caughtand murdered, but Mercedes always eludes the captain, even in themidst of being tortured by him. Again, this has to do with the captainsmisogyny: he cannot conceive of a woman with guts enough to chal-lenge his fascist authority. His misogyny is the antifascist movementssecurity. In this climactic scene, Mercedes secret role in the resistancehas just been discovered by Captain Vidal, who excitedly takes her overto his torture chamber. While preparing his sharp and heavy metalinstruments of torture, with his back turned to Mercedes who is tiedto a chair, she cuts through the rope with a paring knife and thenuses the knife on the captains face. Rather than killing him, sheslices a deep gash from the corner of his mouth all the way up hischeekbone, symbolically turning him into the deformed monster hehas in reality always been. Symbolically marked as he now is, even ifthe resistance loses the battle for Navarra the fascist Vidal will neverbe able to disguise his true identity.

    Captain Vidal has his mythical double also. He is the Pale Man,whom Ofelia must overcome in order to achieve the second of thetasks the faun has set for her. He is a seducer of children, who byway of a long table of luscious foods is able to lure them into hisgrasp and then eat them alive. For his malignant perversity, he hasbeen banished by the gods to a cavern where he is forced to sit in astate of paralysis at his table of delicious sweets, fruits, and roastmeats, his eyes gouged out and resting on a plate in front of him.Inside the Pale Mans cavern, where dusty piles of childrens shoesand clothes can be seen, is the key that will open a door inside whichis a dagger, a ceremonial weapon Ofelia needs to complete the thirdand final task. Needless to say, the faun has warned Ofelia not topartake of any of the foods on the table, not even a single grape. YetCaptain Vidal has just punished Ofelia for being late to a dinnerparty by depriving her of her supper, thus she is very hungry as sheenters the Pale Mans cavern. After locating the key, unlocking thebox containing the dagger, and securing it, she cannot resist the foodand eats a grape, bringing the Pale Man back to life. The Pale Mandevours two of the fairies that have gone with Ofelia to the cavernand begins chasing her down. She narrowly escapes, and is laterharshly chastised by the faun for failing to resist her appetite.

    What makes the Pale Man Captain Vidals double is twofold: hishatred of children and the way he uses food to achieve his fascist

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  • objectives. We see this early in the narrative when the captain seizesfrom two local farmers, a father and son, a bag of wild rabbits theyhave hunted and killed, after which he brutally murders them, andlater when he imposes on the villagers a strict food rationingprogram. If the villagers do not collaborate with the fascists, they willbe starved to death. Prior to the Pale Man scene, we switch betweendouble actions: Ofelia carrying out her first task, which is to overthrowa giant, grotesque and stupid toad that has occupied an ancient andbeautiful tree in the forest and, through its insatiable greed for thetrees nutrients, is causing it to die, and the dinner party, at whichare gathered all the members of Navarras ruling class, the priest, thevillage magistrate, the local sheriff, the big landowners and theirwives, and the county governor. Without exception, each strongly sup-ports Captain Vidals campaign to exterminate the resistance. WhileOfelia is slaying the mythical fascist toad, the real fascists are plottingtheir repression of the villagers.

    This narrative doubling technique structures every scene in themovie, where the figures of historical fascism such as Captain Vidaland the ruling-class members of Navarra are made inseparable fromtheir unseen referents, that is, the mythical symbols of fascismsuch as the giant toad and the Pale Man. To put it another way, still fol-lowing Armstrongs insight, the likeness drawn between the identity ofthe grotesque and idiotic toad, as well as the deathly child-eating PaleMan, and the historical fascist Captain Vidal makes the invisiblereality of fascism present. This invisible reality is the political uncon-scious or mass psychology: the way fascism uses our basic libidinalattachments (self-love, parental and infant love, friendship, generallove of humanity, and even dedication to concrete objects as well asto abstract ideas, in Freuds words) on behalf of concentrating econ-omic power and putting down laboring-class resistance to bourgeoisoppression. In so doing, it also seeks to eradicate from popularmemory any and all myths that tell the story of an original crime: themurder of ancient communalism by an emergent capitalist class.

    In El laberinto del fauno, this idea is subtle and complex. Forexample, not until the final scene does it become clear that CaptainVidal murdered Ofelias father in order to replace him as Carmenshusband and steal from them the rights to their unborn son, by claim-ing the child as his own. For it turns out that the fauns final task forOfelia is to use the ceremonial dagger on her newborn brother. Thespilling of his blood, the faun tells her, will open the portal whereuponshe will be returned to the kingdom of eternal happiness. It is a cleverstratagem, of course: the final test is not the sacrifice of her brother but

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  • proof of Ofelias purity of heart. She passes the test, choosing her ownmortality over taking the life of her brother to gain immortality. And sothere mortal Ofelia perishes, at the mouth of the portal, shot in the backby Vidal in pursuit of Ofelias brother, whom she has taken to thefauns labyrinth to hide him from the captain. He kills Ofelia, aftergrabbing the child from her. But as mortal Ofelia dies, immortalOfelia is resurrected to her rightful place at the throne, next to hermother the queen. Meanwhile, with the child clenched in his arms,Captain Vidal emerges from the labyrinth, thinking he has prevailed.Yet at its entrance he is greeted by the leaders of the antifascist resist-ance. Tell my son . . . Tell him what time his father died. Tell himthat I . . . he orders the resistance leaders, after Mercedes has takenthe child from him and begins preparing his execution. No, shesays plainly. He wont even know your name.

    Perhaps the most striking example of cosmic doubling in del Torosnarrative is that between Ofelias unborn brother and a mandrake root.Given to Ofelia by the faun, to aid Ofelia in the care of her deathly illmother Carmen, the mandrake root, through Ofelias nurturing,comes alive: she feeds and protects the root as if it were her owninfant child. Kept in hiding under her mothers sick bed, the mandrakeroot begins to flourish, and its growth and happiness cures Carmen ofher illness, baffling both her physician and Captain Vidal. The captainis of course very pleased to see this development, for it convinces himfate is working in his favor, that his heir will soon be born and in goodhealth. In a scene that leads to the films conclusion the resurrectionof Ofelia to the throne and the execution of Captain Vidal the captaindiscovers the mandrake root and brutally murders it, provoking theunborn childs premature birth and with it massive hemorrhaging inthe body of Carmen. Like every scene in the movie of violent deathcaused by Captain Vidal and his fascist henchmen, Carmens death isaccompanied by the birth of new life, the birth of Ofelias brother.

    Importantly, the mandrake root has cosmological significance inmany ancient religions, from the lands of China to Palestine. Itsmagical, heavenly properties, given that the plant is both poisonousand has a human semblance, tend to be alchemical in nature. Inancient mythology the idea is that, if not treated delicately and withspecial knowledge of its dynamic life-giving potential, the mandrakeroot can take the form of a dangerous weapon, since it is believedthat if dug up without forethought and care the mandrake willbecome murderously violent. In the Book of Genesis, the mandrake isreferred to as a love plant, and this view of the mandrake can befound in other ancient religions as well that it stimulates conception.

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  • The mandrake is therefore a symbol of the life force, but it is also anactual medicinal plant, thus it is itself the ultimate double, and assuch possesses the most force among del Toros many monster arche-types. To put it another way, when put in the context of modernfascism the ancient myth of the mandrake root becomes, like delToros other mythical archetypes, loaded with political signifyingpower. Contempt for the life force, the life force here being representedby the mandrake, is the hallmark of fascism, and it is exactly thefascists hatred for everything alive which brings about his ownviolent death.

    Now we can return to Freuds theory of mass psychology with abetter understanding of the relations between the political unconsciousand the creative artist. Without recourse to pre-capitalist mythology,imaginative narratives of historical movements such as modernfascism run the risk of confining themselves to specific placesand times, as if the true history of fascism is begun the moment thenarrative departs and ends as the narrative reaches its denouement.While this is a straightforward problem the attempt to create awhole world entirely sealed off from the dialectic of history, by remov-ing all traces of it from the work of art the deeper, much less resolva-ble one has to do with the definition of a common humanity. Del Torossolution is to use ancient cosmologies that are extremely multi-voicedbut that at the same time always return to the same common lullaby,a primal scene in which our development as a species begins withfaith in the movement of history itself, that historys forward marchis unstoppable because of the life force in us all. It takes concreteshape with proper respect paid to the Mother Goddess archetype ineveryday life, through careful cultivation of the motherchild bond.When this type of secular worship is disrespected and repressedfascism takes control, and when it is enabled to flourish our hiddenpotential comes to life. The political unconscious then is the placewhere our hidden potential resides, and it is always being addedonto, from ancient times down to the present.

    Most liberating about del Toros story of fascism in this respect isthat the ancient archetypes he chooses to draw on, those he perceivesas most deeply embedded in humanitys collective unconscious, areall about the self-emancipation of women, which in his view is insepar-able from a militant confrontation with patriarchal repression. Toconfront patriarchal repression embodied in del Toros visionby Francos Spain without recourse to the Mother Goddess archetypeis to squander a ripe opportunity, he suggests: the opportunity to createthrough the political unconscious, or rather in direct relation to it, a

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  • new concept of emancipation, a concept that has deep roots in ourcommon ancestral past. That is, del Toros aesthetics belong to the revo-lutionary antifascist tradition not simply because his mythical heroesand heroines risk their lives fighting the fascist movement, but ratherbecause of the way their heroic actions are brought into the lives ofcontemporary worshippers, to borrow Armstrongs insightfulphrase in the way del Toro deliberately undermines the deceptiveand self-serving bourgeois common sense perception of fascism asa unique, unrepeatable incident, or even a historical freak.21 DelToro wants us to see that the blundering endurance of male supremacyis also the staying power of fascism as ideology, that antifeminism isthe invisible reality of fascism, for without it fascist movementslose their connection to mass psychology.

    Pans Labyrinth arrives at this enlightened understanding of fascismthrough del Toros double narrative technique, yet the double narrativeis itself never schematic or formulaic, it is always dialectical. Rejectingconfinement to a specific period, even though the film has an explicithistorical setting, del Toros achievement is the linking together inthe single figure of fascism two incommensurable realities, theindividual experience under fascist oppression and, to continue withJamesons terminology, the vaster forms of institutional society. Indel Toros conception, these forms of institutional society transcendindividual fascists such as Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler. In fact,what makes del Toros fascist monsters so alien to Hollywoodsfavored method of rendering fascism on screen, a method by whichwe remain in the world of common reality and are spared alltrace of the uncanny, as Freud put it in his analysis of the uncannyin fairytales and literature, is precisely their uncanny dual identities.

    Freuds theory of the uncanny is instructive here. It is a feeling, hesays, which cannot arise unless there is a conflict of judgment whetherthings which have been surmounted and are regarded as incredibleare not, after all possible.22 The problem in literary tales of theuncanny, Freud argued from Homer and Dante to Shakespeareand Oscar Wilde is that they bring about events which never orvery rarely in fact happen. While in the fairytale this problem isexcluded from the beginning by the setting of the story, in literaturethe storytellers less imaginary setting still maintains a sharp distinc-tion from the real world, by admitting spiritual entities such as

    21. Armstrong, A Short History of Myth, 70.22. Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, in On Creativity and the Unconscious, ed. Benjamin

    Nelson (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), 158.

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  • daemonic influences or departed spirits. And as a consequence ofremaining within their setting of poetic reality, he concludes, theirusual attribute of uncanniness fails to attach to such beings.23

    As we have seen, del Toros monster movie of fascism begins not infairytale land but in historical reality Francos Spain in 1944 and hismythical entities are actually doubles of real historical fascists.Crucially, they do not pretend to live in common reality. Instead,their uncanniness lies in their deeper ancestral identity: they are trans-cending figures inhabiting the collective unconscious and as such canbe brought into common reality at any moment. They are always his-torically possible. Thus the incredibly possible in del Toros aestheticsis not what fascism once did to humanity but that it is always readyto do it again. Accordingly, a vital part of the struggle againstfascism is at the level of myth. To prevent fascists from returning topower, the constant production of counter-myths is necessary, newmyths of antifascist resistance derived from the collective unconsciousin which the abiding wish among the masses of humanity is to beforever free of such monsters. The breakthrough del Toro makes is toanimate this ancient human desire without losing any of its uncanni-ness without acting as if we have already surmounted it. This heachieves by showing the centrality of male supremacy in fascistideology. For del Toro, the opposite is true: we have not finishedwith antifascist resistance, we are really just beginning.

    23. Freud, The Uncanny, 158f.

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