del Toro's dark fairytale masterpiece set in the Spanish civil war, uses a range of washes and contrasting colours to paint a visual picture and bring the magical to life within the brutal shadow of Captain Videl's tyranny. Colour is one of the most important tools in del Toro's artillery and he uses it in many ways to support the narrative throughout the tale.
As the tale begins, the blue fairytale is told, of a magical princess and her fall from her world. This, the first of many blue washed images reflecting a "well lit night" and the dark side of the fairytale, introduces the visual blue motif connected simply to sad events often coupled with pathetic fallacy. As we see later on this is not the image of the fairytale kingdom itself but the sadness decay and despair since the loss of the princess.
From this we jump back into reality and the setting for the film, the forests around a military encampment, more of a country house manor than a camp, and beautifully full of golden browns and greens. The pervading nature reflected by the vibrant colour pallet setting the scene is essential to the film in which nature is the source of the fairytale, the fairy from the insect, the faun as the mountain and almost nature itself. Without the gorgeous browns we wouldn't believe del Toro's story because we wouldn't believe in the magical quality of nature. The browns are complimented by a general sepia wash that cloaks even the duller shots as beautifully golden hint.
The black cars cut through the nature, sleek and artificial, as do the hands, hat and glasses of Captain Videl as he un-gloves himself surrounded by grey uniforms that represent the dullness of war and army and the conformity demanded by the warped communist government Videl fights for.
The strong pervading blue of night is only pierced by the bright vibrant reds of blood, this contrast adds to the brutality of Videl and the darkness of the fairytale narrative.
The next strong visuals we are given come at one of the most visually "magical" moments in the film, as ink dances across the page and tells Ophelia our fairytale princess what her task is. The sun through the windows, or lights representing the sun, shine a vibrant, beautiful and magical gold that represent the good in the fairytale that returns at the end of the film.
Dressed in her green dress, the princess of nature, Ophelia goes back into the woods and into the toffee brown interior of a dead tree to poison a toad. Again the pervading sense of nature is clear, and whilst the toad is certainly disgusting Ophelia is never in danger whilst she is in her "own realm" surrounded by nature.
She is however snapped back into reality and danger, the pathetic fallacy and heavy blue tint returns and the battle between the rebels and Videl and the battle between Ophelia and an unbeknownst Videl continues.
It is also worth noting, outside of the fairytale, in the war narrative, the rebels hide in the woods and live in caves, they wear brown and are one with nature. Not only are they politically and morally heroic but they are also one with nature as is our heroine.
In the second task and before, the colour red becomes more prevalent and hints at a growing darkness. Firstly the previously golden enchanted book shows Ophelia's mothers bleeding womb a short piece of foreshadowing as moment later Ophelia's mother calls to her, covered in blood. At this point all tuns for the worst, it is the midpoint of the narrative in which the rebels are trampled, Ophelia's mother turns ill and her fairytale dreams seem to turn evil.
This is reflected when she goes on the fauns next task, into another realm this time, unprotected by nature and surrounded by red walls, food and grotesque images of babies being eaten. It could be said the food represents the harvesting of nature further representing the apparent danger Ophelia is and explaining the faun's reactions to her eating the food as her betraying him and nature. The pervading red colouring in the scene clearly shows the danger and evil of the other realm Ophelia inhabits.
One of the nicest bits of cinematography is one of the simplest shots, the doctors death, brutal, blue, pathetic fallacy. A common visual theme but this is one of the most beautiful executions of the blue shot and the death of the kind doctor stings the audience.
Orange flames light the final scene, a glint of hope for the rebels and Ophilia however it is not enough, the end seems dark, the blue pervades and Videl shoots Ophelia and dark red blood flows from her lifeless body. As all seems dark a golden light pervades and we are transported into a golden realm of the fairytale and we finish with beauty and happiness.
1. Pans Labyrinth (2006) Del Toro G., Spain Mexico USA, Estudios Picasso