CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Power of Imagination

I guess it's only fitting that Pan's Labyrinth, the latest from Guillermo Del Toro, is coming out no more than three months after a Terry Gilliam film has come and gone from our theaters. Both Pan's and Tideland are films about children and imagination. Pan's has a more defined plotline, following Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) in Franco-era Spain. After being approached by a fairy, Ofelia learns that she was once the princess of the underworld. In order to win back her title, she must complete 3 tasks. Tideland follows Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) after both of her parents have died. She talks to dollheads, which she's kept with her for a while, and she makes friends with Dell (Janet McTeer) and Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).

I hate to be one of the "Plausibles" Peter Gelderblom wrote about here, but a significant part of Pan's Labyrinth is incredibly frustrating when pressed with even a small amount of logic. To perfectly summarize the most annoying scene, I point you to Travis Mackenzie Hoover's thoughtful piece on Pan's, found here. In Peet's piece on the Plausibles, he writes that the Plausibles are yet another side effect of a culture steeped in narrative traditions that limit the way we see the world. While I certainly agree that being a Plausible can ruin a great cinematic experience (the ending of Rear Window comes to mind), in the case of the Pale Man scene, I felt that the poor choices Ofelia made in the scene caused it to conform to our cinematic expectations. Instead of having a narrative fault that increased the value of the scene or made it more original, Del Toro's logic problems lessen the impact of the scene, lowering it to the level of "just another boulder."

I guess that's my main problem with Pan's Labyrinth and the praise that has been heaped upon it. The film, though well made, has nothing distinctive about it. The moral compass that has been so lauded is simplified beyond belief. The villain, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), is a sadistic fascist who cares only about killing the rebels and maintaining his bloodline. Ofelia's relation to the faun who gives her the tasks (Doug Jones) is supposed to put her in the position of a fascist underling, forced to choose between what she is told and what is right. The choice isn't really a hard one, yet the film and its defenders don't see it that way.

On the other end of the imagination range sits Tideland. There is very little in the way of imaginary diversions. This is a film that shows change. Pan's Labyrinth gives no indication that Ofelia has changed at all from the beginning of the story to the end. In fact, the only thing that keeps Pan's Labyrinth from being the family hit of the holiday season is the level of gore.

Jeliza-Rose, on the other hand, takes up no great tasks. She can only slowly come to terms with her parents' deaths and her own development. She undergoes amazing changes, yet never loses her imaginative spirit. It's the sort of character study that is so rarely seen today, especially a character study of a child. We've seen the power of imagination at work many times, but rarely are the battles fought strictly within. Tideland is the sort of film that stands out from the rest of the film world. And it's the sort of film that deserves closer to the 97 Pan's Labyrinth is getting on Metacritic than to the 26 it's getting now

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