...And She Died Happily Ever After:

                                       Fantasy and the Real in El laberinto del fauno

  In the opening moments of Guillermo Del Toro's El laberinto del fauno, we hear

  the beginnings of a familiar story; “A long time ago” there lived a princess

  named Moanna who, “in the underground realm…dreamt of the human

  world.” When one thinks of a fairy tale, it is common to imagine a fantasy

  world such as this; where princes fight for the love of princesses, monsters and

  creatures abound, and upon completion of the narrative the spectator retreats

  to the reality of everyday life, satisfied with his/her escape. And while many of

  these codes that denote the “classic” fairy tale can be found in the film, El

  laberinto del fauno ultimately eludes such a classification, employing its

  subversive character traits and reflexive references to familiar fairy tales not as

  “versions of alienation” as Slavoj Zizek writes, but rather, as a means of jarring

  the spectator from a confrontation with the violence of the Real. Ofelia's

  Victorian-style dress with pinafore is a green version of Alice's iconic garment

  from Alice in Wonderland, and her ruby red slippers, a reference to The Wizard of

  Oz. While these, and the film's many other narrative/stylistic elements function

  to call attention to the film's artificiality, it is during the final moments of the

  film where El laberinto del fauno's subversive power is most fully realized.


  As Ofelia lies in the labyrinth, dying from the Captain's gunshot, she drifts in

  and out of consciousness, signaling her connection to Moanna. This state of

  oscillation can certainly be read as her “passing away,” but instead, the film

  positions it as her “awakening”, into what Jacques Lacan calls the “fantasy of

  reality.” In “How To Read Lacan,” Zizek offers a reading of Lacan's work, and

  in so doing, illuminates his alternative perspective on reality:


       “What we experience as 'reality' is structured by fantasy, and if fantasy

           serves as the screen that protects us from being directly overwhelmed

           by the raw Real, then reality itself can function as an escape from

           encountering the Real.”


  As Ofelia drifts away, her escape from an encounter with the Real, Moanna

  wakes into the symbolic realm. This is the realm of the father, sitting high

  on his throne, entwined with the realm of the imaginary (Ofelia's failed

  fantasies), to mask the intrusion of the traumatic Real. This is represented in

  the film by the human realm dreamt of by Princess Moanna, characterized by

  human cruelty (the Captain), the blackness of death (written in the cold,

  bluish-grey mise-en-scéne), and the solitude of War-torn Spain (the film's

   secondary plot line).

  Through its careful deconstruction of the traditional fairy tale, and its staging

  of Jacques Lacan's triad of the Real/Imaginary/Symbolic, El laberinto del fauno's

  central ideological project then is as an investigation of the bleakness of

  humanity, the construction of reality, and the fantasies that serve as a screen

  separating the two. A link to the .pdf can be found here.