Techniques such as lighting, dialogue and symbolism are used effectively by Guillermo Del Toro in his fantasy-horror Pan’s Labyrinth to depict the film’s villain as an authoritarian, power-hungry scoundrel. Captain Vidal is a harsh commander in Franco’s regime in post civil war Spain, and has total power over the small rural town he inhabits. Steely-blue lighting illustrates the gloomy atmosphere he creates, as whenever the action is set in his village, cold blue tones are cast over the screen. He speaks shortly and sharply, constantly giving orders and telling people what to do. Symbols such as his clocks and impeccably-kept uniform illustrate the order he likes to keep. These features also influence the way the events are understood by the audience. The blue lighting highlights that the events in this reality are cold-natured and often unjust. Clocks show that time is running out, and that everything is leading to one big event- they build tension and anticipation. The state of Vidal’s uniform is indicative of the events also, since as the film progresses, the way he presents himself deteriorates, helping the viewer realize that events are changing for the better. These techniques manipulate the viewer’s attitude towards Vidal, giving an unfeeling, strict, controlling impression of him. They also alter the way the audience may view the events of the film, depicting a harsh reality then giving hope at the end by changing their form slightly.
Lighting is a major technique in the film, and is often used to set the mood. The fact that whenever Vidal’s world is shown it is enveloped in grey hues and blue tinges immediately shows the audience that this is not a nice place to be, and we soon find out that this is due to Vidal’s influence. The setting is ominous already, as as mentioned earlier, it is set during the time of General Franco’s oppressive regime. However, Vidal and his actions, being an officer in charge of enforcing this regime in his part of the country, is what makes the ‘real world’ layer of the film so dangerous. This murky shade of lighting creates a detached feeling, and is in great contrast to the warm, golden touches of Ofelia’s fantasy world. The obvious distinction between the two worlds is made instantly clear through the lighting, as the blue feels unwelcoming and isolate, but the orange creates a homely atmosphere. This is most obvious at the end of the film when Ofelia is lying dying in the labyrinth. Vidal has just shot her, and blue shadows lurk in the air, covering the labyrinth and casting shadows over Ofelia’s face. The lighting creates a miserable mood, as we see Ofelia’s blood dripping from her fingers. Suddenly, we are taken through the portal into the magical kingdom of Ofelia’s dreams. Bathed in gold light, the kingdom is welcoming and homely, showing Ofelia is finally where she belongs. This shocking contrast in luminosity highlights the difference between Vidal’s tyrannical world and the fantasy kingdom where Ofelia finally finds happiness. It illustrates just how domineering the captain is, and how very different it would be if he were not there. The detail that whenever the audience sees Vidal’s world it is dismal and gloomy makes the audience instantly recognize that he is the problem, and the archetypal villain of the film.
The lighting also shows the events depicted in the ‘real life’ layer of the film to be threatening. The first scene shows Ofelia lying in the labyrinth, blood flowing from her nose. The steely-blue lighting shows that this is a sinister moment, and lets the audience know right from the get-go that this is not a light-hearted film. In the end of the film, Vidal’s grey world is interrupted by golden bursts of light from the explosions the rebels set off in the mountains. This shows Ofelia’s world seeping into the real world. Then, as Ofelia dies and enters her fantasy kingdom, the whole place is immersed in warm, inviting orange light. However, back in the real world, the rebels are lit with blue light as they shoot and kill Vidal. This signifies that although Vidal is dead, the gloomy world created by Franco’s regime is still there. The lighting manipulates the viewer’s perception of the events because the light is an instant indication of the mood of the scene, which shows the viewer how they should feel about that particular scene and the events depicted in it.
Captain Vidal also uses very cruel dialogue when he speaks. Much of what he says is short and sharp, like making orders or giving monosyllabic answers to his staff. The first time he is introduced to his wife’s daughter, she holds out her left hand for him to shake, as her right is carrying her books. Captain Vidal grabs her hand, saying simply ‘it’s the other one’ before stomping off, leaving Ofelia and the audience with a terrible first impression of him. He also uses very foul language, even to the ever-helpful doctor. When the doctor asks Vidal, ‘What makes you so sure that the baby is a male?’ the captain answers spitefully ‘Don’t fuck with me’. When he manages to catch a rebel from the mountains, he brutally tortures him while looking for answers, holding up malicious instruments of torture, intimidating him by saying,‘You’d do better to tell us everything. But to make sure it happens, I brought along a few tools. Just things you pick up along the way. At first I won’t be able to trust you, but after I use this, you’ll own up to a few things. When we get to these we’ll have developed a… how can I put this? A closer bond, much like brothers. You’ll see. And when we get to this one, I’ll believe anything you tell me’. He then decides to mess withthe rebel’s head, saying‘I’ll make you a deal. If you can count to three without st-t-uttering you can go. Don’t look at him look at me. Above me there is no one. Garcés!’ Garcésanswers, ‘Yes Captain?’ Captain Vidal: ‘If I say this asshole can leave would anybody here contradict me?’ Garcés: ‘No one Captain. He can leave.’ Captain Vidal: ‘There you have it. Count to three’. Stuttering Rebel: ‘One…’ ‘Good.’ ‘Two…’ Garcés: ‘Good – one more and you’re free’ ‘T-t-t-t-t’ Captain Vidal: ‘Shame’.His insensitive, heartless demeanor is conveyed through his words. At dinner, when he is asked by the mayor whether he knew the mayor had known his father, Vidal answers ‘No. I had no idea.’ The mayor continues, ‘In Morocco. I knew him only briefly, but he left a great impression.’ Captain Vidal: ‘An excellent soldier.’ Mayor: ‘The men in his battalion said that when General Vidal died on the battlefield, he smashed his watch on a rock so that his son would know the exact hour and minute of his death. So he would know how a brave man dies.’ Captain Vidal: ‘Nonsense. He didn’t own a watch’. We later find out that Vidal has a fascination with watches, and when he is ambushed by the rebels, knowing he is going to be killed he takes off his watch, starting,‘Tell my son the time that his father died. Tell him…’ but is interrupted by ‘No. He won’t even know your name’. This proves him to be a liar. His words demonstrate what a nasty character he is, as he uses them for intimidation and uses disrespectful language when talking to the very respectable doctor.
Although Vidal’s dialogue remains constantly vicious throughout the film, the dialogue of other characters indicates the harshness of the events taking place. In the beginning of the film, Mercedes, one of Vidal’s housekeepers, appears mild-mannered and shy. However, as the film develops, so does Mercedes’ attitude. She calls Vidal a ‘Motherfucker’ and tells him ‘you won’t be the first pig I’ve gutted’. This is a strong indication to the viewer that something is about to change. Mercedes’ metamorphis into someone who will stand up to the captain shows that things are going to change, and due to the way her character is portrayed, the audience feels like this will be a good modification. The depiction of Mercedes through her dialogue makes the audience feel good about the ending of the film, as like Mercedes, they see Vidal as a ‘bastard’, which makes them feel good when he is finally defeated at the end.
As previously mentioned, Captain Vidal has a fascination with watches, which began from his father’s act of smashing his watch so that Vidal would know his time of death, and this acts as a symbol of the order Vidal likes to keep. He keeps his watches meticulously clean, as we are shown in a scene where he painstakingly cleans every tiny crevice and clog of one of his watches.This acts as an expression of his need for order, and for everything to be perfect. He also has an anxiety about time, as when Carmen and Ofelia arrive to Vidal’s estate for the first time, he is staring at his pocket watch, and his first comment is ‘Fifteen minutes late’. Time is an important theme in the movie, not just in the ‘real world’ layer of the film, but also in the parallel narrative in Ofelia’s fantasy world. This acts as a warning that time is running out, something Vidal seems to know very well. Like the world Vidal wishes to live in, time is constant, always going by in a rhythmic, orderly fashion. The second hand on his watches show just what he strives for- order and discipline- through its ordered movement once every second.
Another symbol used to prove Vidal’s need for order is his uniform. It is always kept scrupulously; never dirty, always well-pressed and in impeccable condition. This again shows his character to be a very precise, orderly man. However, as the film progresses his uniform becomes more and more shabby- this is indicative of the power he is losing. As the rebels gain power, Vidal loses it. In the beginning of the film, the rebels are shown to be shoddily-dressed and dirty, while Vidal is well-dressed in his perfect uniform. However, at the end of the film Vidal’s uniform is in stark contrast to how it first appeared- his once pure-white shirt is drenched in blood, his hair is messed up, and his braces have fallen down. The rebels, however, appear in crisp, clean uniform, signifying that they now have the power. This helps the viewer to understand the falling of Vidal’s empire, and the power shift in the film.
Del Toro uses film techniques to their full advantage in Pan’s Labyrinth to make the viewer see the film the way he wants them to view it. He depicts a harsh reality through the use of lighting, dialogue and symbols, to enable the viewer to see what he wants them to see- the severity of the Spanish civil war, the hopelessness of the peasants caught up in it, the brutality of the men in charge, and, quite importantly, the bravery of the rebels acting against the totalitarian control Franco’s regime had over the people of Spain. Although the film has a fairytale premise, it’s ‘R’ rating is a sure sign that it is not made for children- the atrocious violence and offensive language is not for children, but is imperative as it indicates the brutality of the post-war time. The Spanish civil war is often forgotten by the rest of the world, but the Spanish are still very distressed about it, as it cost their country so much, and caused so many innocent to lose their lives. Children were taken away from loving families, simply because they did not support the work Franco was doing, and many parents never saw their children again. Del Toro wished to highlight its significance to the rest of the world, and bring the Spanish civil war back into the spotlight so that it is not forgotten.