Great films appear every year and with them are potentially classic scenes that may become more famous than the film itself. The shower scene in Psycho, the chariot race in Ben Hur, the chest bursting moment in Alien, and the opera music sounding across the prison yard in The Shawshank Redemption are just some of the examples of the classic celluloid moments that we may be familiar with even if we’ve never seen the film. I’ll be sharing my favourite film scenes, some you will know others may be unfamiliar, but hopefully they’ll be moments you enjoy as much as I do.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): Ofelia and the Pale Man
Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar-winning film brilliantly combines fantasy with the brutality of Spain in the aftermath of the Civil War (1936–39). Whether the fantasy world portrayed in the film is real or just the imagination of a young girl desperate to escape from the uncompromising reality remains debatable even when the end credits roll. For all the emphasis on the fantastical elements, the majority of Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in the real world, which is a dark and violent land where Franco’s Spanish soldiers continue to whittle down the leftist resistance continuing to hide in the forests and mountains. The best scene, however, is very much grounded in the fantastical.
Pan’s Labyrinth is set in 1944 with the Spanish Civil War having been won by Franco five years before. Though assured of victory, rebel fighters continue to oppose the fascist leader and in a stretch of mountains in the north, a guerrilla group pits its wits against the sadistic Captain Vidal. At the start of the film Vidal’s heavily pregnant wife, Carmen, and step daughter, Ofelia, arrive at his home in the mountains. Vidal’s interest is less in his wife and more in the son she is carrying, the one he intends to continue his brutal legacy. Despite this intriguing backdrop in post-war Spain, the film’s main focus is on Ofelia who passes her time lost in fairytales which is perfectly understandable after witnessing Vidal’s actions against both rebel fighters and innocent hunters mistaken for rebels. Ofelia’s love of fantasy becomes reality when she is led by a flying insect down a mysterious stairway into a labyrinth. It is here that Ofelia meets a mythical creature, known as a faun, who insists she is the princess of the world he lives in and that her parents, the king and queen, have been searching for her. The faun wishes for Ofelia to return to her real home but in order to do so he gives her three tasks that must be completed before the next full moon and will prove her worth. For me, Pan’s Labyrinth’s most striking scene comes when Ofelia undertakes the second of her three tasks.
Using a piece of chalk given to her by the faun, Ofelia draws a door which she can open once the lines are joined. An hourglass is set up in the entrance giving Ofelia a strict time limit. Failure to complete the task in time will see the door close. Ofelia takes a key obtained from her first task as well as three fairies the faun provides as guides. The faun warns Ofelia that temptation awaits her in the second task and she must not, under any circumstances, succumb to desire. Ofelia heads down a corridor and enters a room with a banquet table filled with a rich, inviting array of food. Sitting at the table is a creature known as the Pale Man, its hands resting palms down on the table, sandwiching a plate with two eyes on the surface. Ofelia releases the trio of fairies from a box and is guided past the table to the back of the room where she uses a key to retrieve a dagger. With her task completed the fairies are eager to leave but Ofelia suddenly looks longingly at the banquet table and cannot resist temptation! No sooner has she helped herself to some food than the Pale Man’s hands rise from the table, picking up each of the eyes on the plate and placing them in slots in its palms. After two of the three fairies are eaten trying to delay the Pale Man, Ofelia manages to flee back down the corridor only to see the hour glass empty and the door shut! Retaining some chalk, Ofelia balances awkwardly on a chair before managing to draw a new door on the ceiling. She escapes from the Pale Man but only just.
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