The Theme of Obedience in Pan's Labyrinth

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  • Topic: Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone
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El Laberinto del Fauno

Obedience is a recurrent theme in El Laberinto del Fauno, discuss at least two examples and what they represent.

In El Laberinto del Fauno, Guillermo del Toro uses the theme of obedience to illustrate and condemn two repressive components of fascism: patriarchy and the coercion of free will. This essay will look at two examples of obedience in the film which reveal the abhorrent nature of these aspects of fascism and the importance of resisting them. These are, respectively, the relationship between Captain Vidal and Mercedes and Ofelia’s refusal to compromise her own integrity. The obedience which Mercedes demonstrates towards Captain Vidal is extremely significant in the film as her dutiful submissiveness is a façade, one which the Captain fails to suspect as a result of his misogynistic ignorance. As she is a woman, he perceives her to be weak, dependent and ultimately inconsequential and thus cannot conceive of her disobeying him. As Paul Julian Smith states, ‘in its stress on a world of women…wholly separate from that of men, Pan’s Labyrinth is clearly commenting on gender relations. Captain Vidal…embodies masculinity so exclusive it barely acknowledges the existence of the feminine.’ Indeed, it seems that through Vidal’s apathy towards the female characters in the film, del Toro is condemning the gender hierarchy which existed in Francoist Spain. Timothy Mitchell has argued that ‘in Franco’s Spain a monolithic unanimity about the proper place of women prevailed because the Catholic Church, the Falangist Movement and the Nationalist Army shared a coincidence of ideas about gender.’ Similarly, Nathan E. Richardson maintains that the regime created ‘dubious identities based first and foremost on none other than sexual division [which] proceeded to designate strength and weakness along a sexual axis.’ Throughout the film, the dialogue exchanged between Vidal and Mercedes is illustrative of this patriarchal dynamic. In response to the Captain’s commands, Mercedes consistently bows her head and replies ‘Sí, Señor’ or ‘Como usted manda, Señor’. Her respectful compliance assures him of his virile authority and of her subordination, allowing her duplicity to go unnoticed. In the scene in which Vidal attempts to trick Mercedes into exposing that she still has a key to the warehouse, he tells her ‘Pensará que soy un monstruo’, to which she replies ‘Al Señor no le interesa lo que alguien como yo piense’. Although she stumbles into his ruse, her meek response appeases him and his suspicions falter. As P.J. Smith asserts, ‘His misogyny will prove his undoing: Mercedes, dismissed as “just a woman,” is in league with the guerrillas and will conspire against her tyrannical master under his very nose.’ When Vidal eventually discovers Mercedes’ subversive activities, the comment he makes to his sergeant encompasses the arrogance of his chauvinistic views; ‘Por el amor de Dios, no es más que una mujer’. Mercedes responds ‘Eso lo que pensó usted siempre. Por eso pude estar cerca, porque era invisible para usted’ and this interaction completely epitomises Vidal’s misogynistic ignorance and Mercedes’ feminine strength. It is certainly significant that whilst the doctor’s betrayal is discovered and punished, Mercedes escapes and is ultimately responsible for the Captain’s demise, having provided the supplies and information which allows the Republicans to overpower the fascists. As Kam Hei Tsuei asserts, ‘Mercedes is the real hero of the story.’ Through her character, del Toro uses the theme of obedience to denounce the misogynistic patriarchy that fascism perpetuates and to attest the power of women. The coercion of choice and of liberty is another characteristic of fascism which del Toro finds contemptible, and he represents this through the theme of obedience and disobedience as related to Ofelia. Guillermo del Toro has stated that El Laberinto del Fauno is ‘a fairy tale about choice and about...
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