Pan’s Labyrinth: Escape from Reality

Escapism brings with it the ugly realization that we can’t ignore our problems forever.

Life affords us many opportunities to resort to escapism. The difficulties and trials we face make it an attractive proposition at times. Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth explores this concept with dark and arresting imagery.

Ofelia is a young girl living in Spain in 1944. Her life is thrown into upheaval when she and her pregnant mother must move to the countryside to be close to her sadistic stepfather, an officer in Franco’s fascist army. Her stepfather is a cruel, uncaring tyrant who does not care if his wife dies in childbirth, only that she bears him a male heir. As life becomes increasingly difficult for Ofelia, she comes in contact with a magical realm where she is told she is a lost princess, and that through completing three tasks, her reign will be restored.

The lessons to be drawn from del Toro’s film are many. Ofelia retreats further and further into the mystical underworld, which is perhaps her own imagination (del Toro never spoon-feeds us the answer). Unable and unwilling to deal with the atrocity around her, she chooses to escape reality.

Escapism brings with it the ugly realization that we can’t ignore our problems forever. Yet God has promised us the strength to deal with whatever trials life may throw at us. James tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3 TNIV). Through Christ’s love and empowerment, we can stand through trials rather than retreat from them. We may not always understand why we face the challenges we do, but we have assurance that we won’t face them alone.

Another theme woven throughout Pan’s Labyrinth is being torn between two worlds. As conditions around Ofelia deteriorate, the idea of escaping her life to be a princess in another realm seems alluring. Yet she sees her mother’s health slipping away and feels the responsibility to protect her.

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This dichotomy is central to Christianity. We find ourselves residents of two realms: the world and the kingdom. The two are interwoven on so many levels and conflicting on so many others. We cannot forsake the world we live in and wall ourselves off from society, yet we are called to live with an eternal mindset. Like Ofelia, we find ourselves torn between the life we know and a world beyond imagination that beckons to us.

Questions for Discussion:
1. Why can it be unhealthy to resort to escapism when we are presented with problems?
2. What does it look like to be in the world, yet not of the world?
3. Is it possible to be too focused on eternity?

Scripture References:
Romans 12:2
1 Peter 1:6-7, 2:9

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