Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pan's Labyrinth: The Pale Man & Ofelia's Katabasis

I think few would disagree one of the most affecting scenes in Guillermo del Toro's fantasy masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth is Ofelia's encounter with the spooky Pale Man; a scene which is reproduced above and miraculously still available on Youtube despite just about every other enjoyable film clip having been removed by avaricious film companies. On the several times I have seen this scene, I have ranged from initially shock, through to a mild sense of feeling disconcerted about the way it Pan's out (see what I did there?).

The scene comes neither at the beginning or the end of the film. Despite it's dark content standing out from the other scenes by a country mile, it does not represent a climax in terms of the plot; it is just another stage Ofelia must accomplish to satisfy her larger quest. To any occultist, it is very obviously a scene depicting Ofelia's necessary descent into the Underworld to conquer the dark forces around her and ascend transformed. This is the Jungian archetypal journey; the katabasis of any hero/ heroine;
  • In Greek mythology, the descent of Orpheus into the Underworld to rescue Eurydice
  • The stories of Odysseus, Lasarus, Castor and Pollux
  • The crucifixion/ resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • The suspension of Odin from Yggdrasil, or the Hanged Man of the Tarot Major Arcana
  • Nyneve's seduction and entombment of Merlin.
  • Or in the modern age; the death of the wizards Gandalf and Dumbledore, and their subsequent reincarnation (albeit Metaphorical for poor Dumbledore). 
  • Another katabasis I noticed was the wounding (blinding) of Neo from the Matrix before he goes to the Machine City in Matrix Revolutions. This gives him 'second sight'. 
The Hanged Man, pointing down below. 
In the Jungian narrative of the Tarot, card XII is the door to the Underworld sequence

Odin's Katabasis and Discovery of the Runes

Merlyn by Alan Lee
for T.H. White's The Book of Merlyn (1977)

There is no doubt Ofelia must make this journey in order to ultimately succeed. But the thing that disconcerts me about the Pale Man scene is that, as any Jungian occultist knows, the hero/ heroine must pay a heavy price for their immersion in the Underworld. They must lose something, or effectively die in order to defeat the forces of darkness.  And, all Ofelia is able to offer the Pale Man is the head of a measly (and rather stupid) faery. Not much of a sacrifice. Much better if Ofelia was caught by the Pale Man, and struggles free or is transformed in the manner of Goya's painting Saturn Devouring His Son. OK, the scene is jarring enough with the depiction of the magnificent terror of the Pale Man (by comparison to the other gentler scenes), but in order to be truly compelling as an esoteric fable, it was necessary if you ask me. Sure, use any 'magic' or cinematic techniques & tricks to gentrify the experience, or restore Ophelia, but no getting around it; she must give something up of herself to pass through to the other side.

Illustration from Jung's Red Book

Goya's (1819- 1823) painting: Saturn Devouring His Son

In Japanese folklore, a yokai (ghost) known as a Tenome correlates to Guillermo del Toro's Pale Man. When alive, the Tenome was blinded and murdered. Instead of having eyes on his face he has empty sockets (or none at all depending on the depiction) and instead has eyes on the palm of his hands. He sees by waving his hands in front of him as he walks. He is a vengeful spirit that chased down those that get too close and consumes his victims bones.

Japanese Tenome

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