Episode 91. Reality Bites: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

In our final episode of 2020, Andrea and Alex venture back in time to Franco’s Spain to face down nightmares, bravery and politics – both real and imagined – as they break down Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
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Pan’s Labyrinth. Dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006.


Stuff You Missed in History Class: A look at Franco’s rise to power and his destructive decades long grip on Spain.
Spain Tackles Franco’s Ghost (again): Politico’s analysis of how Spain continues to deal with Franco’s lasting impact.
Insights into Self-Deception: The New York Times piece invoking the “Vital Lie.”
Speaking the Truth with Folk and Fairy Tales: Jack Zipes’ essay about the ongoing power of the stories we tell.
“With a smile and a song …”: Walt Disney and the Birth of the American Fairy Tale. What Mickey Mouse, fairy tales and the American Dream have in common.


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7 thoughts on “Episode 91. Reality Bites: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

  1. FictionIsntReal says:

    I think you guys are overlooking a very important factor in interwar Europe: many of those countries did not have long-lived regimes with democratic legitimacy. In Germany we all know that the Weimar republic had a deficiency of loyalists and multiple uprisings along with frequent lower-level political violence. But the Second Spanish Republic had only begun in 1931 and lasted only a short amount of time before the Civil War broke out. The situation in Anglosphere countries, long characterized by political continuity, was very different. That’s also why I don’t see parallels today. We didn’t recently fight a civil war, nor are we likely to in the near future. I think fascism is really inextricable from that interwar context, and typically when I hear or read people talk about it nowadays I get the distinct impression that they haven’t really studied the subject.

    I disagree with the common nostrum that all art is political. And a very good example of this is in the recent horror film “Velvet Buzzsaw”. It ends with a character drawing doodles in the sand on the beach, which no one else will see before they are washed away by the tide. He is not doing this to carry any political message, but purely because he finds it enjoyable. And something created for its own sake rather than any other end is arguably the defining feature of art. Children and even animals with no conceptions of politics can create art, and arguably this is the purest art of all.

    Just because something is found all over doesn’t mean it serves a function. Parasitism is common, but many scientists think it would be fine if mosquitos went extinct (just as the elimination of smallpox was purely to the good). There are societies with far less crime, like Japan, and they don’t really seem to suffer for the lack of it. Rather, whenever the crime rate goes up in an area, people tend to move away from it. I think it would be more sensible to say that crime CAN serve a function, and it really depends on what’s criminalized. The notion that crime is caused by lack of jobs would predict that it should go up with unemployment, but in fact it went down during the Great Depression (and more recent recession of 2008) and went up in the relatively booming 1960s.

    • With all due respect, what is human is also political ergo art contains allusions to what is political. It may also reflect what may be conscious or unconscious perspectives.

      A “nostrum” is considered ineffective and implies that the party who prepared it is unqualified. That is not the case here. Each of these episodes is well-researched and I think the Faculty are quite clear when they note this is their “take” so far and that there are scholars whose entire lives are focused on what my be only a part of the episode.

      • FictionIsntReal says:

        Non-human animals can create art, so even granting (for the sake of argument) your statement that “what is human is also political”, it would NOT imply that all art is political. And once you understand the existence of non-political art, you should then question whether humans can also create it, and really whether everything human is in fact political.

        • Elliott Ingersoll says:

          I’ll admit, you lost me here. I’ve always thought of “art” as a human construct tied to aesthetics (one branch of philosophy). Do you define it in a manner that transcends the human species?

          • FictionIsntReal says:

            I think one doesn’t need to have any concept of philosophy to appreciate the aesthetics of anything (just look at the displays put on by many bird species), which is why one doesn’t need to be human either. And if we ever encounter an extraterrestrial species, they may have their own art as well, even if it doesn’t appeal as much to us.

            But setting aside other species of animal, imagine Robinson Crusoe stranded forever on an island where (unlike the actual story) he will never encounter another human. Can he create art? I say that he can create those sand doodles like in “Velvet Buzzsaw” and appreciate them on a purely aesthetic level without there being any political dimension to his art.

  2. This is another brilliant episode! I deeply appreciate how you honor people’s subjective assessment of art while also tying in the political threads of morals. Not an easy mix but you’ve got it right- art can very much be in the eye of the beholder; morals are about how we treat each other and there is a “true north” that is not subjective. Well done! Got me fired up to re-watch this film.

  3. Eric+Rae says:

    Wow, just listened to this one and it is somehow even more relevant than last year.

    Also, Alex, why does it have to be real for it to be important?!? That was a very visceral reaction in opposition to one of the things I love most about this movie! Is she creating this world as an escape from the horrors of war? Is this what trauma can do to children? Is it real? I don’t have an answer, and I love that about this film. I like to think it’s real because the it’s super fucking depressing otherwise, but that’s reality sometimes. Super. Fucking. Depressing.

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