November 23rd, 2009

book and glasses

The dangerous country

I remember the first time I went to see "Pan's Labyrinth", in the cinema, widescreen. I was... blown away by that movie. This was one of the true dark fairy tales, the ones that ruled my European childhood; that faun was no tame creature who came to perch on Disney's sweet porch, no, not even Mr Tumnus from Narnia. This was the elemental creature in whom I could, I would, I did (without question, when I was very young) believe. This was power and awe and fear ripped from the heart and the spirit and ancestral memories. This was the tale where the happy ending comes at a great price, and is not always what you think it should be - and for some there is no happy ending at all. Mistakes are made, and they have real consequences. Mystical creatures walk the night, but sometimes the monsters wear a human skin and it isn't easy to tell them apart from the rest of us.

TiVo taped the movie for us on TV almost a year ago now - and it sat there, saved against future viewing, because one needs a certain mood for it, a certain "right time".

We watched it again tonight.

I wept, again - swept up and rapt in it, and realising how fundamentally dualistic my viewing of this particular movie is.

There's the adult part of me, who revels in the story - the drama, the tragedy, the sacrifices, and the power of vengeance. That instant at the end of the movie where Collapse ) still gives me the shivers - it is the ultimate punishment, and even death comes a pale and distant second after it. That's death of the spirit, death of your future and everything that you might have done to play a part in it, and the death of your physical body in the face of that seems... almost irrelevant. The people who wrote this story understood this viscerally, and they told the story brilliantly. And there are other little touches, storytelling details, things that I, as a grown-up and as a professional storyteller and dream-spinner myself, am now able to discern, and appreciate, and admire.

And then there's the child, born into the legacy of those dark European woods and their ancient shadows, the places where the feral faun of "Pan's Labyrinth". The child who absolutely accepts the dark magic of the other world. The child who knows that there are narrow passages filled with oozing mud underneath ancient trees kept from thriving by monsters who lurk in their roots. The child who knows that a mandrake root can cry like a newborn, or shriek with human agony when tossed onto the fire. A child who is completely accepting of a book filled with blank pages that come to life when I open it, only I, and the pages would of course remain blank for everyone else. The child who knows - KNOWS!- that there are monsters sleeping in empty rooms with banquet tables groaning with a feast which I must not touch on pain of death. The child who will go without question through a door drawn on solid stone by a piece of chalk, if that chalk was held by a hand which had been touched by magic. The child whom this movie takes by the hand and leads away into the enchanted forest, the child who doesn't care if she EVER gets back home because there is so much magic in the air around her, who is suddenly aware of dust motes dancing in sunbeams, and the colour of dark clouds about to spill a storm, and the chittering sound of something just out of sight which might, just might, be a real fairy (the REAL kind, the scary kind, the kind with the power to grant wishes and to take dreams away and the child doesn't know which idea is scarier.

Both the child who believes and the adult who admires step into this movie and allow it to take me. The impact hasn't been lessened by the size of the screen on which I saw it. This is a movie that's projected straight onto my heart.

It makes the grown-up pause in the admiration, long enough to remember the awe and innocence of the dangerous country where only children can freely go. It makes the child who has stepped across that border turn and hold a hand to the grown-up, and beckon, and call quietly, and promise that the place can't hurt them - because the child cannot conceive of the thousand ways it can do so. The child may not know that one of those shiny red apples is the one which felled Snow White. In one sense it's the child who takes the blows and the wounds of the dangerous country, but only suffers their pain and the consequences of the barb which has pierced them once they leave behind childhood, the dangerous country, behind. The tragedy is that only there is the antidote to the poisons found... but by the time you understand the poison and learn what kind of antidote you might need you are already too old to walk under the eaves of the Enchanted Forest. And the very worst of the poisons might be that knowledge itself - that you've "grown up", that you've understood, and that understanding has barred your way back forever more.

Or, perhaps, until a movie such as this comes a long, a precarious, perilous bridge between the grown-up world and the child's, and some of us may cross back over for a brief while, just a moment, just a taste of the memory of it before we are herded back into our own skin by stern-faced fauns, who then turn away and melt that fearsome visage into a smile from the heart as they hold out their hand to a real child with a real right to be there. And those of us who had the chance to go back, however briefly, find ourselves weeping quietly at the end, both at the sad ending of a beautiful fairy tale and at the fact that we can remember the taste of our tears, and it's the taste of long ago and far away, of the dangerous country where we ourselves were once children, and believed.

One of the things that caught me right away at the first viewing of the movie was the music, particularly the lullaby. Here it is, you can find ANYTHING on You Tube - but it's rich with the images from the movie, and if you still haven't seen the movie in the several years since it first came out and wish to you may want to listen with your eyes closed...