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Character Development in “Pan’s Labyrinth” Film

The legendary horror film “Pan’s Labyrinth” touches upon self-identification during the slaughterous Spanish civil war. According to the film’s plot, the characters live in 1944, which means that, from the historical perspective, fascists set Franco’s regime five years ago. Inspired by the works of famous Spanish painter Francisco Goya, Guillermo Del Toro, the director, splendidly draws a parallel between the repulsive fictional world and the devastating real one. Using the art of colors and frames, the director raises the issue of identifying good and evil in people’s lives. The contradiction of the two main characters, presented as typical hero-villain relations, specifies the sequence of events contributing to the character’s development.

The image of the main character, a little girl Ofelia whose stepfather is a fascist officer, illustrates the refusal to obey. True to her pure heart, she makes a perfect hero in this story. Thus, Frisk points out that “the study of heroic actions clearly illustrates the inclusive, or democratic, turn in the study of heroism. Heroic acts… usually the deeds of ordinary people with a pure heart” (93). Coming from a family of Republicans, she was raised basing on democratic principles. As a result, Ofelia can not accept the tyranny methods of her stepfather. Therefore, the girl denies acknowledging the cruel world of fascism and tries to escape to an imaginary one by completing terrifying Pan’s dangerous tasks.

Ofelia’s stepfather, Capitan Vidal, is another main character, representing the obsessive desire to destroy and dominate. Guillermo Del Toro often compares Capitan and monsters from Ofelia’s imaginary world to show that Vidal is the most terrible evil in the story. Moving by the fascists’ ideas, he tortures and humiliates innocent people, in this way picturing the ideal villain. Jens believes that the “violation of moral foundations” is a conceptual feature of constructing the image of the villain character (68). Thus, the story’s villain controls peoples’ lives and imposes the standards of the fascists’ ideology on them.

The civil war conditions create the confrontation between the two mentioned above characters and describe their connection as hero-villain one. As Frisk points out, “the banality of evil is matched by the banality of heroism…both emerge in particular situations at particular times, when situational forces play a compelling role in moving individuals across the line from inaction to action” (93). This statement perfectly illustrates that contradicting characters have a particular development path which, in this story, is the same for both hero and villain. It includes the following steps: the rejection of the surrounding world, the denial of the imaginary world, and creating a personal world. The difference in the characters’ development is how they follow this path, in which direction.

Going through the envisaged director path, Ofelia faces the choice and becomes the better version of herself, overcoming difficulties. As Frisk emphasizes in her work, the hero’s decisions should be morally correct and lead the character to the optimistic denouement (53). Therefore, Ofelia follows the upward path of her personal development. In the scene of the dinner, she rejects her stepfather’s order and the real world itself. Even though the girl was the only one to show disobedience to the Vidal in the entire village, her actions consequence in her mother’s death.

Later, she, following the moral ideas, again violates the order of Pan and sacrifices her life instead of new-born brother’s. According to Membrez, Ofelia tries to give meaning to her life and bring hope to the world she is leaving (74). Ofelia’s sacrifice leads her to the final point of her adventure to the good. She rejects Pan’s world creates her own where members of her family are alive and live happily ever after. There is no room for racist humiliation and war in the girl’s world. In reality, Vidal violently kills Ofelia, but the director shows that the cruel world does not deserve this brave little girl and pictures her going to heaven.

Capitan Vidal follows the downward path of character development. The choices of the main villain coincide with the traditional image of evil in the cinematography. Jens supposes that the typical image of a villain includes “guilty intentionality, consequential (harmful or otherwise immoral) action, and causal responsibility” (71). Therefore, the officer first is committed to the world where fascists’ ideals are accepted. Then, during the dinner denies the possibility of creating a world different from what he wants it to be. And finally, trying to expose the partisan movement, rejects the reality and, being killed by his enemies, receives punishment. The choices Vidal makes show that even Ofelia’s sacrifice cannot change fascist evil.

So, in the film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the settings and the plot contribute to the hero-villain type of relationships between main characters. As a result, both Ofelia and Capitan Vidal, according to their character type, have a specific order of events contributing to the character development. Guillermo Del Toro creates for the character an identical path and tells the viewer that only choices determine the outcome of life.

Works Cited

Frisk, Kristian. “What Makes a Hero? Theorising the Social Structuring of Heroism.” SAGE journals, vol. 53, no. 1, 2019, pp. 87-103. SAGE journals, Web.

Jens, Kjeldgaard-Christiansen. “A structure of antipathy.” Projections, vol. 13, no. 1, 2019, pp. 67-90. Berghahn Journals, Web.

Membrez, Nancy, editor. War, Revolution and Remembrance in World Cinema: Critical Essays. McFarland Publishing, 2021.

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StudyKraken. "Character Development in “Pan’s Labyrinth” Film." February 16, 2023.


StudyKraken. 2023. "Character Development in “Pan’s Labyrinth” Film." February 16, 2023.


StudyKraken. (2023) 'Character Development in “Pan’s Labyrinth” Film'. 16 February.

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