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Pan's Labyrinth vs. The Fountain essay

mwingboy 1 / -  
Mar 31, 2009   #1
The assignment is to write a 5 paragraph essay to analyze 2 movies we watched in class. My prompt is "Imagination Vs. Reality: Both films explore worlds of imagination mingled within what is perceived to be reality. Ultimately, the viewer is left to openly interpret exactly where he or she beleives reality ends and where fantasy begins. Using both films, discuss how the plotlines work to tangle and blend imagination with reality."

"Imagination is the one weapon against the war of reality," as said by French philosopher Jules de Gaultier. A person's imagination can consume their realistic judgment and catapult them into a world of fantasy in which the person can no longer distinguish reality from a world of illusion. These motifs are exemplified by the films Pan's Labyrinth and The Fountain. Both movies relate to a person going through psychological trauma caused by the death or the onset of such. Pan's Labyrinth is about a young girl in civil war era Spain who is experiencing the psychological anguish of war. Similarly, The Fountain involves a man who desperately attempts to save his wife from a brain tumor that eventually claims her life. In the process of this, the director uses scenes of a very imaginative nature to perplex the viewer and force them to distinguish reality from fantasy. Both films show how easily the mind can be manipulated from traumatic experiences, it causes a lack of distinction between imagination and reality.

Tommy of The Fountain strongly demonstrates the effect of death on a person's psychological state. Tommy is a young cancer researcher who is going through hard times. His wife has a brain tumor which eventually claims her life. Throughout the entirety of the film Tommy is researching cures and treatments for these tumors, in hopes that he might be able to save her life. Tommy is uniquely yet severely affected by his wife's death. He becomes convinced that death is nothing more than a disease that a cure has not been discovered for. This is one of Tommy's many unrealistic thoughts acquired after Izzi dies. Izzi is Tommy's wife and she has a deadly brain tumor that is growing consistently. She has started writing a book titled "The Fountain" and has decided to leave Tommy to finish it in the event of her death. The director of the film, the famous Darren Aronofsky, used interesting film creation techniques to create more suspense and more mystery. Throughout the entirety of the film, the viewer sees scenes without any realism to it at first glance. For example, throughout the film Tommy is seen in a "bubble" in space. In which there is a tree that he is continuously eating from for its life giving properties to live for an extended amount of time. At first glance it will be assumed this cannot possibly be real, but one could argue that it indeed is. These scenes can represent the future in which Tommy takes the land mass that Izzi is buried in, with the life giving tree planted on her remains, and takes it to the nebula Izzi had been so fond of. Tommy waits inside of that nebula until it too dies. He feels that once this nebula explodes, Izzi will be reborn as part of the stars. Obviously, it becomes difficult to distinguish imagination from reality at this point. An example of imagination would be all of the 1500's folklore shown in the film. This is all Tommy's imagination animating Izzi's book inside of his mind. Izzi represents the queen as Tommy represents the Spanish conquistador, fighting to find the tree of eternal life in the same sense that Tommy fights to find the cure for Izzi's tumor. Tommy is a prime example of mental deterioration and rebirth as with many people who go through a significant loss.

Pan's Labyrinth epitomizes the psychological effects on a child facing death and hardships of a country at war. The protagonist of the film, Ofelia, is a young girl who recently moves in with her stepfather who is the captain of a military unit fighting to defend Spain's liberation. Her mother is pregnant and the family has suffered the loss of Ofelia's father. The movie takes place in post civil-war Spain and the country is still under attack of the guerrilla rebels. Throughout the entirety of the film, Ofelia is continuously suffering which eventually leads to her psychological downfall. Ofelia is constantly reading fairy tales, regardless of her parent's reactions. This in combination with her unstable mind leads to a break in her mental equilibrium and her ability to determine imagination from reality. Everything is real to her. It all serves as an escape from the traumatic events happening right in front of her. Ofelia starts to see a faun who tells her she is a princess, who can escape her present life and return to her kingdom by completing three tasks. She of course abides to the tasks in hopes to escape reality. Ofelia's imagination draws her to the faun and causes her to believe everything he says. She was willing to die executing these tasks to fulfill her assumed reality. Ofelia's actions of rebellion against the captain can relate to Mercedes' simultaneous rebellion towards the captain. Mercedes is a maid at the camp the military unit is staying, and she is secretly working for the guerrilla forces outside of the camp. Many hints go in each direction of whether the fantasy imagery seen by Ofelia is imagination or reality. One interpretation is that everything is in Ofelia's imagination and war has taken a toll on her mind. At times though, it would appear that some of the imagery she sees must be real. An example being the faun gives Ofelia a mandrake and she keeps it under her mother's bed to improve her health. The mandrake is working flawlessly and Ofelia's mother is recovering from her pregnancy complications until the captain discovers it and demands it to be disposed of. At this point in time the mother takes a turn for the worst and soon dies as she is having her baby. The movie concludes without distinction of what is real and what is imagination. The viewer is left to decide creating a deep need for analysis and keeps it thought provoking. Ofelia's pain experienced from the death of her mother is similar to that in which Tommy experienced from the death of his wife.

In both films, the imagination at time soars far over reality, leaving the viewer dumbfounded. Ofelia and Tommy are completely different people, yet they suffer the same pains. Death affects their minds equally without concern to race or time period. It leads people to realize how universal the magnitude of death on our minds is. Ofelia has psychological breakdowns and see's what is not real. However, she is too young to be able to deduce reality from an abyss of artistry. Tommy, while older and more intelligent, also suffers from the imagination controlling the mind. Both protagonists suffer the deaths of the people closest in their lives. For Ofelia, it has been an ongoing trauma. She has been suffering long before the time period shown in the movie. Her country has just ended a civil war, to see residents of a country killing fellow residents would leave any human scarred or traumatized. Tommy reaches the point where he believes he can achieve what is perceived to be impossible, he believes he can beat death and find a cure. Whether he does or not is up to the viewer. Either way, he shares this trait with Ofelia. They both believe they can cheat death. For Ofelia, it is by becoming the princess of her kingdom for eternity while for Tommy it is by growing the tree of life and slowly taking its life-giving bark for rejuvenation.

The fact that the human mind can be so easily manipulated by traumatic experience, and even rendered unable to determine reality from fiction is depicted powerfully by these two films. These films are very realistic in the sense that all people can experience what the protagonists experienced. Psychological problems and the inability to distinguish reality from imagination is a common problem among people. The ability to restrain and deduce what is real from what is not was not always present in the protagonists which became what led them to their downfalls. As stated by famous artist Francois Rodin "The realities of nature surpass our most ambitious dreams." Both Ofelia and Tommy had their dreams struck down by reality, for Ofelia it is hard to say whether her dream has become a reality or not, either way both main characters deterioration is caused by their lack of a rational deduction between the truth and what appears to be so.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 1, 2009   #2
Wow, this seems to be a perfect essay. The structure is great, the thesis is clear, and you explain everything so eloquently! I am impressed. I feel that it could be improved with the addition of a few quotes from the movies to help make your points. It would be good if you could somehow connect the quotes by Gaultier and Rodin with specific scenes or characters fro the films. But really, I find little room to criticize this!
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 1, 2009   #3
Aye, the essay is well-written enough. I am curious, though, about your conclusion "both main characters deterioration is caused by their lack of a rational deduction between the truth and what appears to be so." One could argue that their deterioration is caused by the pressures of too much reality crashing in upon them, and that their imaginary worlds (if you choose to believe that only the mundane aspects of the character's lives are real) help keep them sane. I believe it was Eliot who said that humankind cannot bear too much reality.
silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 3, 2009   #4
I agree with the Eliot quote. Tennessee Williams said it best: "I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

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