Comparing Love in Pan’s Labyrinth and Life is Beautiful

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), directed by Guillermo del Toro, and Life is Beautiful (1997), directed by Roberto Benigni, are fantastic films in their own regard which, at first glance, appear to have nothing in common. Pan’s Labyrinth is a film about a young, innocent girl named Ofelia. Along with her pregnant mother, Carmen, she moves in with her stepfather, Vidal, who is a ruthless captain of the Spanish army in fascist Spain. Little does she know, but Ofelia is the princess of a mystical fantasy world, and is instructed by a faun to complete three harrowing tasks in order to return to her father, the king of the underworld, who has been searching for her for thousands of years. Life is Beautiful, on the other hand, revolves around the life of a flamboyant Italian man named Guido who marries the love of his life, Dora, with the help of his sparkling, witty personality. When his family is later interned in a Nazi concentration camp, he uses these same characteristics to protect his naïve son, Joshua, from the horrors of the Holocaust. On first viewing, the darkly sinister Pan’s Labyrinth and the uproariously comedic Life is Beautiful seem to be worlds away from each other. However, one thing that pulls these intriguing films together is how love plays a vital role in their stories. In both films, love causes characters to go through adversity for loved ones and plays a role in uniting family. In contrast, love in Pan’s Labyrinth interestingly causes one of its main characters to also lack concern for most of his family members, whereas in Life is Beautiful, its main character exhibits unconditional love to everyone in his family.

The strong affection that characters feel for those who are dear to them motivates them to face challenges for these loved ones. When circumstances are not in favour of characters, others who care about them will often do whatever is necessary to improve their situations, especially in Pan’s Labyrinth. For example, Vidal’s motive for fighting in the war and being an activist for fascism is so that his son will be born in a “new, clean Spain” (Pan’s Labyrinth). Vidal loves his son so much that he is willing to put his life on the line to fight for what he believes in to make life better for him.  Additional evidence that emphasizes how love causes characters to go through adversity for loved ones is how the king of the underworld never gives up trying to find his daughter. He truly believes that his daughter, Princess Moanna, will return some day and spends thousands of years searching for her.  Upon meeting Ofelia, the faun tells her how the king opened portals all over the world to allow her return and that “the king will wait for her until he draws his last breath and the world stops turning” (Pan’s Labyrinth). The king’s willpower to search thousands of years for his long lost daughter is very amazing. Another instance that displays how a character goes through difficulties for a loved one is when Ofelia refuses to harm her brother for the faun’s final task. The last task requires that the blood of an innocent be spilled so Ofelia will be able to return to her father in the underworld. Despite learning how the king of the underworld has been searching for her for thousands of years, and knowing that she will be able to return to her father and reclaim her position as princess of the mystical underworld, without hesitation, Ofelia absolutely refuses to hurt her brother. Her love for her little brother prevents her from doing the unthinkable. The will of characters to take on difficult circumstances with others in mind is very admirable.

Likewise, the characters in Life is Beautiful also go through adversity for loved ones. After Guido meets Dora for the first time, he finds clever ways, which can possibly get him in trouble, to meet with her again and again. He poses as a school inspector at the school where Dora teaches, deceives her into thinking that he is her chauffer, and steals her away from her fiancée. Guido’s love for Dora causes him to do these crazy things without being concerned with the negative consequences that may follow. Later, when Guido and Joshua board the train to the concentration camp, Dora begs to board the train as well, even though she is not a Jew, in order to be with her family. This is quite a bold move by Dora and shows the extent of hardship she is willing to endure for her family. Subsequently, when the family arrives in the concentration camp, Guido faces the great challenge of hiding the truth of regarding prejudice against Jews and the Holocaust from Joshua in order to protect his son’s innocence. Guido’s love for Joshua allows him to remain positive and optimistic all the while guarding Joshua from the horrible reality of the Second World War. Without a doubt, it is clear that the characters of both Pan’s Labyrinth and Life is Beautiful are driven by love to improve the lives of the ones they cherish.

In addition to inspiring characters to better the lives of their loved ones, love also has an effect on bringing family together. When characters miss their loved ones, they will often think of them and take action in order to be with them. For example, despite the risk of being caught by Vidal or his men, Mercedes, Vidal’s servant-cum-undercover spy, frequently meets with her brother Pedro, who is part of the guerrilla forces fighting against the fascist army. Mercedes must fulfill her job of staying undercover within Vidal’s compound, but her love for her brother makes her see him regularly because of the bond they share. More evidence that clearly illustrates how love brings family together is when Ofelia reunites with the king and queen of the underworld. Her firm unwillingness to allow her brother to be hurt, due to her love for him, ultimately results in her sacrificing her own blood to open the portal to the underworld that the king had created. The king’s love for his daughter motivated him to create the portal, and Ofelia’s love for her brother essentially allows her to open it and return to her family in the underworld, who has been searching for her for millennia. Certainly, it is quite evident that love brings family together.

Similar to Pan’s Labyrinth, love also plays a role in uniting family in Life is Beautiful. For example, there is an interesting scene where Joshua and his grandmother meet for the first time. She requests that Joshua give Dora a letter that she had written for her and tell her that it is from his grandmother. Joshua replies that he had never met his grandmother before and would like to meet her. Though they had never met before, the fact that they are family makes Joshua love his grandmother and motivates him to want to meet her, which he is luckily able to do. The grandmother’s love for Dora causes her to write a letter for her daughter, which, in turn, plays a role in allowing the grandmother to meet with Joshua when she delivers it. The unity of family is further exemplified in the scene where Guido plays a song through a record player in the concentration camp. The song that he plays is the exact same song that plays during the opera, when Guido first pursues Dora. At the opera, Guido and Dora make eye contact and chemistry arises. It is one of the first times when Guido and Dora share a connection. Several years later, when she hears the song in the concentration camp, she thinks about Guido, while he simultaneously thinks about her. At this time, they are not physically united, but they are definitely mentally united through love as they are both in each other’s thoughts. In essence, love certainly has an influence on bringing kin together in any situation, both physically and in spirit.

Although love has a similar effect on both films with regard to how characters go through adversity for the sake of love, and how love brings family together, one cannot deny how love causes Vidal and Guido to each treat their families differently if you realize how Vidal loves his son exclusively, whereas Guido deeply cares about his entire family. Vidal disregards his wife, Carmen, and his step-daughter, Ofelia, in favour of his unborn son. He loves his son more than anyone else. At the beginning of Pan’s Labyrinth, Carmen, whose health is in a fragile state due to the pregnancy, must move in with her new husband on the front lines of war, because he strongly believes that “a son should be born wherever his father is” (Pan’s Labyrinth). This brash decision by Vidal causes Carmen’s condition to worsen considerably. However, Vidal shows no concern for his wife and only cares about the well-being of his unborn son. After the doctor examines Carmen, Vidal has a discussion with him and states that if need be, “he should save the baby over Carmen” (Pan’s Labyrinth). Carmen ultimately dies giving birth to Vidal’s son. Another instance that evidently illustrates Vidal’s negligence of his family in favour of his son is when Vidal murders Ofelia. To complete her final task to return to the underworld, Ofelia kidnaps her little brother from her malevolent step-father. Eventually, Vidal catches Ofelia and retrieves his son. Afterwards, he does not hesitate to shoot a bullet through his step-daughter’s chest for the offense Pan’s Labyrinth. Clearly, Vidal is a cold-hearted man to everyone in his family except his beloved son.

Contrastingly, Guido, who is truly benevolent and loving of his entire family, is the exact opposite of Vidal. When Guido performs acts of love for his wife or son, he is always mindful of both of them. At one point during the family’s imprisonment in the concentration camp, Guido pushes a wheelbarrow, appearing to do work, but in reality, is keeping a watchful eye on his son, who is hiding in the wheelbarrow. As Guido pretends to be working, he notices that the room containing the public announcement system is empty. Guido sees this as an opportunity for him and Joshua to send a message to Dora, who they have not seen since their arrival at the concentration camp. In this way, Guido demonstrates love for his son and wife by keeping Joshua safe and sending Dora a warm message to show that he and Joshua miss her. Another scene in that perfectly exemplifies Guido’s unconditional love for both his wife and son happens shortly before the Nazis surrender. When Guido learns that the Jews are being rounded up to be killed before the war ends, he decides to take action and search for Dora in the concentration camp, at the risk of being caught and killed by Nazis. However, before he begins his search for Dora, Guido makes certain that Joshua will be hidden from everyone until he returns, and carefully explains to Joshua what he must do in order to ensure his safety. Without a doubt, Guido is exceptionally thoughtful and affectionate of his entire family, unlike Vidal, who is conversely careless and discourteous to everyone in his family, with the exception his son.

After watching Pan’s Labyrinth and Life is Beautiful, it may be difficult to recognize similarities between them because their stories are very unalike. Pan’s Labyrinth is dark and mysterious, whereas Life is Beautiful is charming and whimsical. Although, when paying close attention to the presence of love in both films, it is apparent that love plays a major role in their plots. Essentially, love motivates characters to face difficulties for those who are dear to them and has an influence on bringing family together. However, there is a clear distinction between the sharing of love in both films. Vidal’s love is solely aimed at his son, whereas Guido’s love, on the other hand, is shared with all of his family members.  Overall, Pan’s Labyrinth and Life is Beautiful are two films that demonstrate the powerful influence that love can have.

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Life Is Beautiful. Dir. Roberto Benigni. Perf. Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, and Giorgio Cantarini. Miramax Films, 1997. DVD.

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Pan’s Labyrinth. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Perf. Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, and Sergi López. Picturehouse, 2006. DVD.