When you think of labyrinth, it may be one of those hedge mazes, or that marble game with the tilty board, or the awesome Jim Henson movie. But Guillermo Del Toro has a much deeper interpretation of it. His film, Pan's Labyrinth does involve a backyard maze full of fantasy creatures, but the labyrinth he's thinking of is more internal.
"The labyrinth is a very, very powerful sign," said Del Toro. "It’s a primordial, almost iconic symbol. It can mean so many things, culturally, depending on where you do it. But, the main thing for me is that, unlike a maze, a labyrinth is actually a constant transit of finding, not getting lost. It’s about finding, not losing, your way. So, that was very important, for me. It is a place where you do sharp turns and you can have the illusion of being lost, but you are always doing a constant transit to an inevitable center. That’s the difference. A maze is full of dead ends, and a labyrinth may have the illusion of having a dead end, but it always continues."
With a film left open to interpretation, the labyrinth becomes even more important. These fantasies could either be real to the young girl, or all part of her imagination. "I can ascribe two concrete meanings of the labyrinth, in the movie. One is the transit of the girl towards her own center, and towards her own inside reality, which is real. I think that Western cultures make a difference about inner and outer reality, with one having more weight than the other. I don’t. I come from an absolutely crazy upbringing. I had a fucked up childhood. And, I have found that reality is as important as the one that I’m looking at right now. The other transit I can say is the transit that Spain goes through, from a princess that forgot who she was and where see came from, to a generation that will never know the name of the fascist. And, the other one is the Captain being dropped in his own historical labyrinth. Those are things I put in, but then, as I said, the labyrinth is something else. Each culture will ascribe a different weight to it."
Del Toro has already traveled the world with Pan's Labyrinth and the American end already follows several award nominations. "It’s always a surprise when you think, 'Okay, this is where it ends,' and it continues and keeps going, which is great. I’m an ex-Catholic. I’ve lapsed completely, but I’m always expecting the other shoe to drop. We excel at guilt, like most every other religious group. Every time it has a good turn, I am amazed. I’m like, 'Oh, wow, we won that? We got that? Oh, that’s great.' But, I always think, 'That’s it, that’s the end of it,' and it keeps getting better. When I did a movie like The Devil’s Backbone, which I adore, the movie essentially suffered a really tough fate. It came out around September 11th. It barely came out. I think it came out in 16-20 theaters. I think it made two of the top 10 lists. It didn’t win much. It won a few awards in Europe, and here and there, that were very meaningful. But, nevertheless, I loved that movie. I never try to marry outcome to what I do. It’s a troubled time for an ex-Catholic to be in. I’m enjoying it as much as I can allow myself to enjoy it."
Witnessing his friends' success is easier. Del Toro also gets help in his films from two other Latin filmmakers, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu. "It’s easier because I love, and openly enjoy, them doing well. I saw Children of Men and I see the envelope of storytelling clearly being pushed. I have a clear sense of that huge movement forward. Or, I see Babel, and I see the Japanese episode in Babel, and I see him trying something completely new in his set of storytelling tools and concerns. So, it’s easier for me to enjoy that, than it is to enjoy my own stuff. I don’t know why. I’m fat and an ex-Catholic. It takes a lot for me to accept a compliment."
Though they may not be as fantasy-minded as Del Toro, everybody helps each other.
"I think that Alejandro, for example, loved Hellboy, but he hated Blade 2. He berated me for over two hours for making Blade 2. I had to pull off of the freeway and park in a parking lot, and I finally said, 'Listen, man, I need to have lunch. I apologize for having made Blade. Can I now have lunch?' He said, 'No, you don’t understand. It appeals to the vilest of human emotions.' I said, 'Dude, it’s a Tom and Jerry cartoon.' We’re sincere with each other. When Alfonso and I finished Great Expectations and Mimic, I called Alfonso and I said, 'So, it looks like we both made giant insect movies,' and we laughed about it. We really take it in stride. I didn’t like the screenplay for 21 Grams. I said to Alfonso, 'Thank God you disjointed the narrative because linearly it would be ridiculous.' We fuck with each other. It’s good. It’s a good thing to have in your life."
Pan's Labyrinth opens December 29.