This week, some words on Film. Apologies: our philosopher friend David (pronounced Dah-BEED) has given us a DVD of Slavoj Žižek's The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, a three-part essay for the BBC, and I'm afraid everything I say re: the silver screen is going to be warped by Žižek's manic, self-indulgent mutterings for the foreseeable future. (Please note that this gift does not imply that David in any way endorses the ideas expressed by Slavoj Žižek.) The Pervert's Guide is actually kind of delightful--S/Ž is a very funny guy, sometimes surprises with the effectiveness of his insights, plus the program itself is stylishly and wittily put together. So. Even though this has absolutely nothing to do with anything else I have to say about Pan's Labyrinth (another new DVD acquisition) I feel compelled to deal with the way Žižek's discussion of the fantasy life, the dreamworld, might play out in an analysis of this macabre fairy tale of the Spanish Civil War. My friend Josh complained that the main character's brutal "reality," which she periodically flees for a magical netherworld, is itself a bit too storybookish to make the contrast between her two lives dramatically and politically persuasive; the very real, very complex, and very recent (within living memory, at least) conflict fictionalized in the film has been reduced to a story about the Big Bad Wolf. On the DVD, the director describes this as his exact intention--the scenery in "real life" is devoid of color and detail, according to his explicit instructions, and he admits that the republican resistors hiding in his fictional woods bear less of a resemblance to historical rebels than to the woodsman who dissects aforementioned BBW to rescue Little Red. He does this to more successfully intermesh reality and fantasy, or so he says, so that the one can gradually contaminate the other over the course of the film; Josh wishes that fantasy and reality were much more dissonant, the way that the golly-gee Hollywood ingenue-meets-Nancy Drew daydream of Mulholland Drive runs headlong into agonizingly realistic erotic betrayal, or the way that the Dogme-esque melodrama of Dancer in the Dark periodically bursts into brightly colored song and dance. Well, this is obviously something of a personal-taste question. We can't ask every movie to be Dancer in the Dark or, god forbid, Mulholland Drive. (Let's pause to imagine a Rope with amnesiac Hollywood lesbians in place of the sociopathic preppie gays, or a Philadelphia Story in which WASP divorcée Björk is courted by Joel Grey and David Morse. Okay, never mind, both of those would be kind of awesome.) But I think I see where Josh is coming from on this. To a certain extent, filmmakers take on a moral responsibility when they fictionalize historical events. Using "Nazi" or "Fascist" as shorthand for comic-book style "evil" probably does somehow obscure the more subtle aspects of evil and fascism, and reducing the anti-fascists to knights in shining armor might even do the real anti-fascist heroes a certain disservice. Even so, I'm not sure I buy this argument. For one thing, I think it fails to take into account the strange and nuanced role that fantasy plays in Pan's Labyrinth. Žižek tracks the Lynchian narrative, in films like Mulholland and Lost Highway, as a trip from reality to dream and back again: when the world becomes unbearable in its particulars, the protagonist escapes into his or her dream-life--only to discover that this dream-life, when realized in all its own particulars, is even more unbearable. In Pan's Labyrinth, reality is already infected with this unbearable fantasy. Think of Don Quixote, maybe, that other Spanish tale about a fairy-story addict--we all distort, reimagine reality through the lens of fiction. Every child interprets real life according to the stories she's been told; every child imagines that her stepfather is a monster; Ofelia's stepdad, a Fascist war criminal, just happens to be one. And so her escape is not into a simplified fantasy, like the paranoid universe visited in a Lynch film, but an enriched one: She immediately intuits the Captain's evil; the Faun, on the other hand, is totally ambiguous, his motives unreadable until the last moments of the film. The first fairy she meets isn't quite like the ones she's read about in her books (even though, tellingly, it seems to have model itself after them)--it's hairless, green, eats raw meat, and speaks in an uncanny insect chatter that an edit in the first scene compares to the sinister ticking of the Captain's pocketwatch. While Ofelia is sheltered at home, mostly shielded from the horrific violence that surrounds her at the keep, her fantasy-world is filled with images of viscera, infanticide, and cannibalism, and the choices she faces there are strange, even arbitrary, and difficult. Hence her dream-life isn't about escape, for her--it's a release valve for her terror, ambivalence, and guilt, an ordeal to exorcise her world of the doubt and brutality which she senses all around her but cannot comprehend. Part II comin' soon.