Challenging the Labyrinth

I did not want to write about this. I wanted to leave it behind in the dark cave of last night where it held me hostage till midnight. I wanted to skip forward happily and write of nothing heavier than whole wheat flour whipped into sweet butter to form savory pastry and sugar cookies. And hopefully I will still get to indulge in my flighty musings on bakery, but my best Valentine cookie recipe has vanished, and life seems to be pressing me to make a record of this first. So it goes.

Last night, I went to see Pan's Labyrinth, which turned out to be a movie comprised of all the very worst theatrical elements for a person of my makeup. First off, I despise violence. And I abhor particularly gory, excruciatingly painful, intentionally inflicted, drawn-out depictions of mutilation and murder -- made all the worse when elevated to a grand elegant art form: choreographed, rehearsed, edited for dramatic effect, and blasted onto an over-sized screen in beautiful saturated colors like a fete exalting suffering.

Set this heinous revelry in the context of actual historical events and my anguish from seeing such horrifying brutality is like having my bones snapped in half; no longer am I watching mere apparitions dreamed up by some screenwriter, I am now witnessing what may very well have happened to an actual person who's terrible fate it was to have existed in that place at that time.

Finally, anything that takes you on a journey to where hope should reside, then haughtily pulls back the curtain and does a nefarious victory dance when it reveals that there's nothing there is poison to me. Digesting anything suggesting such soullessness is like swallowing shards of glass, like dragging a cilice against the nap of my very being, tearing, shredding, peeling off long thin aching shreds from the skin of my philosophy about life.

Pan's Labyrinth is a combination of all of these things. Set after the Spanish Civil War it offers scene after scene of gratuitous mayhem, of cruel, gleefully administered torture, with intermittent entry into a fantasy world fueled by horror and ruled by the Satanic version of the Greek god Pan. All seeming glimmers of wonder are infested and extinguished by dark gorging slime-cloaked bugs or burned at the stake in fits of frightful screams. Not only is our faith humanity marred, the movie takes us to the world of imagination and disfigures the spirit. After canvassing the screen with all the horrors of men, it plunges us into the very depths of what is possible, where we find nothing but a dark cold empty chamber, vacant, not because it was abandoned, but because there was nothing there to begin with.

I sat in the movie feeling like I was drowning, hoping, with the change of each new scene that I could come up for a breath. The chance at a gasp for air never arrived. I felt like I'd been banished to the bottom of a well while all the worst of this world was poured down on top of me. During the most atrocious moments I plunged my face into my collar bone, covering my ears to muffle the sound of the cries coming from the screen; and I wished I were in some peaceful field, wished that nothing so horrible as this ever had to happen to anyone, mentally sobbing at the very notion that it did, and I wondered how it was that anyone else in the theater could possibly be standing this, even enjoying it. Laughing in parts, while I felt more of the blood drain out of me with each on-screen sustained gash. After getting a full view of the bloodied torture scene, due a too-quick cut from the ghastly underworld, which my hand-covered eyes had previously managed to shield me from, I'd had too much. I bolted.

Finding solace in front of the bathroom mirror, I cried, then wiped my eyes, looked deep into them, and there was an exchange of a reassuring look. I took a deep breath, collected myself, then wandered out into the lobby.

A fratish boy employee was hunched over at the concession stand, looking very bored. I asked him how much of the movie was left. He shrugged as he delivered his approximation, then, "Why? Don't you like it? You're the first. I've heard nothing but really good things."

"Torture doesn't set well with me," I explained.

He dismissed this comment as if I'd been talking about the stale popcorn he was selling.

And I thought, "Really? The only one? For everyone else torture goes down so easy?"

And I sighed. And the movie eventually relinquished its captives. And I went on my way with the rest of my night, immersing myself in lighthearted fun, trying to forget, because this is certainly not the first time I've weighed in with a minority opinion on a film I deemed horrible and hopeless and grotesque, a movie I found so repugnant that it made me question the very mental makeup of all the throngs who hailed it.

And it was still with me this morning, but fainter. I was still vowing to leave it behind.

But while at the bookstore this afternoon, perusing the words of my sometimes-guru, Mary Oliver, looking for the right volume to give a mourning friend, I glanced at the final line of one of her poems, which read:

"And mostly I'm grateful that I take this world so seriously."

Then I looked up at the heading. The poem was entitled "The Gift."

And that's when I knew I would write this.

No comments: