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Representations of Childhood in Film Essay

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Childhood is represented in the media as a special time in life. A ‘walled, protected garden ‘with adults patrolling the outside to keep the innocents within safe from the hostile world outside. This image of childhood has been reinforced by a number of films churned out by the Hollywood movie machine to reinforce the romanticized view that the life of children is somehow more innocent, simpler and full of wonder. There are some films, however, that challenge these nostalgic visions of childhood and instead represent a view that childhood is a complex and challenging. Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth boldly subverts ideas about childhood and attempts to see that children confront harsh realities at an early age and often show amazing resilience and bravery in confronting them. Through controlled use of cinematic and narrative conventions, Del Toro reveals the need for disobedience and non-compliance with the adult world when it offers no moral direction or protection.

The world facing Ofelia, the young heroine of Pan’s Labyrinth . is disturbing and violent. Forced to move into the country to meet her new stepfather, a fascist officer fighting against insurgents in the mountains, Ofelia must confront many new challenges. Her pregnant and ill mother is unable to stand up to the dominating and misogynistic Captain Vidal. When Ofelia first meets Vidal she is driven up in a huge black limousine to meet her new ‘father’. Even at this stage we see she and her mother have no control of their lives. As she steps out of the car she goes to shake his hand but because she is carrying books offers her left hand. He coldly informs her that she should shake hands with her right hand. The camera focuses on a shot of his black...


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...ty. Ofelia is forced to make difficult decisions in both her worlds. Her refusal to hand over baby brother to both Vidal and the Faun because of her doubt about their motives reveal she is a child who has a clear sense of moral responsibility. Active disobedience against adult authority is necessary but makes the child’s life especially complex. If adults are cruel and morally corrupt . the child must believe in their own sensse of what is right.

Ofelia is a child but her life is very different from the soft, sanitised view of childhood often presented in many Hollywood films. She is challenged both in the fantasy world and the real world to make complex decisions about what is important and in doing so reveals a strength and resilience that make her a true hero and worthy ‘princess’ to her magical land.


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Pan's Labyrinth directed by Guilemo del Toro


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