While Ofelia's fantasies arguably turn darker and darker as the film progresses, it is important to note that from the start there is nothing totally harmless about them. For instance, the animal Ofelia first identifies as a fairy is in fact a mantid, an insect notorious for its predatory nature. Moreover, even during Ofelia's initial encounter with the faun, he comes across as something rather different from the kind-hearted Mr. Tumnus with whom you might not mind your ten-year-old having a cup of tea. No great wonder then when Mercedes, a servant who has taken a liking to Ofelia, says that mother warned her "to be wary of fauns," these chthonic creatures that smell of earth, part tree and part mountain. Originally in Greco-Roman mythology, the faun, ever in pursuit of nymphs and maidens, symbolized rampant lust above all else, and, although del Toro has made his faun into an altogether different manner of beast, there remains something inherently sexually suggestive about him. As elsewhere in the film, this muffled sexual dimension amounts to only one of the many ways in which Ofelia's fantasies disturb; far more unsettling is the faun's deeper and deeper penetration into her private space. Eventually, Ofelia no longer must venture out to the labyrinth in order to see the faun, nor must she journey to a tree deep in the forest to enter a different world: all she need do to "escape" into the hall of the Pale Man is open a door within her own bedroom. Again, however we read the grotesque scene with the Pale Man, we must recognize that del Toro keeps its threatening atmosphere implicit in all of Ofelia's fantasies.
The Pale Man scene contains some of the most memorable moments in the film, both visually and viscerally, yet it is also among the most difficult to read. One of the early clues about how to interpret it comes when Ofelia shuts herself in the bathroom to study the blank pages of her book, anticipating the instructions for her second task. Instead of the expected enchanted script, a huge bloodstain begins to spread across the pages in a v-shaped pattern; although the sudden appearance of the blood presages her mother's vaginal hemorrhaging, its resonance with menarche for Ofelia is impossible to ignore. Let us recall here that the faun tells Ofelia that "will show you your future." Whether or not we are to understand Ofelia's first menses as having happened recently, as happening off-screen during the film, or as not yet having happened by the time of her death, her position on the threshold of puberty retains significance. The title of further attests to its connection with liminality, and a crossroads traditionally represents not only a meeting of ways, but also a place for the practice of witchcraft and the burial of deviants. When Ofelia finally arrives in the chamber of the Pale Man, the murals there confirm for us that the scene entails the death of her childhood: the Pale Man is an eater of children, not adults. Furthermore, Francisco Goya's obviously influenced the depiction of the Pale Man in his savagery towards the fairies; a fantastical being himself, the Pale Man is also somehow an eater or destroyer of fantasy. Because of its sexual connotations, I hesitate to use the somewhat clichéd phrase "loss of innocence" to describe what happens to Ofelia when she awakens the destroyer of children by consuming the forbidden grapes, and we need not read the scene overly sexually in order to prove its connection with a more generalized loss of innocence: that is, the entrance into puberty and the beginnings of adulthood.
Everyone involved in this film is of the highest possible calibre, ..
The very real rebels in fight for a very real cause in a very real world, yet the conception of fantasy outlined above remains central to their enterprise. Although the doctor urges Mercedes' brother to cross the border with his men and flee Franco's regime rather than resisting it, the rebels reject a literal "escape" and instead adhere to their imagined ideals. The doctor's eventual heroic act of disobedience to Vidal exemplifies this alternative definition of "escape" in fantasy, an escape from the imposed restrictions of a tyrannous reality. Del Toro's desire to reconfigure the concepts of escape and escapism also makes itself evident in the prologue of the film, in which the narrator explains that the princess from the Underground Realm to enter the real world. This reversal, in which an individual escapes into rather than from reality, foreshadows the way in which del Toro will call into question the standard dismissal of fantasy as escapist. In fact, the character that is most dismissive of Ofelia's fairy tales, her mother, is also the character who offers the least resistance to Captain Vidal's oppression, performing the ultimate act of submission in marrying him. When Ofelia asks her second mother figure, Mercedes, if she believes in fairies, Mercedes replies in the negative, yet qualifies her disbelief: "But when I was a little girl, I did. I believed in a lot of things I don't believe anymore." In these words, Mercedes appears to be claiming that she has lost her beliefs or her faith, but her courageous actions bear witness to what she very much continues to believe in: the rightness of the cause and her contributions to it. In a way, the rebels' great "fantasy" of regaining their country and their freedom, and their belief in that struggle, remains the most inspiring ideal in the film, regardless of the fate of their souls. For, as awful as it seems, we must imagine Mercedes and all her companions as very likely dying for their beliefs, perhaps only a month or two after the events of the film. Nevertheless, we should view their deaths in the service of that ideal as no less golden than Ofelia's return to the Underground Realm, and thus their own collective end only represents a tragedy if we refuse to share their vision.