Pan’s Labyrinth & The Woman in Black

by kubular

Well, hi there!

So, this week I finally got around to watching two films I’ve been wanting to for a while (one, a while longer than the other). Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Spain/Mexico/US, Guillermo del Torro) and The Woman in Black (2012, UK/Canada/Sweden, James Watkins).

Quite refreshing really, after Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Italy, Ruggero Deodato) and Dredd (2012, UK/US/India, Pete Travis). I don’t mind violence – if I did I certainly wouldn’t be watching Cannibal Holocaust and Dredd – but I like the ‘poetry’ and expressionism of a good horror/thriller.

Anyone who appreciates the Hammer films of old will probably enjoy the tone and flavour of The Woman in Black and it has a refreshing subtlety in comparison to the modern horrors I’ve seen. It reminds me of Ring (1998, Japan, Hideo Nakata), a film I remember as quite gothic and I think was about some journalists uncovering a hidden mystery/secret rooted in the traditional values of recent history that was eating away at modern Japan (in the form of a cursed VHS). I may be misremembering all that though, it’s been a long time since I watched it.

Pan’s Labyrinth did something I feel other films (especially Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) sometimes fail to do – it expressed what fascism really means to Europe. As a Brit I can sometimes partake in a certain amount of national pride because “we beat the Nazis”, but really underneath that lies a sadness and an irony. We may have ‘beat’ the Nazis, but not before they marched across a significant chunk of Europe and killed many people with a horribly warped and corrupt modern/industrial sensibility. In visual media we often take a degree of pleasure in ‘Nazi Bashing’ but in films like Where Eagles Dare (1968, UK/Germany, Brian Hutton) and games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001, id Software) we take pleasure in violence against the (more or less) ultimate symbol of Fascism – Nazi soldiers. While at the same time the core principal of fascism is a belief in the rejuvinating/purifying force of violence to destroy the old and stale and replace it with the new and fresh. In politics this always seems to end up wrapped in Nationalism – a desire to return to the good ol’ days when our nations ran significant empires around the globe,

I’ve always feared that Britain is not immune to the same thinking – in some ways we’ve been ‘lucky’. The Great War hurt us badly enough – and brought enough people close enough to the reality of war that culturally we’ve probably been relatively disinterested. Not to mention that really, our own empire has only just been breaking up quite recently. I remember the coverage of Hong Kong’s handover to the chinese in 1997. However, over the last 12 months I’ve watched us celebrate our ‘Britishness’ and exercise our patriotism and I’ve reacted with distaste.

It’s difficult to watch the news, or take an interest in politics without encountering friction between groups of different ethnicities. Only last week was a significant chunk of Question Time taken up by the fear of more foreigners from eastern europe wanting to live here. I understand that there are valid reasons for those fears – our government/public services are limited in resources after all, and our budget is struggling to cope with the people already here.

On the other hand, there are stories of ethnic communities within cities – where the people within those communities want to live according to their own rules instead of those of the land. It doesn’t help that we separate ourselves out, though I can understand why it might appear easier that way, it encourages us to think that people from other countries or parts of the world are actually different from ourselves. After all, they live differently, with their own values, so why shouldn’t they be treat differently?

It’s those kidns of thought processes that in a difficult political and economic climate can bring us to a place I don’t think anyone of us really want to be. I dont’ think we’re quite there yet – I hope that we have a decade or two at least before we need seriously worry about the rise of Fascism in the United Kingdom but I would much rather rule it out entirely.

I seem to remember reading/hearing/being told once that in the middle ages, we had a very fluid concept of identity/nationalism on this island. I hope we can find our way back there – sooner rather than later.

Death does not purify.

Death is just the end of our future.