Analysis of Pan's Labyrinth

Summary The movie is set in post-Civil War Spain and follows 11-year-old Ofelia who discovers she is the lost princess of the Underworld. She is given three tasks to complete to return to her kingdom, but as the fascist supporters and guerrilla fighters clash, her mother falls ill, and her stepfather's cruelty escalates, Ofelia struggles to complete her tasks. Despite completing them, she tragically dies at the hands of her stepfather, but her legacy lives on.

Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique Pan's Labyrinth is a beautifully shot, and engaging story that weaves together elements of history and fantasy. The tale of Princess Moanna serves as an interesting parallel to Ofelia's real-world struggles and the film effectively blurs the line between reality and imagination. However, the film could have done a better job of connecting the two themes - the fairytale of the Princess of the underworld doesn't feel sufficiently integrated into the story of the post-Civil War Spain that makes up the bulk of the film. The introduction of the faun is also a bit jarring in how sudden it is.
Suggestions: To improve the screenplay, more work needs to be done to connect the faerie tale fantasy to the real-life struggles that Ofelia and her mother face in the post-civil war Spain. The political struggle could have been better intertwined with the fairytale story to make it feel less out of place. It also would have been interesting to see more interaction between Ofelia's two worlds - perhaps her completing quests in the fairy tale world that directly tie into her struggles in real life. Finally, the introduction of the faun could be better set up - perhaps there could have been hints to his existence earlier in the film.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:


Ofelia is a curious, imaginative, and sensitive 11-year-old girl who loves fairy tales, enchanted objects, and magical creatures. She is deeply connected to the magical world around her, but also vulnerable and unsure of her place in the real world. Ofelia has a close relationship with her mother, but resents her for being dismissive of her hobbies. She is introspective and compliant, but also brave and independent, willing to take risks to achieve her goals.


Carmen is a complex and multifaceted character who undergoes significant changes throughout the movie. At first, she comes across as tired, grumpy, and dismissive, but as the story unfolds, we see her struggle with her pregnancy, her marriage, and her place in the world. She is fiercely protective of her children and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their survival, even if it means betraying her own beliefs and values. Carmen is also nostalgic for her own childhood and wants to make up for what she perceives as a lack of luxury in her upbringing. Despite her flaws and mistakes, Carmen is ultimately a caring and loving mother who tries to do the best she can in difficult circumstances.


Mercedes is caring, compassionate, and nurturing towards Ofelia while also harboring a secret desire to undermine the fascist leadership. She is competent, efficient, proud of her work, and enjoys organizing her kitchen. Mercedes is strong, loyal, a skilled fighter, and has a strong sense of justice and morality. She is conflicted about the rebellion and struggles with her feelings for Pedro, but ultimately remains determined and resourceful in protecting her family and friends.


Vidal is a cold, calculating, and highly driven military captain. He is obsessed with maintaining power and control, which often manifests in cruel and sadistic behavior. He has little regard for human life and will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals, even if it means betraying those closest to him. Vidal is also fiercely protective of his unborn son and sees him as a symbol of the new Spain he hopes to build.

Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Ofelia Throughout the movie, Ofelia's character arc is one of discovery, growth, and sacrifice. She begins the story as an innocent and curious girl, fascinated by the magical world around her. She embarks on a fantasy quest to complete three tasks to prove herself worthy of becoming a princess. As she completes each task, she becomes more aware of the darkness and dangers of the real world. She learns to be brave and persistent, standing up to authority when necessary to protect her family. By the end of the story, Ofelia has sacrificed herself in order to save her brother, demonstrating her love, bravery, and selflessness. Overall, Ofelia is a well-developed and complex character who undergoes significant growth over the course of the movie. However, at times, her actions and decisions can be impulsive or naïve, leading her into dangerous situations. Additionally, some aspects of her character, such as her resentment towards her mother, are not fully explored or resolved.
To improve Ofelia's character arc, it would be beneficial to provide more context and background for her relationship with her mother, and explore the reasons for their emotional distance. This could help make her decisions and motivations more understandable to the audience. Additionally, her growth could be more organic and gradual, with more emphasis on the difficult choices she makes in the face of real-world danger, rather than relying solely on her attachment to the fantasy world. Overall, more attention could be given to developing and resolving the emotional conflicts within Ofelia's character.
Carmen Carmen's character arc centers around her struggle with her pregnancy and the increasing dependence on medicine, which makes her vulnerable to manipulation and control. As the story unfolds, Carmen becomes more isolated and dependent on her husband Vidal, who represents the oppressive forces of the fascist regime. At the same time, she begins to realize the brutality and cruelty of the war and the toll it takes on her family and loved ones. In the end, Carmen sacrifices herself to protect her daughter and give her a chance at a better life. Her character arc is one of self-discovery, sacrifice, and redemption. Overall, Carmen's character arc is well-developed and engaging, but it would benefit from more distinct and impactful moments throughout the film. While her struggles with medication and pregnancy are evident, they tend to be somewhat overshadowed by the larger political conflicts and magical elements of the story. Additionally, Carmen's actions towards Ofelia sometimes come across as harsh and unsympathetic, which makes it harder to empathize with her character.
To improve Carmen's character arc, it would be helpful to focus more on her internal struggles and motivations throughout the film. This could be achieved through more intimate conversations or flashbacks that show her past experiences and emotions more clearly. It might also be helpful to lighten her impact on Ofelia and portray her more as a sympathetic and loving mother, which would make her actions later in the film more impactful and emotional.
Mercedes Mercedes begins as a nurturing caretaker to Ofelia but becomes a key player in the resistance movement, risking her life for the rebels and fighting against Vidal. She is initially guarded about the fauns, but ultimately joins the cause and makes difficult sacrifices for it. Her character arc culminates in her embracing her role as a member of the resistance, determined to protect the people she loves and fight for what is right. Mercedes is a well-rounded character with strong motivations and a solid character arc. However, her conflicted feelings towards the rebellion and Pedro could have been explored in more detail to add further depth to her character.
To improve Mercedes' character arc, consider adding scenes that delve deeper into her internal conflict and struggles with the rebellion and Pedro. This could help create a more complex and nuanced portrayal of the character.
Vidal At the beginning of the film, Vidal is portrayed as an uncompromising and ruthless military captain who is willing to do anything to achieve his goals. However, as the story progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with maintaining power and control, to the point of sacrificing everything that he holds dear. His arc ultimately leads him to become a monster, as his fears and paranoia drive him to commit atrocities against the guerrilla fighters and the people he is supposed to protect. In the end, he meets a fitting end at the hands of those he has wronged. While Vidal is an excellent antagonist, his character arc could be developed further. At times, it feels as though his motivations are entirely driven by his desire for power and control, with little development beyond that. Additionally, his ultimate demise feels somewhat rushed and lacks the emotional impact that it could have had. There is potential for greater depth and nuance in this character, which would make his arc all the more satisfying.
To improve Vidal's character arc, it would be helpful to delve further into his backstory and explore the events and experiences that shaped him into the man he is today. This would give the audience a greater understanding of his motivations and make his actions more understandable, if not sympathetic. Additionally, adding further moments of vulnerability or hesitation would make Vidal feel more human and less of a one-dimensional villain. Finally, slowing down the pace of his ultimate demise would give his final moments greater weight and emotional resonance.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
The Power of Imagination and StorytellingThroughout the film, Ofelia uses her imagination and love for fairy tales to cope with the harsh reality of post-Civil War Spain. The story also includes a fairytale within the film, which intertwines and parallels with the real-world events.This theme highlights the escapism that comes with storytelling and how it can be used as a way to deal with life's difficulties. It also emphasizes the importance of imagination in one's life.
The Brutality of WarThe film portrays the senseless violence and cruelty that comes with war, including the torture and killing of suspects and the withholding of medicine and supplies for guerrilla fighters.This theme depicts the horrors of war and its impact not only on soldiers but also on civilians caught in the crossfire. It also shows the cruelty and disregard for human life that can arise in times of conflict.
Sacrifice and LossThe film portrays the sacrifice of characters such as Mercedes, who risks her life to help the guerrilla fighters, and Ofelia, who ultimately sacrifices her life in order to become Princess Moanna and complete the tasks assigned to her by the Faun.This theme reflects on the idea that sometimes, in order to achieve something greater, one must make sacrifices. It also portrays the emotional pain and loss that comes with such sacrifices.
Authority and PowerThe film portrays the authority and power held by Captain Vidal, who abuses his power by torturing and killing suspects and withholding medicine and supplies from the guerrilla fighters.This theme highlights the dangers and abuses of authority and power, particularly in times of conflict. It also shows the impact that these abuses can have on individuals and society as a whole.
Identity and Self-discoveryThe film explores Ofelia's journey of self-discovery as she learns of her true identity as Princess Moanna and completes the tasks assigned to her by the Faun.This theme reflects on the idea of discovering one's true identity and purpose in life. It also emphasizes the importance of personal growth and the journey towards finding oneself.

Screenwriting Resources on Themes


Site Description
Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

YouTube Videos

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Story, Plot, Genre, Theme - Screenwriting Basics Screenwriting basics - beginner video
What is theme Discussion on ways to layer theme into a screenplay.
Thematic Mistakes You're Making in Your Script Common Theme mistakes and Philosophical Conflicts