The Survival Skills of Ofelia in Pans Labyrinth and Szpilman in the Pianist Term Paper

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Sources: 5
  • Subject: Plays
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #22958773
  • Related Topics: Poland, Holocaust, Play, Plays

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Survival Skills Used by Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth

There are 3 scenes that are important for understanding the manner in which Del Toro deploys the fairytale in Pan's Labyrinth for the purpose of making up for and explaining the difficult experiences that innocent individuals go through under the dictatorship of Franco. And as known from history, the peoples' resistance to the fascist was futile. In the end however, the people of Spain emerged from the difficult times of that period into a period of peace where they could appreciate aspects of life that they had given up upon. Similar to the flower blooming on the tree at the end of Toro's film, hope was reborn for the Spaniards. However, even in the modern day world, we live in difficult times once again. Fascism has returned in different and ugly forms all around the globe. And perhaps even we may emerge the same way the Spanish did from the sadism, arrogance, lies and war. The question is will fairytales help us in our quest? Did they help the oppressed Spaniards? Can fairytales offer optimism in dark times? (Zipes 236)

Pan's Labyrinth is about the existence of a magical and at times disturbing world alongside an oppressive real world. The male fairy (faun) -- called Pan -- is a horned creature inducts Ofelia (a little girl) into the spiritual world and helps her to find out how to enter and exit the spiritual world where illuminated spirits live away from the harshness of the real world.

Once Ofelia gets to the military camp, she meets another man who is introduced to her as her new step father. The man is a harsh and sadistic military captain named Vidal. Vidal's character is symbolic of Spanish Fascism and also reflects how the oppressive real world that we dwell in without questioning prevents the complete liberation of beings, a philosophical phenomenon referred to as Cronus Complex (Cronus was a mythological creature that represented death, time and harvesting).

Cronus -- also referred to as "father time"- represents Vidal in the fairytale, the military captain who is constantly depicted throughout the book as constantly looking at his watch. Time is also the most confining restriction that there is in the real/material world. The people around the war camp are terrified of the captain including her step daughter Ofelia. However, to complete her initiation into the "underworld" she must liberate herself from the harsh and oppressive father and time figure and also reconnect with her subdued magical and feminine side. For a complete transformation, the restoration of the duality of the equilibrium is necessary.

Even as the harshness and repression crush the cheerful spirit of Ofelia; the little girl, in a similar manner with how other children psychologically react to the same situation, dissociates from the material world into a fantasy world where adventure, happiness and playfulness can be found. Ofelia's mother repeatedly tells her that magic does not exist. However, as depicted in the film the magic world does exist outside the little girl's imagination, for instance, when a magical mandrake that was given by Pan is placed under her mother's bed it starts healing her from her ills, however when she finds it, she is disgusted by the plant and burns it.

The film is one of opposites: feminine v. masculine, good v. evil, reality v. magic, underworld v. overworld and many more contrasts. Even the end of the movie can be thought of in two ways: either Ofelia is an enlightened being who was able to see what the people bound to the real world could see and she eventually completed her illumination process by transforming into an immortal or she created a fantasy world in her imagination to get out of the harsh material world and eventually committed suicide to escape it. The fairytale is also contrary to the conventional self-actualization paradigm: Ofelia's transformation occurs in the dark while her enlightenment happens in the light; the little girl's illumination occurs in the underworld while illumination is often believed to come from above, from the heavens; the being which brings about the initiation is a deity named Pan that is known for drinking alcohol and frolicking with nymphs yet illumination is often dependent on the control of such lower needs/impulses; for Ofelia to complete her initiation process she has to crawl in mud and get chased by a man and ultimately spill her blood, while the normal process of illumination is often based on the mastery of self and building on uncorrupted virtues. So what is the true fate of the little girl? As the film ends it states that the answer can be figured out by those who have the insight. (Vigilant Citizen)

The survival skills used by Szpilman in the Pianist

Szpilman began his career as a pianist at a Cafe at the very center of Warsaw ghetto. However, by the time the Polish ghetto was closed in late 1940, his family had sold all their possessions including the piano, which he used to play. Life had however forced the writer to overcome his apathy and to look for means to eke out a living and thanks God for finally finding a way to do so. The work he found left him with no time for socializing. However, his realization that his family depended on the little he could earn slowly helped him overcome his previous state of despair. (Szpilman 1)

Later when performing a recital live on Polish radio, the first German bombs were dropped upon Warsaw and the Second World War begun. The recital is what later saved his life when he played it to a German officer (Dyer and Staff). Szpilman noted that he has a long way to get home and that if he survived he would work for the Polish radio again (Silverman 76). The book "the pianist" is a diary documenting the difficult times of a piano player during the Second World War. Szpilman released his book after the Warsaw ghetto events and the book was quickly suppressed by the communist government.

Earlier in Berlin, Szpilman had learned the piano with other notables such as Arthur Schnabel. He had also learned how to compose under the guidance of Franz Shrecker before going back to Warsaw and becoming a staff pianist for the Polish radio. At the beginning of the war, Szpilman continued earning a living by playing at Warsaw ghetto cafes, some of which catered for the creme de la creme of the polish academic community and other wealthy patrons. Szpilman's work helped his family, which included his mother who still wanted to keep up appearances during the war and his father who endlessly played the violin. Szpilman was happy when he immersed himself in the world of music and ignored other real world difficulties. Szpilman also had three siblings Regina an advocate, Halina was rather quiet, and a brother who carried around a Shakespeare book.

Soon after the Germans took control of Poland, Szpilman and members of his family, in a situation similar to what other Polish Jews were experiencing, were taken for "resettlement." In the train station, they collected all the coins they had between them and his father bought a creme caramel, which he then cut into six parts and shared amongst them, this was their last meal as a family. At the very last moment before the train left the station Szpilman was pulled out by a member of the hated Jewish police force, which was collaborating with the Germans. Szpilman later escaped to Aryan section of Warsaw where he was taken in by other musicians who hid him, who did so in spite of knowing that harboring a Jew could result in getting killed. Szpilman was often hungry and sometimes froze in the winter cold, he even thought of committing suicide. Almost delirious he concentrated on mentally practicing his entire music and going through his lessons in conversational English. In bombed shelter where he had taken refuge in what remained of the attic, he was found by a German officer who asked him to play something. And Szpilman played the Chopin Nocturne, the officer a Mr. Wilm Hosenfeld was impressed and brought him clothes and food and also found him a place to stay. Szpilman survived and returned to the Polish radio station as its manager, the German officer was however not lucky he was taken to a Soviet labor camp where he died. In his diary, there are excerpts from the officers own diary where he ponders why the war had to happen at all and then answers because the godlessness of humanity was taking it there. The diary is not a literary work; some say it is more of a stifled exorcism. It is easy to see why authorities suppressed the diary, for its qualities do not clearly align themselves to any national, ethnic or religious lines as many movies or books do instead it reminds people of…

Sources Used in Document:


Dyer, Richard, and Globe Staff. "Wladyslaw Szpilman The Pianist Book Review A Refuge in Music During a Time of Chaos The Boston Globe." The Pianist - Wladyslaw Szpilman - Homepage. Globe Newspaper Company, 21 Sept. 1999. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

Silverman, Jerry. The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2002. Print.

Szpilman, Wladyslaw. The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945. Toronto: Canadian National Institute for the Blind, 2011. Print.

Vigilant Citizen. "The Esoteric Interpretation of "Pan's Labyrinth." N.p., 23 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2015. .

Cite This Term Paper:

"The Survival Skills Of Ofelia In Pans Labyrinth And Szpilman In The Pianist" (2015, October 28) Retrieved February 25, 2020, from

"The Survival Skills Of Ofelia In Pans Labyrinth And Szpilman In The Pianist" 28 October 2015. Web.25 February. 2020. <>

"The Survival Skills Of Ofelia In Pans Labyrinth And Szpilman In The Pianist", 28 October 2015, Accessed.25 February. 2020,