Possibly one of the most imaginative and darkest movies that I have ever had the pleasure to see was Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece “El laberinto del fauno,” or more commonly referred to as “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This movie utterly swept me off my feet. I saw the film at our local theater with oddly enough, my mom, and a friend from work. While it wasn’t quite what they had anticipated because of the level of darkness in it, I was enthralled by the story, the characters, and of course, the exquisite music composed by Javier Navarrete.
Hearing the first song on the soundtrack, entitled “Long, Long, Time Ago,” one cannot help but imagine the scenery in which the following story takes place. Inserted in this song is one of the principle tracks on the album, “Mercedes Lullaby.” The lullaby immediately brings you back to the past, to a time when everything was innocent, the evils of the world were unknown and around every corner, one could expect to behold a glorious kingdom of fantasy. There is, of course, a sadness inherent as well toward the end and that rushes you back to the present, back to everything you now know.
The 21 track album is the perfect companion while writing a dark fantasy novel, a horror series, or even a paranormal romance. However, none of these were the genre I was writing while listening to the album. In fact, there was nothing fantasy about the book at all. Several years ago, I was in the process of writing a bio-terrorism thriller simply entitled, The Diver. I never finished it because the project got very out of hand. There were multiple characters that were hard to keep track of, several of the subplots became too absurd and cluttered the piece, and sadly, I just got bored with it. However, the inspiration that Navarrete’s soundtrack provided didn’t perish with the book.
Track 4, “The Fairy and the Labyrinth” is one that demands respect and much attention. While working on “The Diver,” this became a dream song. In the dream, one of the characters has fallen asleep in an alley where they are watching an informant. They suddenly visualize their dead brother, who approaches them in a corpse-like state. The character awakens horrified. She was the reason her brother was killed and the guilt she feels wrenches open something in her that can never be closed. The rippling violin from 2:30 to 2:40 is where her brother reaches out a bloody hand toward her and where she wakes up. I still see this scene vividly whenever I hear the song and it gives me goosebumps.
Track 6, “The Moribund Tree and the Toad” is another classic favorite. There is definitely a journey being made in this song and the combination of instruments, headed by the violin, clarinet, and piano is divinely haunting. I tend to break this song up into three distinct parts. The first is the introduction and beginning of the journey. There is a lightness being represented and the character has his goal at the end of the path in mind. Around 2:40, the second part opens up. The first of many challenges in the character’s way shows itself. These trials become increasingly difficult as the protagonist moves on but he passes each one with more strength and courage than the last. At 4:40, the character reaches his destination. However, he doesn’t realize that his greatest enemy and greatest challenge yet lies ahead. It looks as though he will be defeated. It’s too much for him to fight on his own, hence the notes become darker and more strained as this portion continues. The song can end either two ways. In spirit with the dark nature of the soundtrack, the hero dies at the end, overcome by his greatest challenge. Or, he defeats the evil and continues on his quest. Either way, the song ends on a very low note and there is a sense that things are unfinished. Oddly enough, I think I just described Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.”
The soundtrack wouldn’t exist without track 9, “Mercedes Lullaby.” What I enjoy most about this track are not just the low notes on the violin or the tension represented, I love the voice, presumably that of Maribel Verdu, the actress who plays Mercedes in the movie. Her voice isn’t pitch perfect nor is it as harmonious as the singer from track 1. However, this voice makes the song. This voice symbolizes a grief at circumstances the way they are. But, there is always a hope that things will become better in the future and a will to continue on toward that.
Track 11: “Not Human.” You want a horror soundtrack? You’ve most certainly got one. This song accompanies the scene in the film where Ofelia ventures into the lair of the Pale Man, probably one of the most horrific creatures in movie monster history. In fact, I mentioned him on my Halloween post of top 10 movie monsters. I honestly can’t listen to this song without thinking there might be someone or something creeping up behind me. (And I always look just to be sure.)
Track 19, “Ofelia” is probably one of the most epic on the soundtrack. And I don’t like to throw the word “epic” around lightly when I talk about music. The song begins with a bang! It begins when the unthinkable happens, a revelation is discovered, a truth uncovered, and an event erupts, sending all of the characters spiraling out of control. For me, this song has always been about the descent of a character from good into bad. It happens with such rapidity that it at first seems unbelievable. Sometimes though, all it takes is for one ideal to be shattered, one tiny secret to slip for things to come crashing down.
“Pan’s Labyrinth Lullaby” at track 21 is the perfect ending to this soundtrack. The violin pierces you as you listen to the by now familiar tune of “Mercedes Lullaby.” Whatever events have happened thus far in the story are tragic and seemingly irreversible. Perhaps things are bittersweet and the end seems near. However, that light glinting at the end of the tunnel might not be a freight train after all. It might be the first real glimmer of daylight. And our characters need only to pick themselves up off the floor and walk to reach it.
Next week on Inspiration Through Music, I’ll be focusing on a few songs from one of my favorite bands of all time, Massive Attack.