In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”


The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl lacks an immediacy and vibrancy, as well as a genuine sense of emotional connection.

Other Reviews
Review Archives

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…


Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Festivals & Awards Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Opening Shots: Pan's Labyrinth



So many movies have opening shots that are like overtures, condensed miniatures of the whole film. In Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" you might even say it contains the entire movie in one shot. Not only does it begin with the ending, but the movement of the shot (together with the next one) takes us from underground (the land of the subconscious, the imagination) up into the light of day -- or, looked at another way, from political and psychological repression into the liberation of the open air. This presages the momentum of the entire movie.


"Pan's Labyrinth" is so locked into the emotional and fantasy world of its protagonist, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), that the camera itself lies on its side next to her and is then plunges vertiginously into her pupil, entering her head, where the movie takes place. This initial dazzling sweep (actually a composite shot, but executed in once continuous motion) sucks us into the movie so quickly that we barely register what we've seen until the end, when we remember these prophetic first few seconds from the start of the movie.


"Pan's Labyrinth" is riddled with pupils and irises, holes and portals that lead to new worlds. In this first shot, we appear to rise out of the ground (although it's a right-to-left movement, reversing time), into Ofelia's eye into a fantasy realm of her own creation, and then moves back to the right (setting the story into forward motion), following a running figure (Ofelia herself) up a circular stairway and through another doorway, into another chamber, with another stairway. The next shot follows her up the stairs, leading through a reverse of the opening pupil-shot: an eye-hole flooded with white light. And, with that, the movie-proper begins...


Roger Ebert has published a Great Movies review of "Pan's Labyrinth. My own review, originally in the Chicago Sun-Times, is at, too, in the Editor's Notes section.

Popular Blog Posts

Anton Ego and Jesse Eisenberg: some notes on the presumed objectivity of critics

Matt Zoller Seitz reviews and reflects upon Jesse Eisenberg's New Yorker piece about film critics.

The Strange Case of "The Other Side of Midnight"

The film that Fox packaged with "Star Wars" to get theaters to play a little space opera no one had heard of was "The...

Spike Lee’s Oscar: Hollywood Does the Right Thing

An article about Spike Lee's Honorary Oscar at the 2015 AMPAS Governors Awards.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus