Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Ending Explained: Was It Real?

This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending about the film Pan’s Labyrinth / El laberinto del fauno (2006). Was it real? Or was it all in Ofelia’s head? Beware of spoilers.

pan's labyrinth 2006 ending explained

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the 2006 fantasy drama Pan’s Labyrinth stars Ivana Baquero as Ofelia, Sergi López as Captain Vidal and Maribel Verdú as Mercedes.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Plot Summary

Set in 1944 (during Francoist Spain), a 10 year-old named Ofelia travels with her pregnant mother to meet her new stepfather: Captain Vidal. He’s a high-ranking officer assigned to hunt down republican rebels.

When Ofelia arrives to Vidal’s stationary camp. She sights a large grasshopper that leads her to an ancient stone labyrinth. However, Mercedes (the housekeeper) stops her. Mercedes is secretly supporting her brother Pedro and the other rebels.

At night, the same grasshopper appears in Ofelia’s room. The insect transforms itself into a fairy and leads Ofelia to the labyrinth. A faun appears and explains to Ofelia that she’s the reincarnation of princess Moanna. In addition, he gives Ofelia a book containing three tasks that she needs to complete in order to regain her immortality, as well as her ability to return to the kingdom.

The first task consists in retrieving a key from the belly of a giant frog, which she succeeds. Meanwhile, Ofelia’s mother’s conditions worsens causing her to delay the completion of the second task. The faun offers Ofelia a mandrake root to help with her mother’s health.

The second task consists in the retrieving a dagger from the Pale’s man cave. She succeeds, but decides to ignore the faun’s orders. Ofelia ate two grapes from the Pale Man’s table and that awakened him. She manages to escape but two fairies were eaten in the process. When the faun learns what happened, he refuses to give Ofelia the third task.

After a surprise attack, Vidal captures a rebel and tortures him. Vidal calls Doctor Ferreiro to keep the rebel alive, but he ignores his orders and euthanises the him. Vidal suspects that Ferreiro is helping the rebels. Therefore, he kills him. After this incident, Vidal barges into Carmen’s room and pulls Ofelia from under the bed. He’s furious about the mandrake root. Carmen agrees and throws into the fire pit which triggers her to give birth earlier. Although, Ofelia’s brother makes it, her mother dies.

Vidal discovers that Mercedes is a spy. She packs her things and takes Ofelia with her. However, Vidal and his men stops them from running way. Vidal orders his men to lock Ofelia in her room and takes Mercedes. Alone with Vidal, Mercedes is able to free herself and stab him. She runs away and rejoins the rebels. Meanwhile, the faun changes his mind and gives Ofelia another opportunity. The third task consists in bringing Ofelia’s brother to the labyrinth. She breaks into Vidal’s office and runs away with the baby.

At the labyrinth, the faun explains that a small amount of the baby’s blood is necessary to complete the third task. However, Ofelia refuses. She doesn’t want to harm an innocent. The faun leaves and tells Ofelia that she’ll never be able to return to the kingdom. Meanwhile, Vidal shows up and sees Ofelia talking all by herself. Vidal demands Ofelia to give him the baby and then he proceeds to shoot her. When Vidal was about to leave the labyrinth, the rebels surround him. He hands the baby to Mercedes and asks her to let his son know about the exact time of his death. Mercedes refuses and says his son will never know who his real father was. One the rebels shoots Vidal and he drops dead.

Mercedes enters the labyrinth and finds a bleeding Ofelia on her last breath. The next scene shows Ofelia in beautiful dress and unharmed. The king of the underworld tells her that she passed the test, when she chose to spill her own blood rather than that of an innocent. The faun praises Ofelia for her choice and the queen of the underworld invites her to sit next to her father and rule beside him. Back at the labyrinth, Ofelia dies calmly in Mercedes’ arms.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Ending Explained

When the faun asked for Ofelia’s brother’s blood, it was actually a test. She passed because she chose to sacrifice herself instead of harming an innocent. Ofelia refused to hurt her baby brother, even if that meant spending the rest of her life as a human.

Was it real? Or was it all imagined by Ofelia?

What I like about Pan’s Labyrinth is that it doesn’t force the viewer to choose how Ofelia’s story ended. Therefore, if you are a sceptic, then you could interpret the whole film as Ofelia’s form of escaping her harsh reality. However, if you’re a believer, you could also view the whole thing as being real. It’s really up to you.

Personally, I’m a believer. I knew that I was watching a fantasy film, so I just took the story for its face value. I accepted Ofelia’s fantasy world without questioning how far-fetched it was. But let’s dig deeper into the two different perspectives.

Pan’s Labyrinth – Ending 1 (it wasn’t real)

pan's labyrinth 2006 ofelia's death

From a sceptic’s point of view, Ofelia’s was never an underworld princess and the whole thing was her way of coping with the hard reality. Ofelia’s mother didn’t die because she toss the mandrake root into the fire pit. The woman was already experiencing a lot of stress during the whole pregnancy. In addition, her health wasn’t the best, so there were a lot of signs that labour would be the end of her.

When Vidal was chasing Ofelia in the labyrinth, she was talking alone. There was no faun, hence, it was all in Ofelia’s head. The last scene, where Ofelia returns to her kingdom was just a way for her to end the fantasy on a high note. She had her mother there and a male figure whom she could call a father. Ofelia projected everything she was lacking in the real world into that fantasy.

Pan’s Labyrinth – Ending 2 (it was real)

pan's labyrinth ofelia's kingdom

From a believer’s point of view, Ofelia was indeed a princess. Though she left her physical body, her spirit was now somewhere else, a happier place. Now, do we have evidence in the film to back this up? Yes.

First, Vidal locked Ofelia in her room. There was no way, she could access to Vidal’s office if it wasn’t for “magic”. She used the chalk to draw a door and Mercedes saw those lines when she came back for her.

Second, when Vidal was chasing Ofelia in the labyrinth, she actually reached a dead end and that’s why Vidal had to turn around. She was able to get away, because the walls magically opened and closed again after she got in.

Third, the flower that blossoms at the end. According to the narrator, the princess left traces of her existence on Earth, but they were only visible to those who know where to look. In other words, not everyone is able to spot “magic” where it exists, that might also explain why Vidal was unable to see the faun.

Final Thoughts

Pan’s Labyrinth is a very strange film, but in a good way. It’s definitely a film for grown-ups, but told in a very fairy-tale like way. The film is not shy about having violent scenes. However, that was also the reality of those times.

Ofelia is not a perfect character. She comes off a little bratty sometimes. For instance, when she refused to follow the instructions at the Pale Man’s cave. Her actions caused the death of two fairies. But otherwise, how else is she going to learn? In addition, she’s just a kid, she will do dumb things. That’s what makes her a child and human.

Obedience is also a recurrent theme in the film. Following the rules is not always the right thing to do, but not following them also brings dire consequences. Doctor Ferreiro went against Vidal’s rules when he euthanised the captive rebel. Though it cost his life, he left with his conscience clean.

Pan’s Labyrinth touches upon a lot a complex grown-up issues, even though its heroine is a child. Ofelia’s mother is fed up and rushes her to grow up. She reminds Ofelia that fairy tales don’t exist. Carmen above anyone else knows what’s like to make adult choices. I mean who would pick Vidal as a husband? A very desperate woman, who was looking for a man to provide for her and her little girl.

Overall, Pan’s Labyrinth is not an easy film to watch, some scenes were just too heartbreaking. However, if you’re a “believer”, you’ll leave the film with feeling that everything ended well, just like a fairy tale. The film has one those stories, that you’ll never forget. Definitely a timeless masterpiece.