I've commented several times about fairy tales and particularly how individuals like C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others who prefer initials over first names have argued that fairy tales function best for adults. Tolkien suggested that adults in fact have more need of fairy tales than do children in large part because adults are more aware of the confusion, fear, and uncertainty that comes along with the world. Whereas the child may fear the imaginary monster under the bed, adults often have to contend with things that are truly fearful and not imaginary at all. (Unfortunately, increasing numbers of children today are forced to do the same).
So I find it interesting that Hollywood has taken in recent years to providing fairy tales for adults. I think of M. Night Shyamalan's tale Lady in the Water, an adult fairy tale addressing the need for faith and community. Or more recently, Pan's Labyrinth. This is a Spanish film that has garnered significant attention here in the US. It is very much a fairy tale movie, but in no way suitable for children -- even though the main character is a young girl.
The movie is set against the back drop of the Spanish Civil War and deals with a young girl whose life is in disarray. She has been moved to a military camp because her mother recently married the leader of the camp. This girl (whose name in the film escapes me) has to contend not only with the violence of the war but with a step-father who is cold and violent. What helps her cope is a fairy tale. She believes that a fairy has visited her and led her to a labyrinth where she learns that in fact she is the daughter of an immortal fairy king, the lost princess, who must complete a series of tasks and prove her worthiness before she will be allowed to return to her father's wonderful kingdom.
The movie is moving and tragic, but what captivates is the intriguing interplay between the real world with all its horrors and the fairy tale world that only this girl can see. Is her fairy tale world real or imagined? The movie is somewhat unclear on this, but what it presents in a crystal clear fashion is the importance of stories and fantasy. It illustrates how fantasy stories can function to help us cope with the harsh realities of life.
There is also an interesting parallel, whether intended or not, between the story of this girl's struggle and the gospel story. She believes she has a loving, immortal father in a kingdom beyond this world. If she shows herself to be faithful, she will join him in that kingdom. Does she make it? Well, you'll have to watch the movie for that. Be forewarned though: as in the best fairy tales and also as in life, not everyone lives happily ever after.