There are endless cliches out there about the importance of a first impression, but whatever truth they may hold in our everyday lives they go double for film. When there’s only a couple of hours to tell a story and capture its players, an audience’s first chance to meet a character is an asset no filmmaker worth their salt is going to waste. So with that in mind, CHUD is going to take a look through the many decades of cinema to extract the most special of those moments when you are first introduced to a character, be they small moments that speak volumes, or large moments that simply can’t be ignored.
Inevitably it will be the major characters and leads that are granted the grandest of entrances, but don’t be surprised to see a few supporting players and minor individuals get their due, when the impact of their appearance lingers longer than their screentime. Also know that these moments may be chosen for any number of reasons, and the list could never be exhaustive. But here you’ll find moments that make a big splash, say a lot with a little, or we think are just particularly cool.
We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to hear from you about each and every entry. Don’t spend the effort guessing future choices or declaring what must be included– just enjoy the ride!
The Film… Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Director… Guillermo del Toro
Entering From Stage Left… Doug Jones in the role of The Pale Man.
What Makes it Special… The design.
Guillermo del Toro is known for a lot of things but one of the most prevalent is his ability to conceptualize, design and create living nightmares with some of his monsters. Perhaps the greatest example of this is in the grotesque, saggy, snake-faced kiddie gobbler The Pale Man from his terrifying fairy tale for grown-ups, Pan’s Labyrinth. But it’s not just the design of the creature that’s special, it’s the design of the introduction itself.
When Ofelia comes through the chalk-outlined door she finds herself in a corridor that almost lends itself to royalty. Stone pillars and deep, blood red walls lined with lit sconces – there’s an air of menace to the surroundings that’s made even more heightened by a slight sense of class and refinement. It’s a sense that becomes less slight as Ofelia goes deeper into the tunnel and finds an enormous banquet – a feast for Kings, lavished with every culinary accoutrement a small, terrified, hungry child could want. And at the head of the table sits the Pale Man. A blind, grotesque statue; a figurehead who presides over his empty kingdom. Ofelia studies a disembodied pair of eyeballs served up on a silver platter but doesn’t really flinch at the thought of being close to the man at the table. He’s certainly not pleasant to look at but he doesn’t seem to pose any immediate threat as he doesn’t even react to Ofelia’s standing right next to him. Plus there’s that whole blind thing…
But then we’re introduced to him a second time as Ofelia makes her way over to the trio of locks on the wall and sees the several portraits of The Pale Man doing what he loves best – eating children. As her eyes drift down to the pile of discarded children’s shoes lying in a corner of the room, there’s an immediate sense of danger that was merely a discomfort not moments before. That’s a big, big pile, after all – and even though the shot lasts only a few frames it’s enough to bring all sorts of horrifying images to mind.
But we’re still not done meeting that ghastly gentleman. After Ofelia retrieves the dagger from one of the locked chambers on the wall, she starts to make her exit but gets distracted by some of the largest, ripest, juiciest grapes anyone has ever seen and, brushing off the pleads of the fairies to let it be, she eats two of them. In the background, however, The Pale Man has come to life. There’s a mix of horror and wonder as he places those two discarded eyeballs into the palms of his hands and raises them up to his face, fanning his fingers out like some sort of horrible nightmarish peacock…
….and then he stands up on those impossibly gangly legs, his empty, loose, dead skin folding down over itself as he makes his way to Ofelia, threatening to add her shoes to his collection. The fairies try to stop him so Ofelia can run away but she’s frozen in place and watches as he snatches two fairies out of the air and proceeds to hand them the loss through a startlingly disgusting beheading with his teeth. Their blood stains the lower half of his pale face and Ofelia runs.
Why it Resonates… Mainly because it’s terrifying, but the terror happens on several layers simultaneously. Del Toro directs the scene perfectly and there’s not a single word spoken the entire time. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, there would have been a recall voice-over reminding the audience that Ofelia was warned not to eat anything, but here it just plays out and it leaves the audience on the edge of its seat, forced to watch as she sets the wheels in motion for her own potential demise. But it goes deeper than that. While the pile of shoes in the Pale Man’s room evokes memories of images from the Holocaust that gives it a real sense of weight and loss, there’s also the fact that in terms of Ofelia’s fantasy world, The Pale Man is the first visualization of something truly evil and dark in her imagination. Up to this point she’d encountered nothing more dangerous than a giant, lazy toad. And if you take the fantasy elements as a mechanism for Ofelia to escape the real-world fear that she lives with daily, the implications of The Pale Man’s place in that are tragic and adds to the mournful weight of her character and how she truly looks at the world around her.
Other Grand Entrances… Princess Moanna’s introduction at the end. If there’s a chance that you haven’t seen this movie yet I don’t want to be the guy that spoils it. But if you have seen it, then you’ll know what I mean when I say the weight of everything that comes before the Princess’ introduction makes it a devastatingly bittersweet moment.
I’m always checking Facebook, keeping an eye on the comments below, and going back and forth on the boards- so I want to hear your thoughts somewhere!