In regards to the symbolism in the film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” director Guillermo del Toro states during his commentary track on the DVD that, “Symbols cannot be closed to a single meaning, because if so the symbol becomes a cypher, and the tale become an equation of exact value.”
del Toro means that symbols are subject to interpretation by the viewer, regardless of the director’s intentions for the symbolism in the film. I won’t ruin the film for you, and if you haven’t seen it by all means do so, but the ending of the film is up for interpretation, and del Toro specifically ended his movie with the expectation that many viewers will interpret the symbols and symbolism in the film in different ways. Your interpretation of those symbols will determine how you view the ending of the film.
I am by no means a semiotician, nor can I even claim to fully understand semiotics. Sure, I have a general idea of how signifiers and the signified relate to texts, but as far as breaking things down into their individual structures, well, that ain’t my bag, baby. But, I do find it interesting how different people interpret the exact same symbol, or series of symbols, in completely different ways. Because we do all interpret symbols a little bit differently, don’t we? When I see the montages of the American flag in Michael Bay films, I’m quite sure the first thought that pops into my head is very different than the first one that pops into yours. Likewise, I’m sure the meanings you attach to the Millennium Falcon are very different from the meanings that I attach to it.
Arguing over the meanings and interpretations of symbols in literature and films is quite a lot of fun. Arguing over them in everyday life isn’t really all that fun. In fact, I’d say that many of the major points of contention in our society might very well stem from conflicting interpretations of symbols. Personally, I think everything would run a lot smoother if we treated everyday life like literary and film criticism. Instead of attacking each other over our contentious interpretations we could all sit down and write out an article length paper for each symbol we interpret, wherein we meticulously detail how and why we arrived at our interpretation of said symbol.
We’d be so damn busy writing all the time that no one would have a chance to even interact with another person, much less argue with one.