A mock-article I wrote when my media studies covered psycho-analysis in cinema. Still rather enjoy tormenting fans of Disney with this now…
A leaked extract from Slavoj Zizek’s new book “How to make love and alienate people”, available in all strange book-stores in the New Year.
Even in a children’s film seemingly innocent as The Lion King exhibits examples in which psychoanalysis can be used to analyse a singular film. Consider the Oedipus complex (named after the ancient Greek play by Sophocles where Oedipus unknowingly murdered his father and married his mother) Freud theorised about. In the early years of its life, a young boy often has an extraordinarily close relationship with its mother; it essentially loves its maternal figure, to the extent it develops a sexual interest.However, there is often a barrier to this love, an obstacle in the form of the father, who is already engaged in a relationship with the mother. The child, Freud says, has a desire to displace the father from the equation, a competitive aggression, as then the child can be with the mother, but the child also fears –metaphorical- castration from its father in order to prevent his displacement. As a result, often the boy becomes more like his father, not only because the father is seen as something to be in order to find a partner, but to placate this fear of attack.
Disney’s The Lion King, it could be argued, rather than a re-telling of Hamlet, is arguably a literal portrayal of this Oedipal stage. The young cub Simba has an extremely close relationship with his mother, to the extent she cleans him using her tongue. With her (albeit unwitting) consent, Simba defies his father’s orders not to visit the elephant graveyard in order to prove his own bravery, to be more kingly, or like his father, acting as if he wants to displace his father as head of the pride.
When his father Mufasa discovers what his son has done, he becomes angry, and Simba is not only intimidated by the potential punishment from his father, he is emasculated by the fact everyone is told of his short-comings in the elephant graveyard, so on two levels he could said to fear castration from his father.
When Mufasa dies, Simba believes he’s the guilty party, told by his Machiavellian uncle Scar he caused the accident (oddly making half of the original story of Oedipus relevant, but I digress) and Simba flees. Even in death, Mufasa returns to inform Simba of his short-comings, as a paternal super-ego, encouraging his son to be more like him, or risk being a failure in his father’s eyes, and so metaphorically castrated.
Simba subsequently has a revelation, seeing himself in a pond – he has essentially become a new model of his father – so all that remains is for the cub to return to the pride fully-grown to take his father’s place. If I were to be really picky I could also point out that he would therefore have exclusive breeding rights in a pride in which his mother is one of the breeding females, but Disney make it clear he has a mate in the not-so-very different Nala anyway. Which-ever way you look at it though, the prophecy, so to speak, is fulfilled.