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Scar (The Lion King)
By: Audrey Squire
Scar, The villain in Disney’s
The Lion King
, is the younger brother of King Mufasa and first-in-line for the throne of Pride Rock. His character is sarcastic and intelligent yet conniving and power-hungry, and he is persuasive enough to gain support of an entire army of hyenas (Hahn, 1994). Blindly egotistical, Scar believes that he alone is worthy to rule the kingdom, and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. He explains that “as far as brains go, I got the lion's share. But, when it comes to brute strength... I'm afraid I'm at the shallow end of the gene pool” (Hahn, 1994); he recognizes his physical inadequacy to Mufasa, but considers himself intellectually superior. This bitter strength, however, is a façade. Confrontation reveals scar to be sly and cowardly, and he would rather scheme behind others’ backs and leave the ‘dirty work’ to those below him.
With the birth of his nephew Simba, Scar’s status has been further demoted. This newborn cub ranking above him is the final straw, and he is overcome with jealousy towards his undeserving brother and nephew. In response, he engineers a plan to assassinate both Mufasa and Simba and claim the kingdom for himself (Hahn, 1994).
His first attempt at killing Simba fails when Mufasa intervenes, but with the help of the hyenas he organizes a wildebeest stampede to kill them both (Disney Villains, 2011). Mufasa once again saves his son, but when he needs Scar’s help to save his own life, Scar pushes him off of a cliff to his death: “long live the king” (Hahn, 1994). He tells young Simba that his father’s death is his fault, and convinces him to “Run. Run away and never return” (Hahn, 1994). With both Mufasa and Simba out of the picture Scar assumes the role of king of Pride Rock.
Under Scar’s reign the hyenas roam freely about the Pride Lands, and without structure or order it quickly becomes a barren and desolate wasteland. Unexpectedly, adult Simba, who Scar had believed died many years ago, returns to challenge him for the kingdom. Scar cannot escape, and when Simba has him cornered he pleads for his life, blaming everything on the hyenas. Although he has lost the battle and his nephew spares his life, he backhandedly tries one more time to trick Simba. Simba pushes him off of a cliff, and the hyenas, who had overheard their leader betray them, kill Scar (Hahn, 1994).
Scar was ranked number 3 in the Top 30 Disney Villains (below Maleficent and Jafar) and is the only animated character ever to be nominated for Best Villain in the MTV Movie Awards (Disney Villains, 2011). After the original feature film
The Lion King
debuted, unofficial books and short movies such as
The Lion King: Six New Adventures
gave more information about the character. These include the story of how his original name “Taka” (meaning “dirt” or “waste” in Swahili) was changed when the young lion was angered by his older brother’s future as king, and he was inadvertently hurt by a buffalo, leaving a permanent scar over his left eye (Disney Villains, 2011). His character has also appeared in the related film
The Lion King 1 ½,
as well as the Broadway production of
The Lion King
and various video games by Disney (Scar, n.d.).
The neo-analytic approach to personality psychology borrows aspects from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, focusing on each individual’s ‘ego’ as the core of their personality. The term ego, as Carl Jung called it, refers to a one’s identity and sense of self, or, in other words, who they see themselves as and who they show to others. Other significant neo-analysts include Alfred Adler and Erik Ericson (Friedman, 2009, p.110).
Carl Jung also coined the term ‘complex’, referring to a related group of strong emotions or thoughts that pervades and influences all aspects of life (Friedman, 2009, p.116). Building on this work, Alfred Adler specified the ‘inferiority complex’, which strongly applies to the character Scar. Adler was concerned with the origin of each individual’s own motivations and how they saw themselves in relation to society. He believed that everyone strives for superiority and are consequently at risk for developing an inferiority complex, which occurs when an individual becomes fixated on their own perceived incompetence and lack of power (Friedman, 2009, p. 119). Scar very clearly suffers from this diagnosis; he is perpetually overcome with feelings of inadequacy to his older brother. Even as cubs, the story of when he learned that his older brother was to be named king led to his defining scar and subsequent name, serving as a constant reminder of life in Mufasa’s shadow (The Lion King- Scar).
As a result of struggling with an inferiority complex, Adler explained that many individuals develop an opposing ‘superiority complex’ as a way to protect their threatened identities. They often overcompensate for their insecurities by bragging and exaggerating their need for attention. They are outwardly cocky and arrogant, yet are merely trying to hide their own feelings of inadequacy (Friedman, 2009, p. 119). Scar combats his struggles with inferiority by obsessing over his quest for power; he will stop at nothing, including killing off his own family members, to gain the recognition and status he feel he deserves. The lyrics to his song
, in which he boasts of the ‘new era’ of the kingdom he plans to create, demonstrate his pride and arrogance to the hyenas: “I’ll be king undisputed, respected, saluted, and seen for the wonder I am!” (Hahn, 1994).
Another point that Adler made that applies to the character of Scar is his concept of an aggression drive. Similar to the superiority complex, he viewed aggression, or ‘lashing-out’, as a reaction to an individual’s perceived inferiority (Friedman, 2009, p.119). Throughout the movie, Scar is a consistently cowardly character when he is confronted with violence. Yet at the end, when he sees the status he finally achieved being threatened, he acts out of his normal personality as a response to this and attacks Simba instead of accepting his banishment (Hahn, 1994).
As an explanation to his theories, Adler also focused on the influential role of birth order, or the placement of siblings within the structure of a family. Scar, being second-born to Mufasa, was placed into an environment of constant rivalry and competition. Second-borns are also prone to feeling insecure, as is true in this case (Friedman, 2009, p.121). Adler would reference Scar’s birth order as a possible origin for his personality characteristics.
Another influential neo-analyst, Erik Erikson, would evaluate Scar using his Stage Theory. Erikson believed that each individual undergoes development in sequential stages from infancy through late adulthood, and successful completion of one stage is the only way to progress to the next (Friedman, 2009, p.134). Scar is likely ‘stuck’ in the fifth stage, termed ‘Identity versus Role Confusion’, where he ultimately needs to combine his different roles (in his case brother, son, royalty, etc.) into a cohesive and individual identity. He has not successfully determined who he is and who he wants to be separate from his brother, and is therefore unable to continue to subsequent stages towards fulfillment (Friedman, 2009, p.135).
The Trait/Skill approach to personality psychology aims to describe the individual using categories of common qualities. This perspective views personality as a set of dimensions that make up the ‘self’, and it relies on the principle that these characteristics remain stable over time. These trait-level analyses can then be used to theoretically explain and predict the future behavior of the individual (Friedman, 2009, p.257).
In modern-day psychology one of the most common scales of personality dimensions used is called “The Big 5”, and it includes 5 characteristics, all with multiple subcategories, which were arrived at using data-driven analysis. An individual is ranked on these 5 dimensions to arrive at an overall picture of their personality: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience (Friedman, 2009, p.267).
Examining the character of Scar using the Big 5 reveals certain personality aspects that easily characterize. He would be considered extremely low in the dimension of agreeableness; he is cold, quarrelsome and unfriendly throughout the film (Friedman, 2009, p.267). The lyrics to his song
highlight how he addresses the hyenas: “I know that your powers of retention are as wet as a warthog's backside… and it's clear from your vacant expressions, the lights are not all on upstairs” (Hahn, 1994). Even when the social situation dictates he act cordial his insults merely become translated into sarcasm. Scar would also be considered high in the construct of neuroticism. His character is nervous, anxious and moody (Friedman, 2009, p.267). Along with his normal neuroticism, after becoming king he clearly becomes even more paranoid, and is furious with any mention of his brother’s name: “You know the law! Never, EVER mention that name in my presence. I am the king!” (Hahn, 1994).
Building off of the Big 5, Hans Eysenck developed his own scale of 3 personality dimensions: extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. Psychoticism, referencing the Big 5, would include traits low in both agreeableness and conscientiousness, and Eysenck describes those high in psychoticism as hostile, unhappy and cynical (Friedman, 2009, p.277). This description is very accurate of Scar, indicating that he would score very high in this category. These individuals also do not function well in social constructs such as work, family and community (Friedman, 2000, p.277); all of these factors apply to Scar.
Along with the dimensional qualities already mentioned, a defining trait in Scar’s personality is narcissism. This personality characteristic is healthy at a normal level, however, in extremes, such as in Scar’s case, it is seen as egotism and selfishness. Already mentioned, the lyrics to
illustrate his extreme self-absorption: “meticulous planning, tenacity spanning, decades of denial, is simply why I'll be King undisputed, respected, saluted and seen for the wonder I am! (Hahn, 1994)”.
The trait/skill perspective also examines ‘motives’, factors that resemble underlying traits and contribute to certain behavior patterns. Motives usually involve specific goals, such as fulfilling needs important to that individual. Common needs include the need for achievement (n Ach), affiliation (n Aff), power (n Power) and exhibition (n Exh) (Friedman, 2009, p.282). At first glance Scar appears to rank high in his need for achievement; his identity is extremely closely tied to success and he is highly driven and persistent. However, the need for achievement describes individuals who seek to rise to the top of tasks society sets out (Friedman, 2009, p.281). Perhaps his motives began as a need for achievement, yet as his obsession grew and his standards to attain his goal dropped, his compulsion became a need for power. Scar seeks to control others and assert his leadership. He appears irritable and dominant, yet is actually insecure, always reminding himself and others “I’m ten times the king Mufasa was! (Hahn, 1994), and would therefore rank very high in this motive (Friedman, 2009, p.282).
Many could assume that Disney movies, advertised to an audience of primarily children, include simple characters with surface-deep personalities. As has been shown, however, characters such as Scar are multi-dimensional and able to be analyzed using a variety of perspectives on personality.
Together, the two perspectives above give a comprehensive look at the character of Scar, and using aspects of his personality that overlap between the two of them offers an explanation as to his behavior patterns. Alfred Adler’s neo-analytic perspective explains Scar’s inner identity; living in the shadow of Mufasa’s success has left him with an inferiority complex manifesting itself as superiority. Underneath he is insecure about his inadequacies to his brother, and in an attempt to protect himself from such he overcompensates with his thirst for power. He has inwardly convinced himself that power equals success, and if he can gain that status he will be fulfilled. As a result, his obsession has led him to develop trait-level neuroticism, narcissism, low-agreeableness and psychoticism. This psychological response explains his ruthless approach to attaining his goals, and it is fitting that he will stop at nothing short of killing his own family members to get there.
If the goal of the writers, especially in the case of a fictional animated feature, is theoretically to create ‘believable’ characters, they have succeeded with Scar. His personality consistently dictates his behavior, making him psychologically “feasible”, however flawed he may be.
Disney (creator). Jagabor2000 (poster). (2008, August 14). Scar: Be Prepared [Video]. Retrieved from
Disney Villains. Scar (Lion King). (2011). Retrieved from
Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2009). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson
Hahn, D. (producer), & Allers, R. (director). (1994).
The Lion King
[motion picture]. USA: Disney.
Scar. (n.d.). In
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List of the Lion King Characters. (n.d.). In
. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from
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