Heidegger, Dialectic, & Simba

The Lion King is known for being one of the greatest Disney films of all time. Until last night it had been quite a while since I’ve watched it — and this time I couldn’t help going through some analysis. So as not to ramble, I’ll begin by laying out the basic dialectical structure of the story.

Thesis = Mufasa. The start of Simba’s life is the start of his philosophical growth. In all honesty, there is not a lot we see of Mufasa. He tells Simba about the social structures of their kingdom, he gives a hunting lesson, and he dies. However, in this short time Mufasa makes himself out to be the most Heideggerian character in the movie. Yes, I am allowing the assumption that an anthropomorphic entity can be Dasein given the context of fiction. His whole “Circle of Life” spiel is essentially a leonine articulation of Bewandtnis (which Macquarrie & Robinson translate as “involvement”). Bewandtnis or Bewenden more crucially refer to the fact that the world is turning or that it is bent. All that equipment (for lions: gazelle, grass, weather, etc.) is tangled together. The understood state-of-mind (Befindlichkeit) Mufasa articulates is one of responsibility — the world matters to him. He has concern for it and solicitude for Others. We may also note that Mufasa ignores Zazu when he begins recounting gossip (idle-talk, a clear sign of the they-world). We will return to Mufasa later.

Antithesis = Timon and Pumbaa, the hippies. My sense of Hakuna Matata is a total immersion into the they-world. All is given over to ambiguity. The past is behind you, you merely flit from one grub to the next. Indeed, Timon and Pumbaa’s strong emphasis on eating (which almost gets Pumbaa killed) is a brilliant depiction of lust for the new. Simba learns from them how not to worry about anything. Maybe the lack of red meat in his diet is what causes his voice to be higher-pitched than all of the females in the film.

Synthesis = Rafiki. This half-senile, poo-flinging wizard effectively combines Timon and Pumbaa’s willful covering of the past with Mufasa’s Circle of Life business. Basically, the moral is “The past can hurt… but you can either hide from it or learn from it!” I’m pretty sure Mufasa would not disagree. Actually, I get the sense that Mufasa and Rafiki may not be in total philosophical agreement. When King Hamlet’s ghost… I mean, when Mufasa’s ghost appears to Simba, he tells his son to remember who he is as an individual. I would argue that the conversation between Simba and his ghost-dad represents a call of conscience in the Heideggerian sense. The content of the call is nothing, and it merely comes from Simba to Simba. It is a call from his Self to his Self — it goes over the they-self. Indeed, it pulls him out of the they. Timon and Pumbaa lament that their friend is “doomed” and they are very correct. The call of conscience reveals to us how we have been thrown into the world and the possibility of our Being as Being-towards-death. Because Simba realizes that he has the possibility of having no more possibilities as a Being in-the-world, he is confronted with the question of “What really matters?”

The synthesis, I would argue, is not necessarily what Simba takes. Rafiki’s emphasis on learning from the past doesn’t really have any further importance in the movie. Probably this is because Rafiki has crucially misunderstood what learning is… but that may be another story. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Rafiki. The philosophical construct of “Asante sana, squash banana, wewe nugu, mimi hapana” is dazzling.

The following clip should exemplify some of the things I’ve been babbling about:

(My issue with Rafiki and learning is that he says, “It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!” but then expects you to learn from something that doesn’t matter.)

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    • Edniv
    • January 14th, 2011

    Very thought-provoking stuff.

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