The Lion King tells me that entitlement is everything
Jon Favreau’s stunningly shot, visually immersive, The Lion King, in cinemas now, is about many things. It is a feel good parable of the triumph of good over evil. It is about filial love and responsibility. It is about displacement, a sense of belonging, the idea of the other, and a notion of home. But above all, it appeared to me (not Favreau’s intention, and not every viewer is a sceptic) to be a narrative about a sense of entitlement.
Early on in the film, Mufasa, the reigning king of the jungle, takes Simba, his son, to a point high in the Pride Lands and shows him a panoramic view of what lies below. He tells his son that all that the light touches is his territory. Simba asks, not unjustifiably, if everything that he sees belongs to him. Mufasa glosses that it is his to protect. But we know that it is a gloss; as, surely, does the young Simba. “I can’t wait to be king,” he sings, soon after. Who wouldn’t? It is his on a plate. All for the taking. All he needs to do is grow up. The mantle is waiting.
But a certain sequence of events forces Simba to go into exile. Raised as an insect eating lion who has not had to protect his territory or any of the pride, untested in battle, he returns to reclaim what his childhood friend tells him is rightfully his: the kingdom of his father. Rather, the kingdom his father had bequeathed to him because he is his father’s son.
No sooner than he steps foot in the land he calls home, a tidal wave of support rises for him. The Red Sea could not have done Moses a more favourable service. The fact that an evil king, Scar, who happens to be Simba’s uncle, has been ruling, helps. But this is how it is supposed to be. Because Simba has been a king in waiting from the moment of his birth. (His being unveiled to the animal kingdom, early in the film, and his cub’s unveiling, at the very end, has disquieting echoes of a royal baby in Britain being shown to the press after birth.)
After a final showdown, reminiscent of a duel from a Jason Bourne film, Simba emerges supreme. He is the new lion king. It all feels right and good.
But what exactly has Simba done to deserve this? Narrative is meant to be read in various ways. And this is how I read the narrative of The Lion King. It tells me that entitlement is everything. That one does not need to put in sustained work to achieve what one wants. That people will accept your claim to the throne as long as you were anointed to the throne all along. It is a demolition of the notion of meritocracy.
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said that character is destiny. The Lion King shows us that, as in certain areas of life, an accident of birth is destiny.
Monarchies, politics and business will find it familiar.