'Darlings' to 'Kuttey': Why do Filmmakers Use 'The Scorpion and the Frog' Fable?

Here's a look at why 'The Scorpion and the Frog' fable is so popular among filmmakers and writers.

4 min read

A fable is a short fictional story that features animals or legendary creatures that are anthropomorphized (given human characteristics), with the goal of leaving the audience with a moral lesson.

'The Scorpion and the Frog' is one of them. If the fable sounds familiar to you, you've probably heard Tabu narrate it in her latest film Kuttey. We have also seen it being narrated in Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah's Darlings. But this isn't the first time it has been referenced in films. The fable has been cherished by filmmakers and writers for years.

To find out why, let's cross this river together.


The Origin of the Fable

'The Scorpion and the Frog' originated in Russia in the early 20th century. The fable was first used in storytelling in 1933, in Lev Nitoburg's Russian novel 'The German Quarter'. The tale didn't gain popularity until Orson Welles used it in his popular monologue from the 1955 film Mr Arkadin, aka Confidential Report.

Before we get into the reason behind its surging popularity in cinema and why it is so important for writers, here's an overview of the fable:

A frog and a scorpion meet on the bank of a river. Unable to swim, the scorpion asks the frog to carry him on his back. Afraid of being stung, the frog raises his suspicion. But the scorpion argues that if he does so, both will drown. The frog agrees, but halfway across the river, the scorpion stings him, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion responds, "This is my nature. I can't help it."

The moral of 'The Scorpion and the Frog' fable is that scorpions, like humans, can't overcome their nature, even when it works against their interests.

Here's a look at why 'The Scorpion and the Frog' fable is so popular among filmmakers and writers.

Orson Welles in a still from Mr Arkadin, after he finishes his soliloquy and says, "Let's drink to the character."

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

It’s the compulsion to do something you know is wrong. But the overwhelming emotion persists and drives you to act compulsively. It also demonstrates that people have a trusting side, conceivably even an over-trusting side, but you must know someone to the core in order to trust them entirely.

The fable of 'The Scorpion and the Frog' plays a crucial role in conveying the subtext of Mr Arkadin. It aids in revealing the true nature of the film as well as the identity of its main character, Mr Arkadin. It also leaves the viewers wondering if he is just a symbol for his primal nature.

Why Do Filmmakers Use It?

We often criticise films and shows that are overly simplistic or heavily reliant on cliches or genre conventions. In order to make their stories new and refreshing, writers often struggle to get past this issue. Fables are the literary devices that can be used at such times.

'The Scorpion and the Frog' fable, when used as an allegory, can lend itself exceptionally well to storytelling. But unlike metaphors, allegories are used throughout the story to emphasize the key ideas that are symbolic to the audience. It not only assists in the creation of an engaging plot but builds intriguing character arcs as well.

The tale of 'The Scorpion and the Frog' has been referenced in countless films and shows throughout the years for the same reason.

For instance, in Ryan Gosling's Drive, his character's nature is to 'sting' but he finds himself in the role of a rescuer. The allegory adds more complexity to his character, leaving the audience to gauge whether he is the good guy or not.

Here's a look at why 'The Scorpion and the Frog' fable is so popular among filmmakers and writers.

Ryan Gosling in a still from Drive and Ricky Gervais in a still from After Life.

(Photo Courtesy: IMDb; Altered by The Quint)

Ricky Gervais' After Life, on the other hand, uses the fable to reassure Tony (Ricky's character) that he's not the venomous, self-destructive scorpion that he convinced himself to be; rather, he is the vulnerable, trusting frog that he believed he was harming.

Other popular films and shows that have use the fable include The Crying Game (1992), Killing Eve, Orange Is the New Black, Supernatural, and The Umbrella Academy.


The Scorpion and the Frog in Bollywood

The fable isn't as new to Bollywood as you may think. If not explicitly, several filmmakers have borrowed inspiration from the fable while writing the core characters of their films. A few of these characters include Sanjay Dutt's Balaram Prasad from Khalnayak, Saif Ali Khan's Ishwar 'Langda' Tyagi from Omkara, and Abhishek Bachchan's Lallan Singh from Yuva.

All these characters, like the scorpion, can't overcome their true nature, even though it serves their ill-intentioned interests. Though they foray into a new world in an attempt to become a better version of themselves, they are compelled to give in to their primal nature towards the end.

Similarly, Darlings features Alia Bhatt as the sensitive, defenceless frog whose trust issues with her abusive husband Hamza (played by Vijay Varma), keep harming her on a daily basis.

Here's a look at why 'The Scorpion and the Frog' fable is so popular among filmmakers and writers.

Stills from Darlings and Kuttey.

(Photo Courtesy: IMDb; Altered by The Quint)

Aasmaan Bhardwaj's Kuttey, on the other hand, presents several analogies that centre on the behaviour of animals in the wild, as the film comments on the themes of human greed, treachery, and desperation.

Tabu, who plays a police officer in the twisted thriller, narrates the tale of 'The Scorpion and the Frog', giving the film's epilogue the title — Mendhak Aur Bichchoo. The allegory further leads the plot of the film to its conclusion.

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