Archetypes in Movies – The Scapegoat

Who is a scapegoat archetype in a film? 

It’s just as the name suggests. 

A scapegoat character is blamed for the actions, or more accurately, wrongdoings, of another character in the movie. With the accusing fingers pointed at the scapegoat, the actual preparator uses this concealed knowledge to advance his success in the plot. 

This progress wouldn’t have otherwise been possible had this prior information come to light. When the scapegoat finally emerges and the truth is revealed, typically towards the end of the film, this begins the downfall of the actual antagonist.

The most identifiable trait of the scapegoat is him receiving blame, be it by choice or under duress. Sometimes, the scapegoat doesn’t even know he is the scapegoat. This archetype can take on the form of an individual or a group. He is a powerful force and an important part of conflict resolution. 

Commonly, the protagonist of the film doubles up as the scapegoat, usually wrongly accused by the antagonist. This dual role becomes part of the protagonist’s character development and hero’s journey.

A good example of the scapegoat is Simba in The Lion King. His evil Uncle Scar is responsible for King Mufasa’s death and lays the blame on Simba, even though Mufasa was Simba’s mentor. The young prince flees the pride lands before he is aware of the accusations. He didn’t even know he was the scapegoat until late on. When the truth comes to light, Simba wins back the kingdom from Scar in a fiery showdown.

There are many other compelling scapegoats throughout film history. 

3 examples of scapegoat characters in movies

Dr. Richard Kimble as the scapegoat in Fugitive

The 1993 action thriller begins with the protagonist, Dr. Kimble, coming home to a struggle between an intruder and his wife Hellen. 

Here’s the trailer for the film:

She is fatally wounded from the encounter. A confusing phone call and lack of evidence see the hero take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. He is convicted of first-degree murder and is slated for death row until he escapes alongside other convicts when their prison bus crashes.

Setting up the protagonist for the blame

Dr. Nicholas, a trusted friend, and coworker offers financial aid to Kimble when he goes back to Chicago in search of the real killer. He infiltrates a hospital looking to match details that would pinpoint the address of the perpetrator. He raises attention and almost gets caught when he emphatically alters documents to save a patient’s life. 

In a nutshell, the plot focuses on Kimble, his close encounters with failure, and how he is eventually able to clear his name. It turns out his colleague is behind his wife’s murder. Kimble was the intended target to pave the way for Nicholas’ new drug.

Dr. Kimble had evidence of the drug’s side effects and would stand in the way of FDA approval. He is the stereotypical scapegoat. The antagonist frames him for murder to clear the path to huge profits. Kimble does all the heavy lifting in absolving himself of his crimes, even chasing down Dr. Nicholas in a gripping end-movie fight scene.

Bumblebee in the similarly titled movie

The 2018 sci-fi Bumblebee features a classic scapegoat archetype and plot. Bumblebee is a brave warrior and an esteemed soldier on his home planet, Cybertron.

A civil war consumes Cybertron splitting it along the two races that fight for the planet’s dominion. Bumblebee is a loyal member of the autobots who seek to thwart the efforts of the evil deceptions who would do anything for victory. This conflict finds its way to earth as Bumblebee seeks out a haven where the autobots can regroup.

Blaming poor ‘ol Bumblebee 

He is tracked down by two Decepticons, and a huge fight ensues in a forest where a secret section of the army is training that day. Colonel Jack Burns, and many of his men, are caught in the crossfire. 

Many die, save for the colonel who from then on blames B-127 (Bumblebee) for the events of that day. Bumblebee’s memories are fried and can’t recall what happened, but he has officially taken on the scapegoat role in the film at this point.

The decepticons return to earth, this time deceiving the government that they are peacekeepers in search of the rebel B-127. They hoodwink the army onto their side, which is easy to do given Colonel Jack Burn’s history with said autobot. To the government, Bumblebee is painted as the rogue robot, a fugitive, and criminal that needs to be put down. 

Of course, it becomes clear who the real enemy is when Dr. Powell overhears the decepticons plotting to destroy earth. B-127 is eventually absolved of blame, Colonel Burns, foe-turned-friend, ultimately fights on his side.

Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 and Spider-man: Far from Home

Sam Raimi’s final take on his trilogy starts dramatically with a fight between the new Green Goblin and Peter Parker. This conflict boils over from the previous installment, where Harry Osborn walks in on Spider-Man returning his father’s lifeless body home in the dead of night.

Upon sight of his dead father in Peter Parker’s arms, he assumes the latter is to blame. He vows to make him pay and makes good on that promise in the next chapter.

Fast-forward to Spider-Man 3, and Peter Parker is the object of Harry’s vendetta. Peter constantly defends himself saying that Harry’s father actually killed himself.

Harry would however have none of it. His actions throughout the film are fueled by this unquenchable thirst for vengeance. 

That is until his father’s butler reveals that Norman Osborn died from the blades of his own glider, and that Peter Parker is indeed telling the truth. This revelation leads to a reunion between childhood friends as Harry ultimately lines up alongside spider-man in the fight to take back the city.

Spidey gets blamed again

The friendly neighborhood spider-man becomes the villain once again at the end of Far from Home. Bested in battle, Quentin Beck manipulates footage he sends to the Daily Bugle, a NY tabloid headed by Jonah Jameson, who isn’t a big fan of spider-man. 

Quentin blames the London drone attack, which he was responsible for, on Spider-man. He also accuses the masked vigilante of murder and possibly convinces the entire world. Protection Status