Scott Pilgrim’s Symbols: Breaking Down the Allegory

picture of DVD cover
Amazon Link for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World DVD

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an allegorical, multi-watch movie. Some of the absurd humor will strike you immediately the first time, but some of the deeper messages and layered symbolic humor will hit you on subsequent viewings.

An Allegory is a story where symbolism is taken to the extreme. Instead of having one symbol, (like a sword that stands for Love, or Self-Respect), there are symbols upon symbols. The setting itself, the conflicts in the plot, sometimes entire characters are often representative symbols.

Example – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan represents Christ, Narnia is another world which he saves through selfless sacrifice. The personal stories of Edmund, Tumnus, and Lucy represent Christ’s power to influence people’s lives, give them a second chance, and make them into better people.

In Symbolism, we call the thing acting as the symbol the vehicle, and what it represents is the tenor. For example;

  • The Vehicle – the flaming red sword
  • The Tenor – The Power of Love

In Scott Pilgrim, the situation is very similar. Here are a few symbollic examples from the movie that may help you break down the allegory in your future viewings of the movie.

picture of cover for Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Amazon Link to Volume 1 - Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley

FIGHT! – When Scott is confronted by Ramona’s evil exes, this suggests that symbolically, he is fighting an inner battle. Here is the totally hot girl of his dreams, and he’s been living like a loser. Is he good enough for her?

Continue? 10, 9, 8… – When Scott and Knives have just finished playing the Ninja arcade game, she asks “Do you want to keep going?” This represents the situation Scott is in. He knows he should break up with Knives, but he is having a hard time coming out and saying it. Some of the set-up for this symbol comes from Scott’s conversation with his roommate Wallace earlier. Wallace demanded that Scott “break up with Knives, today”, to which Scott replied “But it’s haaaaard!”

Ramona Joins the Fight – Against Ex #4, Ramona joins in the fight. This suggests that Scott may have felt insecure at the news that Ramona had experimented with her sexuality. “You had a sexy phase?” In order to get past this tricky bit of Ramona’s history, Scott needs to involve her in his personal battle.

The Extra Life – The tenor of this symbol is self-evident. Scott says it out loud when he is asked, “What are you doing?” and he answers, “Getting a Life.”

Leveling Up, Experience Points/Money – These experience points are gained throughout the movie until Scott “Levels Up”. Each time he defeats an ex, these rewards are given. This is what we call the vehicle in the symbol. The tenor, or what the symbol represents, is Scott Pilgrim’s progress in his journey to regain his Self-Respect. We can assume this because of the evidence in Scott’s second attempt at fighting Gideon. He gets points for making amends with his friends, and for taking himself seriously when confronted instead of babbling meekly.

The Second Battle – If my analysis of the two symbols above are true, then we might be able to assume that the entire Second Battle is a result of Scott Pilgrim’s change of heart. He’s learned that he’s been something of a wanna-be-lady-killer-jerky-jerk, and judging Ramona for her faults. During the second battle he prioritizes making amends, and fighting for himself – meaning he is focused on becoming a better person.

The Power of Self-Respect – With the second sword, Scott puts up a better fight, comes at Gideon with a more powerful two-handed blow instead of the flailing one-armed strike from earlier (when he fought with the Power of Love). Yet, just as before, the sword eventually shatters. Nobody’s confidence is impenetrable, everyone doubts themselves eventually. This leads to the next symbol on the list…

Two Player Mode! – When Knives joins in the fight against Gideon, we could translate this symbol a few ways. Perhaps Scott and Knives found a way to remain good friends. Maybe they found closure and that helped Scott move on in his personal battle. What do you think?

Nega Scott – At the end of the game, Scott faces off against himself. Instead of a fight, they make plans to get banana pancakes together later (As far as I can tell from the dialogue, lol!). This represents Scott making amends with himself, forgiving himself after he’s done what he can to make restitution and repair the damage he has caused in other people’s lives.

This blog is a follow-up of this previous post:

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbolism

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbolism

Scottie Earned the Power of Self-Respect

Scott Pilgrim is a movie that appeals not only to a certain audience via interest (video games and anime), but also through taste (humor type), and life experience.

This isn’t that far off from every other story portrayed through books, movies, or other means. We bring our personal experiences to the table in everything we do, especially when we communicate. Fiction is communication that transcends time and space. (You are reading this at a different time and place from where I originally wrote it – example stolen by Stephen King in his memoir.)

Signs and Symbols are things given meaning on the level of the person and the community. A flag can be a symbol of freedom, and a rose a symbol of love. However, to the person who had been shoved into a rose bush at a young age and come out damaged, a rose might represent pain and violence.

picture of Scott vs. Matthew Patel
My name is Matthew Patel, and I am Ramona's first evil ex-boyfriend.

There is Symbolism in just about every moment of Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim is literally dating a High Schooler, still rebounding from his big heartbreak a year before. Is he literally headbutting people so hard that they burst?

Probably not. When someone enters a new relationship and meets that person’s ex, they are confronted by that history. Not in a literal way, but still in a real way. That person has to confront their worth and face the idea that this ex may be better than them in some way.

  • “Short Answer? Being a vegan just makes you better than most people.”
  • “She’s with Gideon now.” “Aww, it’s probably just because he’s better than you.”

Is Scott literally fighting these exes to win her heart? No, he is confronted by her past because he has recently entered into a relationship with her. This explains a lot of why Ramona doesn’t do the fighting. In fact, the question “Why doesn’t Ramona fight?” may lead to some interesting answers.

Ex #4 – in this scene, Ramona does participate in the fighting. This is partially because Scott can’t bring himself to hit a girl, and partially because the gender implications of the relationship have changed things up a little bit. In the end what is important is that Scott needed a little help from Ramona to reconcile this tricky part of her history.

At the end of the movie, we find out about Ramona’s chip. Once again, this cannot be literal, not by our current scientific knowledge. Instead it suggests she was symbolically held captive. Have you ever known a girl who had an ex, the one who was just so sly and subtly coercive that he always seems to worm his way back into her life, and won’t let her alone so she can move on?

Enter Gideon.

Having just come out of a relationship with a controlling guy, Ramona pits her new “nice guy”, up against her own history. She needs to analyze this new guy in every way to make sure that he will not treat her the same way, later on down the road.

There is a strong moral taught through the movie on honesty and dating. One should not date another person just because they are “good enough for now”, or just to avoid being alone. This is exactly the trap Scott falls into when he dates Knives – it is a common trap for those who have been heartbroken to run into the arms of others; relationships that they already know will go nowhere. We usually call it “rebound”, and rebounds hurt people. Usually the person rebounding does not realize what they are doing – they are acting from instinct, a fear of being alone.

A picture of Scott facing Nega Scott
Scott vs. NEGA Scott

In this way, the climactic moment of the movie comes in the moment where Scott confronts Gideon for himself. He has looked at himself and realized his mistake in being a “ladykiller wannabe jerky-jerk”, which helps him make restitution to Kim, Knives, Ramona (who has broken a few hearts herself), and in the end – himself (NEGA Scott).

The literal and the symbolic come together in the stories of the three main characters (Scott, Ramona and Knives) in several common themes that teach honesty in dating, how to deal with the pain of break-ups, and how to accept ourselves and move on, having reconciled the past.

EDIT: For a more specific Break-Down of the Symbols in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, here is the follow-up post:

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbols: Breaking Down the Allegory