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Self-Immolation
"Those who did not deserve to rule, who would not sacrifice themselves...as they asked others to do on their behalf, would escape the fire. The sacrifice of the one who remained...who believed so much in his caste that he would lay down his life for them...that would determine which caste would be dominant among us."
Delenn, Babylon 5

When a character sets themselves on fire to kill themselves in a blaze of glory. Truth in Television, as this has been a preferred method of suicide for centuries. Especially in Middle Eastern or Asian culture, it may be done as an act of political protest.

Compare Man on Fire, Murder by Cremation and Wreathed in Flames.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Comic Books  

    Film 

  • Parodied (of course) in Airplane!, where Ted's boring stories cause people to want to kill themselves. A turbaned man douses himself with some flammable liquid, and lights a match, but just then Ted finishes his story and leaves. The man puts out the match, sighs... and Whooomph!.
  • In the movie Angels and Demons, Carlo Ventresca, after it's discovered that he murdered the Pope, planted the bomb and murdered the three Cardinals, runs St. Peter's basillica, pours candle oil on himself and lights it.
  • The main character in the film Dagon attempts to kill himself by this method after learning that his family hailed from to the town of Imboca. It doesn't take, however, as he is pushed into a nearby pool to douse the flames.
  • In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Elizabeth does this after seeing how Victor had brought her back from the dead as a hideous mangled monster sewn together with pieces of her best friend's corpse.
  • Jerome Eugene Morrow's suicide in Gattaca.
  • In Hans's revision of the script for Seven Psychopaths, as revealed near the end of Seven Psychopaths, the Buddhist Psychopath is revealed to be Thich Quang Duc, as discussed in Real Life below, and all of the events in his story are him purging himself of his self-doubt and hatred before he sets himself aflame.
  • Daft Punk's Electroma has the Guy-man robot pull this after his best friend's death. Keep in mind that this is after they've been run out of town and been trekking the desert for an indefinite period of time. The death just merely brought him over the edge.
  • Caroline uses this method to commit suicide in The Sacrament.

    Literature 

  • Denethor in Lord of the Rings. "Bring wood and oil." In the original book he burns in the tomb where he's built his pyre, but in Peter Jackson's film version he runs out of the tomb and across the courtyard while still burning so that he can throw himself off the front of the rock prow overlooking the battlefield. Director's commentary made note of the distance but admitted he really wanted the shot of Denethor falling from the pinnacle.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Xenocide, Han Fei-tzu builds a pyre for himself and his wife when she dies.
  • The tutor in A City in Winter sets himself on fire and throws himself off a tower to signal the start of the revolution.
  • Plays a big part in David Marusek's novel Counting Heads. One subplot includes a woman who becomes the unofficial patron saint of self-immolation after burning herself alive as a protest.
  • In The Black Company monks do this to protest The Protector of Taglios while also using the slogan Rajadharma meaning The Duty of Kings.
  • The Kantri of Tales of Kolmar can kill themselves by using the same internal trigger that starts their Breath Weapon and exploding into flames. It happens repeatedly in Redeeming The Lost.
  • In The Saga of the Volsungs, Brynhild stabs herself with a sword, then, still alive, climbs on Sigurd's funeral pyre to burn to death.
  • In the "Death Note" spin-off light novel "Another Note", the serial killer Beyond Birthday a.k.a Ryuzaki attempts this to make himself appear to be one of his murder victims (to hide that there was no posthumous mutilation on his corpse, as there were on the other victims), hoping to make the case unsolvable for L by forcing him to chase a killer who no longer exists. Thanks to Naomi's fire extinguisher, however, it doesn't end the way he intended.
  • The One Who Started Fires has an inversion: although the title character undergoes self-immolation, it's not intended.
  • In Christian Nation, a gay Buddhist monk who comes to America at the time when it is slowly turning into The Theocracy immolates himself during a public protest.

     Live Action TV  
  • Once on Mash, Klinger threatened to do this to himself unless he was given a Section 8, going so far as to douse himself with gas (aka petrol). Potter called Klinger into his office, at which time he and Radar noticed that the "gasoline" was really water. After Potter didn't give in to Klinger's demands, Klinger went back out and doused himself some more, this time (unbeknownst to him) with real gas.
    "Who put gasoline in my gasoline?!"
  • John Safran tried his hand at this in his failed TV Pilot Media Tycoon to protest an Australian Football player being reported for striking another player.
  • The Minbari Starfire Wheel in Babylon 5, as described in the trope quote.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Gerak is convinced to do a Heel-Face Turn after being turned into an Ori prior. Knowing full well that he will die if he defies the Ori by curing the plague sent to eradicate Earth's population, he does it anyway... and then gets incinerated in a matter of seconds.
  • a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation case had a woman who did this to herself, but ironically, she lived while a stargazer who'd been nearby in the woods went up in flames and died.
  • CSI NY had a guy who threatened this because he was despondant over the hit and run death of his girlfriend. He'd been hunting for the driver, causing trouble because he only knew they were named Mac Taylor, and two of the Macs had already died in the process. Fortunately, he was prevented from succeeding.
  • Burning Bush is based on a real-life case of this; namely, that of Jan Palach (see the "Real Life" folder below).

    Theatre 

     Video Games  

  • The Death Gate Adventure Game has you learn a spell called "Self-Immolation". Casting it yourself proves nothing but you being Too Dumb to Live. It does prove useful, however, in tricking a doppelganger of yourself into casting it; if you cast the spell backwards, which does nothing to you, the doppelganger will perform your actions in reverse and set himself on fire.
  • A qunari mage performs this in Dragon Age II, after being freed by the player.
  • World of Warcraft has Warlocks. Just to prove how much some warlocks like fire, there's the Hellfire spell. It not only does it do Area-of-Effect damage centered directly on you, but it also deals damage to you. Young warlocks generally kill themselves with it at least once.
  • A member of the Founders lights herself on fire during Bioshock Infinite apparently for the sole reason of demonstrating the fanatical devotion of Zachary Comstock's followers and freaking the shit out of the main character, Booker.
  • Five years before Hatoful Boyfriend, Nageki burned himself to death in the hopes that no one else could weaponize his body. In Holiday Star he does it again to save his friends.

     Western Animation  

  • Subverted on South Park by Chef, protesting the town flag:
    Chef: In the 1960's there was a monk who set himself on fire to protest! You have left me no choice! To protest your lack of humanity, I will now do the same thing!
    raises a portable gas tank and a lighter, then pours the gasoline on a Japanese monk and sets him on fire
    Monk: in flames Huh! Haaaaaaaaaaaah! dies
  • Any poor sap who looks at Family Guy's Butt Monkey Meg Griffin will do this.
  • This is why the Burning Man in Waking Life is called the Burning Man.

     Real Life  

  • Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, set himself alight to protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem. A very famous photo was taken of the incident, winning the photographer and the journalist who wrote the accompanying article Pulitzer prizes. The photo has featured in a number of places, including the cover of a Rage Against the Machine album. Several other protesters followed his example (see The Other Wiki's list of political self-immolations). The man remained perfectly calm and in a state of deep concentration while he effectively killed himself.
  • Norman Morrison set himself on fire in protest against American involvement in the Vietnam War.
  • Jan Palach, a Czech student, who committed suicide by self-immolation in 1969 as a protest to Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, followed by Jan Zajíc and Evžen Plocek.
  • The Arab Spring/The Jasmine Revolution—which lead to dictators falling in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya as well as to massive protests and widespread attempts at reform across the Middle East and North Africa, and even to civil wars in some countries (in particular Libya and Syria)—all originally began with one Tunisian man lighting himself on fire in response to government persecution.
  • The practice of Sati/Suttee in India was sometimes a voluntary act on the part of a sincerely heartbroken widow...though it was often more like forced immolation imposed by her in-laws.
  • According to one tale some Rajputs were besieged by Marathas. One Rajput warrior deciding victory was hopeless left his post to see to the safety of his wife. When he arrived he saw his wife had set herself on fire to drive him back to his post by making it clear he had nothing left to lose.
  • Due to unrest in Tibet, many young monks and nuns are committing self-immolation to protest Chinese occupation. Most of them have been under 35.
  • Was once widespread in Russia among the Old Believers. The Old Believers appeared as a result of the Great Schism of Russian Orthodox Church (The Russian Reformation).


Set The World On FireThis Index Is On FireShoot The Fuel Tank
Seen-It-All SuicideChoosing DeathSeppuku
Self-Fulfilling ProphecyWe Are Not Alone IndexSeven Dirty Words

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