Breaking up is hard to do. It’s bad enough that your significant other is out of your life, but did they really have to leave all that stuff behind? Whether it’s things they gave you or things that remind you of them, they’ve got to go. So grab some matches, it’s time for a Break-Up Bonfire!
The Break-Up Bonfire is usually ceremonial and perhaps even a little spiritual. As fire is a symbol of both destruction and rebirth, a breakup bonfire typically represents a character breaking old bonds and starting anew. However, note the Unfair Sex nature of this trope. A woman doing this is usually celebrating her freedom from an oppressive male. A man doing this usually is the oppressive male, and a spiteful, destructive bastard at that. As such, most examples below are from female characters burning her ex's things.
A variation both of Defenestrate and Berate and Burn Baby Burn and a subtrope of Let the Past Burn. See also Bonfire Dance for another bonfire-related trope about dancing and celebrating near a bonfire.
- Although fire is not mentioned, a radio advert for a furniture sale employed this trope, of a woman's grave voice, accompanied by a Lonely Piano Piece:
As I walk around this house, I see the sofa we sat on... the bed we slept in... the table where we played games... (voice rises to angry crescendo) which is why I'm getting rid of it all, you cheating two-timing swine!!!
- Futari Ecchi plays with this by having Misaki attempt to get over her unrequited crush on Makoto by trying to burn a photo that she has of him. She cannot get herself to do it, though, and simply hides it in the far corner of her wardrobe.
- Two examples from Popotan, neither of which follow a romance gone sour, but they stay true to the general idea of the trope:
- After she learns of Konami's death, Mai tries to burn the portrait she received from her in order to forget about her, but she is stopped by Mea.
- It's revealed that Mea's previous household burned their house when they found that Shizuku was not able to give them a good explanation for their travels; she could not prevent this one.
- In GTO: The Early Years, Ryuji decides he needs to let go of the past, and burns the pictures of him and Ayumi that she gave him. This is almost a year after they broke up, and he's been in a new relationship for months when she comes back to town and gives him the stuff. Neither of them bears the other any ill will, they just recognize that they don't belong together.
- In the Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Promised to Me, this happens twice, on both parts of the Ho Yay relationship of Russia and America...which is probably Played for Drama / Rule of Drama ... and Tear Jerker territory:
- Over 7 decades after the de facto breakup, America had stashed all the memorabilia in his storage closet, until his Boss ordered agents to burn all of it from before the breakup. He did manage to save a metal box of photos and letters, which he eventually sent back to Russia.
- And after the end of the Cold War, Russia found the box of photos and letters... which he decided to burn in his fireplace (partially due to the other's infidelity post-breakup).
- A Moth to a Flame features a friendship version of this, when Anne deals with the trauma of Marcy's betrayal by burning every gift she ever gave Anne.
- Birds of Prey (2020):
- Harley Quinn marks her breakup with the Joker by burning down the ACE Chemical plant where the two of them (on separate occasions) fell into vats of chemicals that gave them their bleached skin. This results in everyone who had a grudge against her but avoided doing anything about it because they were afraid of the Joker deciding it was time to declare open season on her.
- After Renee Montoya's ex District Attorney Ellen rats on her to the police chief and gets her suspended, Montoya goes home to her apartment, tears up all the pictures of her ex from her mirror, and is about to light them on fire when she gets interrupted by a text from Dinah.
- In 50/50 (2011), Adam finds out his girlfriend cheated on him. He and his best friend Kyle take her huge abstract painting out to the garden and start throwing eggs at it, then they throw a knife, then a hatchet, and cut it with a big pair of garden shears. Finally they set it on fire, watch it burn...and then say they actually like it this way better and joke that they could hang it somewhere.
- In the French movie L'Appartment, the male protagonist collects all the clothes of his lost love, puts them in the bathtub, and sets them on fire while crying.
- In Clueless, Tai and Cher burn mementos from Tai's relationship with Elton.
- Colette: After Colette leaves him, Willy orders Huon to burn the original manuscript for her first novel Claudine. Huon actually saves it.
- Natasza from Jasminum burned up her entire house after her fiance never appeared at the wedding.
- Subverted in Memento where the protagonist suffers from short-term memory loss and keeps disposing of his murdered wife's personal belongings in an attempt to get over her death. We later discover he's disposed of evidence that he'd already caught her killer before the events of the movie, as his hunt for her murderers is the only thing that gives him purpose.
- In Waiting to Exhale, Bernadine gets dumped by her husband for another woman, despite the fact that she spent the last 11 years sacrificing her dreams of owning her own business to help him build his. Her reaction is to take his entire very expensive wardrobe, stuff it in his very expensive car, and set the whole shebang on fire. What she couldn't get in the car she sells at a garage sale at a dollar per item.
- After Aeneas abandons Dido in book IV of The Aeneid, Dido orders to build a pyre to burn Aeneas' clothes and weapons, an image of Aeneas and also the bed on which she slept with him, claiming this ritual will heal her of her lovesickness. But when the pyre is ready, she stabs herself with Aeneas' sword on it, and the Breakup Bonfire becomes her funeral pyre.
- In East of Eden, Abra incinerates Aron's love letters when it becomes clear Aron cares more about his moral causes than their relationship.
- Emma by Jane Austen: Harriet Smith throws her rather pathetic mementos of Mr Elton into a fire after having shown them to Emma, her friend she looks up to. They were not exactly a couple, but Harriet had been in love with him.
- The Stranger Times: Hannah burned her philandering husband's clothes after she decided to leave him. She made headlines when the fire spread and accidentally set the whole house on fire.
- Where the Crawdads Sing: After Kya's ma and all her siblings leave, Pa throws Ma's books, paintings, dresses, and radio into a bonfire. Kya rushes to stop him and manages to save some of her things.
- Wild Orchid: After Taylor's father Garth left, her mother Penny burned all their honeymoon photos on the concrete basement floor. Now the only thing left from their honeymoon is an audio recording of monkeys at the San Diego Zoo.
- The Big Bang Theory: Rajesh's parents split up before their 40th anniversary. Raj later talks to his mum on the phone, and his friends ask him how she is. He says she's pretty good. She bought the book Eat, Pray, Love and used it to set his father's Mercedes on fire.
- The Bold and the Beautiful's Bridget burns her husband Deacon's stuff after finding out that he has been sleeping with her mother and gotten her pregnant. She takes particular glee in throwing his ashtrays into the mix—"Kissing you was like licking one of these! I HATED it!"
- Bridgerton: In season 2 episode 1, upon receiving the program advertising his former mistress, Siena's, next performance, Anthony immediately burns it to the fireplace; indicating that he has moved on and is ready for a fresh start.
- Rosa of Brooklyn Nine-Nine recommends this to Charles, after his painful breakup with Vivian. However, Boyle gets second thoughts and starts trying to pull stuff out, then tries to douse his hands in Rosa's drink, which happens to be hot coffee.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- On the reality show Cheaters, there was an episode where the woman set her cheating partner's possessions on fire.
- Decoy: When Michele from "Night of Fire" found out her boyfriend was married, she set all the dresses he gave her on fire, resulting in her being institutionalized. As a result, when the warehouse next to her workplace burns down a few years later, she's the prime suspect.
- No actual fire was involved but in the first episode, Monica's Guy of the Week admits that he broke his ex-wife's watch after they split up. When Monica learns that the guy lied about being impotent following the divorce to get her into bed she gets some revenge by stomping on the watch he left in her apartment.
- Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel burn mementos of their exes when they find themselves all single on Valentine's Day and decide to do something to "cleanse" their bad luck. The firemen who attend when it inevitably gets out of control tell them that Valentine's Day is one of their busiest nights of the year, for exactly that reason. In the extended cut of the episode, the firemen deliver a rehearsed speech of safety tips for future bonfires which ends with advice on letting go of their painful memories and learning to love themselves.
- In Season 4, Rachel's crush Joshua has to buy a lot of new clothes as his ex-wife set all his old clothes on fire. Apparently, the only things he was able to save were the suit he was currently wearing and "what turned out to be a skirt". He later reveals he keeps on buying clothes since he likes Rachel.
- Discussed in the episode "Happily Ever After" of How I Met Your Mother when Ted is dealing with the fact that he was left at the alter and is seemingly fine. Marshall tells him he should go crazy and let it out, perhaps even following his own advice from a time when Marshall and Lily were broken up. Marshall says he should have followed Ted's advice and should have set all Lily's stuff on fire.
- In an episode of Jessie, Emma breaks up with her boyfriend when she discovers that he's been hanging out with Luke behind her back (this also results in Luke breaking off his friendship with the boy), and Luke tells Bertram to throw out everything he touched. Bertram happily responds that that includes Luke and Emma.
- A deadly example occurs in the Grand Finale of Kevin Can F**k Himself. After Allison finally tells Kevin she hasn't loved him in years and wants a divorce, Kevin flips out, and in a fit of rage, throws her belongings into a trash can and sets it on fire in the living room. When he ends up passing out from getting excessively drunk, the flames rapidly consume the house.
- In NCIS Season 5, Tony throws the letter of his Love Interest into a bonfire after the relationship went way, way, way south due to him Becoming the Mask.
- A variation on Parks and Recreation: Ron Swanson burned down effigies of his ex-wives after divorcing them.
- In the Shoestring episode "The Farmer Had a Wife," the titular farmer burns his wife's clothes and belongings months after she leaves him. Eddie isn't pleased, since he's investigating her disappearance and wanted to look through her things.
- Young Sheldon: At the end of S5 E1, Missy puts her old notebook with Marcus' name written all over it and sets it on fire. Mary is mortified.
- Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" video has a paper cityscape being burned.
- In the video for Florence + the Machine song "Lover to Lover".
- The Green Day song "Whatsername" is about the singer reminiscing about an old girlfriend whose name he can't remember. In one line, he mentions that he "made a point to burn all of the photographs."
- "That's What I Call Crazy" by Lucy Hale:
''I went and tore your pictures up
built a fire in my bathtub
painted my toes while I watched them burn
then put out the fire with your T-shirt."
- Implied in Miranda Lambert's "Kerosene".
- Exaggerated in the video for Poets of the Fall's "Daze," where Hamartia the Monster Clown reacts to a female attendee leaving his Masquerade Ball like a villain scorned, setting fire to her car, with her in it, and the ball as a whole.
- "Breakin' Dishes" by Rihanna.
"I'm roasting marshmallows on a fire, and what I'm burning, boy, is your attire..."
- The Taylor Swift song "Picture to Burn" is about burning up pictures of her ex.
- "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake contains this line: "Your pictures got burned, now it's your turn to cry..."
- Rapper "Left Eye" from '90s girl group TLC did this twice during her on-and-off relationship with pro football player Andre Rison. First, she burned their collection of teddy bears in the bathtub after a fight. The marble tub was burned so badly that it had to be replaced. Later, after a night of drinking, she came home to find several pairs of women's shoes that weren't her size, so she burned them in the tub too...except the new tub was made of fiberglass which quickly melted and the fire spread faster than she could contain. She ran away unhurt but the mansion burned to the ground. The resulting scandal ("Left Eye burned down her boyfriend's house!") greatly pushed sales of their 1995 album CrazySexyCool
- A woman burns a man's photo (actually a photo of the director at age 24) in Van Halen's "Right Now" video.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "One More Minute":
"So I pulled your name out of my rolodex
And I tore all your pictures in two
And I burned down the malt shop where we used to go
Just because it reminds me of you..."
- A variation occurs in Be More Chill. Jeremy and Michael are best friends (with some Ho Yay subtext) until Jeremy gets a supercomputer implanted in his brain to teach him how to be cool, which eventually leads to him calling Michael a loser, causing Michael to have an anxiety attack. The next time we see him, Michael is smoking marijuana and burning mementos of their friendship.
- Hamilton: After learning of her husband's affair, Eliza sings an entire ballad as she burns Alexander's letters in the form of "Burn".
- Alice Twilight, the Rank 2 assassin in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is in the process of doing this when Travis turns up to fight her. Close examination◊ of the pictures show them to be photos of a husband and child, as well Margaret Moonlight, the Rank 4 assassin. In this case, it probably hasn't got anything to do with romance, instead being symbolic of everything Alice has lost or left behind due to her profession.
- Implied in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. The cutscene that plays after the Wham Episode shows Bentley looking at his photo of Penelope in heartbreaknote , while Penelope just casually tosses her photo of Bentley into a fire, signaling that she doesn't truly care about his feelings.
- According to the makers of Danganronpa Re:Birth's English dub, after finding out about Seishi/Zen's betrayal, Ayumu would set his books on fire.
- In the first season finale of Idiotsitter, "The Ex-Boyfriend", Billie has dinner with her ex, and Gene suggests using this trope on his car. They come up with another plan, and when it falls flat-Gene sets fire to the guy's car anyway.
- A variation in Jimmy Two-Shoes, after Jimmy's Oblivious to Love nature leads him to date a Heloise look-alike, Heloise angrily rips up her Stalker Shrine of him and tosses the remains in a vat of acid.
- In The Simpsons episode where Milhouse's parents get divorced, Luann carefully boxes up all of Kirk's possessions, tapes it, labels it, and then sets the box on fire. While humming.
- After Lebron James left Cleveland for Miami, Cavaliers fans became disillusioned and began to burn his merchandise in public.
- When Left Eye from TLC was dating football player Andre Rison, she burned a teddy bear collection in the bathtub after a fight, which damaged the marble tub so badly it had to be replaced with one made of fiberglass. She later burned a pair of women's sneakers that weren't her size, which melted the tub and ignited the wooden baseboards underneath, burning the house to the ground.