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Dying Candle

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The moment of death, the death of a person, the death of an age, the death of hope or of peace, marked by a candle going out. Flames have often been used to symbolize life, hope, enlightenment or even civilization, so an obvious metaphor for the end of such things is to show a literal flame going out. Other kinds of lights/illumination can be used, but the candle is the easiest to make the connection with as well as being the most poetically picturesque.

Compare Lights Off, Somebody Dies where someone turns off the lights to cover a murder. See also Death's Hourglass and Tentative Light.

This is a Death Trope, so spoilers are unmarked. Proceed at your own risk.

Not to be confused with the video game Dying Light.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: In the second intro, a field of burning candles is seen. Then a single swipe extinguishes all, but one of them. This most likely symbolizes how Levi's squad got wiped out by the female titan in merely a minute.
  • Invoked in Hell Girl, where, when one makes a bargain with Enma, she lights a candle with their name on it that burns for the rest of their life. When it goes out, she knows it's time to collect their soul.
  • A non-death example in My Hero Academia. All Might, the world's greatest superhero, is rapidly losing his superpowers in his showdown with All For One, and his resolve to stay strong is symbolized by his emaciated powerless form desperately trying to keep a small fire from blowing out in the wind. When All Might barely manages to knock out All for One, the fire symbolism returns as the fire finally snuffs out, symbolizing that All Might's powers have now run out permanently and his career as a superhero is over.
  • Used in the final episode of Noir where right after Chloe dies, Altena is seen with three candles that represent the three "saplings" i.e. potential candidates for Noir, and when one goes out she not only seems to realize what it means but which sapling it was referring to. This is just one of the things Altena does that makes her seem vaguely supernatural.
  • One Piece: A vivre card always leads to a person's location and is connected to their life. After Ace is killed by Akainu, his vivre card burns away after he dies.
  • Your Lie in April has a variant. In episode 12, the characters are playing with handheld fireworks. Kaori's goes out prematurely, foreshadowing her impending death.

  • The Lady of Shalott (Waterhouse): There are three candles that can be seen on the boat. Two of them have already blown out, symbolizing that her death is nigh.

  • The Outside plays with this. In Chapter 10, an ill Satsuki is found with candles lit and, when Ryuuko, Mako, Nui, and Shiro revisit the house, those candles are long extinguished. Later, in chapter 20, these show up in Ryuuko's dream and, to her upset, the candles go out, her sister disappearing (Satsuki's health got worse). Subverted by chapter 33, where Ryuuko's dream has Satsuki with lit candles, foreshadowing the Bittersweet Ending.

    Film — Animated 
  • In The Book of Life, the Candlemaker maintains the candles that keep the flames of life for each person in the mortal realm. When Carlos dies defending the town from Chakal, it cuts to his candle blowing out.
  • Moana: As Moana's grandmother passes, all the torches in the hut go out, implied to be from her spirit rushing out to speed Moana along.
  • The Prince of Egypt: As the Angel of Death is passing through the Egyptian city, one of the houses it enters has a lamp burning in the window, which goes out after it leaves with the spirit of the household's firstborn.
  • Puss in Boots: The Last Wish: The Wolf's arrival is heralded first by a candle being blown out, which foreshadows his real identity as The Grim Reaper.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the denouement of Beauty and the Beast (2017), the castle goes dark after the Beast dies and his servants fully become inanimate objects. In a particularly literal example of this trope, Lumiere's candles go out when he turns inanimate. But when the Enchantress lifts the curse and the Beast returns to life as a Prince, all the servants are restored to human life along with him.
  • Citizen Kane:
    • Throughout the opening montage showing Kane's vast Xanadu estate, a single lit window is visible on the upper right hand corner of every shot, getting closer all the time. At the end, the light goes out, leading to the memorable scene of Kane uttering his dying word.
    • Susan's failed opera career is shown through a chaotic montage punctuated by a flashing lightbulb (supposedly the one used to cue the actors backstage). The montage ends abruptly with the bulb burning out, followed by Susan in bed with some sleeping pills next to her bed, implied to be a suicide attempt. Subverted in that Susan survives, although the burned out bulb can also symbolize the death of her opera singing career.
  • Deadtime Stories: Volume 2: In "The Gorge", the slowly diminishing candles from the emergency kits the trapped spelunkers are using for light mark how how their time is slowly running out.
  • Dolls (1987) has a fitting variation where punk girl Enid gets shot by a firing squad of toy soldiers and her personal lighter goes out immediately afterwards.
  • In Embrace of the Vampire (2013), the wind of the vampire's passage snuffs the candle on Daciana's table giving her a few seconds warning before the vampire snaps her neck.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: During the story of the Three Brothers, the eldest brother is killed in his sleep, as the nearby candle is snuffed out.
  • House of Cards (1993): In flashbacks, Alex drops a lantern as he falls. The lantern lands near his body and goes out a few seconds later.
  • The final shot of the 1934 French version of Les Misťrables signifies Jean Valjean's death by showing the candles in the Bishop of Digne's candlesticks going out.
  • In Mohawk, a sudden gust of wind extinguishes the candles in the chapel as Oak opens the door and finds the bodies of her murdered uncle and cousins in the yard.
  • In Return of the Jedi, the fire in Yoda's hut goes out upon his death.
  • Schindler's List: The film starts with a Jewish prayer said around a table with several candles burning. As the prayer closes, the last candle grows dim and then goes out. The smoke rising from the wick is then Match Cut to smoke from the locomotive that will be carrying Jews off to first the ghettos, and then eventually the concentration camps.
  • To Walk Invisible, a drama film about the Brontë family, has fantasy sequences that depict the siblings as children. Each of them is shown with a flame atop their head, apparently to signify their genius. In the sequence just before Branwell Brontë dies, his flame has gone out.

  • Chronicles of Ancient Darkness: While searching for the third piece of the Nanuak in Wolf Brother, Torak ends up taking refuge in a shelter where a man has frozen to death. When he sees a sandstone lamp in the man's hand, he imagines how it must have felt for the man to watch the lamp's flame as his life flickered and sank. This leads to Torak having an "Eureka!" Moment and realize that the lamp is the Nanuak's third piece because it was described in a riddle as "coldest of all, the darkest light", and "the darkest light" refers to the last light one sees before dying.
  • In the Discworld, the arrival of DEATH is always heralded by any candles in the vicinity snuffing out. A long discourse in Hogfather parodies the last verse of Blue ÷yster Cult's Don't Fear The Reaper, in which a window flies open, curtains billow out, and a candle flickers out in a very definitive manner. He does not appear, possibly because his grand-daughter Susan knows what all these signs portend, and is bloody furious about it. If she's afraid of anything, it's that her well-ordered and relatively normal life is about to be turned upside down - again - by Grandfather. She is, therefore, disinclined to run to Him or take His hand.
  • At the end of "Godfather Death", Death drags his godson into an underground cavern where countless candles of different heights are burning; each of them, Death reveals, is the life of a mortal: Whenever a candle burns out, someone on Earth dies. The godson asks about his own life candle, and to his horror Death shows him a stump which is just about to go out.
  • Gods and Warriors: Lapithos, the ancestral stronghold of the House of Koronos, has a huge central hearth where the clan has had a fire burning for generations without letting it die. After Koronos dies and almost everyone abandons the stronghold in terror, the fire has already burned out by the time Pirra enters the great hall while setting Lapithos on fire. It's shortly after this that the House of Koronos becomes completely extinguished when their last living members, Pharax and Telamon, are killed as well.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • "The Long Twilight Struggle" has G'Kar praying in his quarters surrounded by candles while the Narn fleet mounts a desperate attack on a Centarui supply depot, but are met and quickly eviscerated by the Shadows. As the Narn fleet falls, along with it their last hope, G'Kar opens his eyes and puts out the last candle still lit.
    • In the teaser of "Confessions and Lamentations", after Franklin heads off to figure out what's going on with a rash of Markab deaths, the Markab doctor he'd been working with blows out the last two candles lit on a nearby candelabra. The last days of the entire Markab race are at hand.
    • Late in season five after finding proof as to who's responsible for the attacks on Alliance shipping lines, which will no doubt start a war when it becomes public, Delenn is found staring at a lit candle. She and Sheridan then go to present the evidence to the Alliance, and as they call the meeting to order, we cut back to her quarters where the candle burns itself out.
    • The series finale has Sheridan sitting in a White Star as the last of Lorien's life boost is running out. Right before the end Lorien himself returns filling the ship with light. As he passes, we see the ship from the outside as the light shining through the windows goes out.
  • Better Call Saul: "Plan and Execution" pulls a Double Subversion: When Jimmy and Kim get an unexpected visitor at their apartment, as the door opens there's a shot of the candle on the table flickering... but it's just their former boss Howard, drunk and furious about their campaign to discredit him (and not, as the viewer would assume, murderous gangster Lalo). A few minutes later, the candle flickers again, indicating someone else entering the apartment. This time it really is Lalo, and soon after Howard is killed.
  • The PBS docudrama Cathedral uses this when the elderly Friar Pierre dies of old age in his monastic cell while awaiting completion of the cathedral.
  • In the Father Brown episode "The Bride of Christ", an aspiring nun drops dead of cyanide poisoning in a church aisle when about to take her final vows; while Father Brown looks on in shock, a candle on the altar flickers and gutters out.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In the climax of the Season 1 finale, the flames of all the candles in the candelabrum are snuffed out when Lestat leaps over the table to attack Tom Anderson, which signifies that all the humans inside the townhouse will soon die at the hands (or more accurately the fangs) of Lestat, Louis and Claudia.
  • A literal case in Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger where the Dragon Ranger Burai is Living on Borrowed Time and when Green Candle burns out, he will cease to be. When it was adapted for Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers this plotline was changed to the Green Ranger merely losing his powers when the candle went out.

  • Blue ÷yster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper, where the last verse heralding the arrival of Death has the lines:
    The door burst open, and a wind appeared;
    The candle blew and then dissappeared;
    The curtains flew and then He appeared,
    Saying "Don't be afraid"
  • The aptly titled "Candle in the Wind" by Elton John, written for Marilyn Monroe (and later for Diana, Princess of Wales; both were 36 years old at the time of their deaths) has a symbolic chorus for a song about "the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life":
    And it seems to me you lived your life
    Like a candle in the wind,
    Never knowing who to cling to
    When the rain set in.
    And I would have liked to have known you,
    But I was just a kid.
    Your candle burned out long before
    Your legend ever did.
  • The music video to Rammstein's song "Ohne Dich" ends with a candle going while the singer is dying.
  • The music video for "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers features the band performing while wearing costumes reminiscent of various bands throughout rock history. During a sequence homaging Nirvana, frontman Anthony Kiedis is dressed as Kurt Cobain. A shot frames a blurred candle in the foreground with an in-focus Kiedis in the background, and as he sings the lyric "Gone too fast," the candle extinguishes, alluding to Cobain's suicide. The usage of this trope is itself is a reference to Cobain's suicide note, which included the Neil Young lyric "It's better to burn out than to fade away."

  • Justified in the Classical myth of Meleager: At Meleager's birth, the Moirai predicted he would only live until a log burning in the hearth nearby would be consumed. Meleager's mother Althaea doused the fire and kept the log. When, many years later, Meleager killed two brothers of Althaea, she was so angry she placed the log in the fire; Meleager died when the log was burnt.
  • Justified in "The Tale of Norna-Gest": As a baby, Nornagest had been cursed by a Norn to "live no longer than the candle that burns beside him". Another Norn extinguished the candle and gave it to Norna-Gest's mother for keeping, thus making Norna-Gest immortal. When, 300 years later, Norna-Gest decides to die of his own accord, he lights the candle, lays down on a bed and calls a priest to give him the last rites. As the candle burns down, he gets weaker, and dies the moment the flame goes out.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons, Lands of Intrigue boxed set. 1,400 years ago on Midsummer's Night, a tidal wave washed over the city of Velen, killing half of its inhabitants. Every year on the anniversary of the disaster, the citizens of Velen put lighted candles in the windows of every building. For each building, at the time that the tidal wave hit it and killed its occupants, the candle is mysteriously snuffed out.
  • Part of the mechanics of Ten Candles is that it's played in a dark room lit by only ten candles. One of the candles is put out every time the players botch a roll, and when the last candle goes out their characters get one last action before they die.

    Video Games 
  • In Child of Light's intro, the hearth fire burns out when Aurora dies in her sleep.
  • Inscryption: Your lives are represented by flames on two candlesticks, with a potential third you can find. During the boss battles, the boss's lives are also represented as candles, and all but one of your own lives will be snuffed out in exchange for "The Smoke" cards. The only way to relight a candle is by beating a boss.
  • Let It Die: Killing a don results in a cutscene where the don's head thinks its last thoughts and a candle is superimposed over their brain, then snuffed out.
  • StarCraft: One of the Terran cinematics has a pair of Mar Sara militia on patrol, looking at a Zergling with a flashlight when they suddenly realize more and larger Zerg have crept up behind them. The scene ends with the flashlight flickering out.
  • World of Warcraft: After enabling the Skyfire to escape the disastrous assault on the Tomb of Sargeras, King Varian mounts a last stand that results in him being disintegrated by Gul'dan's fel magic. The scene ends with the enchanted flame at the center of his sword going out.

    Western Animation 
  • In Hey Arnold! episode "Grandpa's Birthday", Grandpa believed he would die upon turning 81 due to a family curse. Upon the clock striking Midnight, he bid farewell before giving a long exaggerated final breath that blew out the candle on his bedside table. Subverted in that he was actually still alive.note 
  • The Prince and the Pauper: As the king of England brings Mickey, who he thinks is his son, to his room in his final moments, he makes Mickey promise to be a just and wise ruler. Mickey, unable to bring himself to tell the truth, promises as the candle goes out.

    Real Life 
  • If a king, queen or similar member of royalty was on their deathbed, a lit candle would be placed in the window so the crowd of courtiers watching from below knew the king was still alive. When the candle was extinguished, they knew the king was dead leading to the traditional cry of "The King is dead! Long live the King!" as rule passed immediately to his successor.