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Self-Immolation

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"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."

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.

Subtrope of Driven to Suicide. Compare Man on Fire, Murder by Cremation and Wreathed in Flames.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • A really cruel variation comes from Death Note, where Light Yagami uses the titular DN to force his ex-girlfriend Kiyomi Takada to burn herself to death.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman does this at the end of Superman: At Earth's End.
  • The insane Watcher does this in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff comic Fray.
  • Played for Laughs in Knights of the Dinner Table when Brian is repeatedly suiciding his own characters in an attempt to get to a good one.
    Brian: Then Kreed the Second had an –ahem- unfortunate mishap after entering that firewalking contest down at Blind Man's Pavilion...
    Sara: I'm not sure dousing yourself with lamp oil beforehand is really considered a 'mishap.'
    Brian: Hey, they were giving points for 'Most Entertaining'.
  • Used in the André Franquin album Idées Noires (Dark Thoughts) where a man sets himself on fire despite the urging of the crowd not to... and then it turns out they were horrified at seeing perfectly good gasoline being wasted in such a way.

    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 the story as he was being called to the cockpit and leaves. The man puts out the match, sighs in relief... 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.
  • From the Vietnamese film Cyclo, the poet commits suicide by setting himself on fire.
  • The main character in the film Dagon attempts to kill himself by this method after learning that his family hailed from the town of Imboca. It doesn't take, however, as he is pushed into a nearby pool to douse the flames.
  • The Dry: After being confronted by Aaron and Raco, Scott Whitlam douses himself in petrol and threatens to set himself, the school, and probably the surrounding town alight. He does ignite himself, but is beaten out by Aaron and Raco.
  • The Challenger, a minor villain from the wuxia film Jade Tiger, upon being defeated then sets himself on fire using his chi in a Better to Die than Be Killed moment.
  • 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.
  • Nostalghia: At the end of his rant about how sane people and insane people have to mix together in order to save the world, the deranged Dominico sets himself on fire in the public square.
  • 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.
  • This is why the Burning Man in Waking Life is called the Burning Man.
  • The Drummer and the Keeper: Gabriel finishes his final manic episode by setting himself on fire in front of what he thinks is the house of pop star Nevo, due to his delusional belief that she's been attending his gigs. At the hospital afterwards, he learns that he didn't even have the right address.
  • Saint Maud ends with Maud setting herself on fire after killing Amanda. We see her rise up towards Heaven... only to slam cut to her screeching in agony as she roasts alive.
  • Smile (2022) ends with Rose setting herself on fire in front of Joshua, ensuring he's the next one possessed by the Smile Entity.

    Literature 
  • By the end of Frankenstein, this is how the Creature plans to kill himself.
  • Denethor in The 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. It may also have been a sort of protest, as he was angry with L for ignoring him (and for putting his friend through such a rigorous program that said friend committed suicide.) 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.
  • In one of Gustavo Adolfo Bècquer's Leyendas, Siannah loses it after her Star Crossed Lover Pulo commits suicide to finally be able to atone for having killed his older brother and Siannah's original husband... so she willingly throws herself into Pulo's funerary pyre to join him in the other world. She's said to have been the first woman who went through Sati/Satee (mentioned below)
  • Parodied in Bored of the Rings. According to Goodgulf, Benelux's burning to death confirmed his alleged suicidal tendencies brought on by Sorhed. How he managed to throw himself on the pyre after having tied himself up is anyone's guess.
  • In Lawrence Block's Two for Tanner Evan needs to get into command headquarters to rescue Dhang and Tuppence. His only ally, an elderly Laotian peasant with dreams of French rule being reinstated, hides a boat by the river and promises to provide a distraction. He does this by denouncing the Communist government and then setting himself and the bullock he's driving on fire while singing the Marsellaise.
  • In Lightning, by Dean Koontz, this is twelve-year-old Tammy's approach to ending a miserable life that has included repeated sexual abuse by different men. Even sadder, she (presumably unintentionally) takes one of her roommates with her.
  • In Abaddon's Gate, the third book of The Expanse, a man attempts this in front of the VIPs traveling to the ring gate. However, since they are traveling on a warship, he is immediately covered in fire-suppression foam by hidden sprinklers and quickly led away by navy personnel, "looking more confused than hurt".
  • In H. P. Lovecraft's "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", the title character burns himself to death with lamp oil after discovering that his great-great-great-grandmother was a gorilla, due to bestiality by his explorer great-great-great-grandfather.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Becoming, Part 1", a cloaked vampire sent by Angelus turns up in Buffy's classroom in broad daylight, removes her shawl and declares, "Tonight. Sundown. At the graveyard..." before beginning to smoke. "You will come to him or more will DIE!" The female vamp then explodes into flames, all the while pointing accusingly at Buffy, who later dubs it an "immolation-o-gram."
  • Once on M*A*S*H, 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 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: "My Name Is Mac Taylor" had a guy who threatened this because he was despondent over the hit and run death of his girlfriend. He'd been hunting for the driver, causing trouble because he only knew the person's name was Mac Taylor and had killed two other Macs in the process. Fortunately, he was prevented from succeeding. note 
  • Burning Bush is based on a real-life case of this; namely, that of Jan Palach (see the "Real Life" folder below).
  • In the second episode of Y Gwyll, Eric Roberts, the former owner of an abandoned farming estate called Talygroes, burned his own barn after discovering that three escaped German POWs had taken shelter there (during the second World War). The neighboring landowner, who longed to buy up Talygroes, learned about this and used that information to blackmail Roberts into giving his land away piece by piece over the next twenty-odd years for free. In the present time, Roberts' grandson murders the elderly son of that neighboring landowner under the false promise of regaining Talygroes, and when cornered by the police, burns himself alive along with the Talygroes farmhouse.
  • The Terror: In "A Mercy", Dr. Stanley discovers that the poorly boxed food rations are giving everyone including himself lead poisoning, this gives him Sanity Slippage and during a masked Carnevale party he closes the entrances of the tent and sets himself ablaze setting the rest of the Carnevale on fire in an attempt to Mercy Kill everyone.
  • Titus: Papa Titus dismisses a woman that Erin introduced to him because he was too sober to be his usual womanizing self. When he asks how she took the rejection, a cutaway gag shows that she set herself on fire in a parking lot.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Simon Said", Holly Becker sets herself on fire at the gas station.
  • Major Crimes: In "Penalty Phase," the killer of the week douses himself in petrol and plans to go out in a blaze of glory when Major Crimes catch up to him. Sanchez manages to tackle him into a swimming pool just after he ignites himself.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Alien Radio", Eldon DeVries covers himself in gasoline and sets himself on fire in front of Stan Harbinger after he realizes that there is an alien living inside of him.
  • Payback: Deeply corrupt CEO Oh Chang-hyun is giving a press conference when an anti-corruption protester lights himself on fire in the audience. The public furor this causes results in Prosecutor Park approving his subordinate Tae-choon's investigation of Oh's corruption.
  • The second season of Trapped (2015) begins with a financially-troubled farmer and far-right-wing activist attempting to assassinate the Minister for Industry (who is also his sister) by burning both of them alive in the street outside her office. He dies and she survives.
  • What We Do in the Shadows (2019): In "Gail", energy vampire Colin Robinson sets himself on fire with gasoline to prank Laszlo, revealing that he is in fact immune to it.
    "Just kidding. I'm fine. I'm fine. Just a little fire".

    Professional Wrestling 

    Theatre 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Trial of Kings in Warhammer Fantasy, where would-be kings of the High Elves emulate the first Phoenix King, Aenarion, by ritually sacrificing themselves through walking into the sacred fire of Asuryan. Those who are judged worthy by Asuryan are allowed to pass through the flames unharmed and are proclaimed Phoenix Kings. Those who are not worthy (say, by trying to become king by Klingon Promotion)... Aren't left unharmed.
    • In addition, the Phoenix King Morvael the Impetuous is noted to have committed suicide by willingly walking into the sacred fire a second time, intending to be judged unworthy (which he was).

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted on South Park by Chef, protesting the town flag:
    Chef: In the 1960s, 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!
  • Any poor sap who looks at Family Guy's Butt-Monkey Meg Griffin will do this.

    Real Life 
  • Doctor Homa Darabi burned herself in the middle of Tajrish Square to protest the law of compulsory hijab enacted by the new Islamic government, which previously forced her to shut her pediatric practice.
  • Sahar Khodayari chose to immolate herself in lieu of going back to prison for disguising herself as a man to enter football games.
  • Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, set himself alight to protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm, a devout Catholic who discriminated against anyone who wasn't (i.e. 90% of the country's population). The image of Duc calmly sitting in a state of deep concentration as he burned to death was immortalized in a Pulitzer-winning photo and article. His actions inspired other several other protesters to follow his example and helped spell the beginning of the end of The Vietnam War.
  • Norman Morrison set himself on fire in protest against American involvement in the Vietnam War, possibly motivated by Duc's suicide.
  • Jan Palach, a Czech student, who committed suicide by self-immolation in 1969 as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, followed by Jan Zajíc and Evžen Plocek.
  • Inspired by Palach, Sándor Bauer, a 17-year old Hungarian car mechanic apprentice set himself on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet occuptation of Hungary.
  • The Arab Spring originally began with one Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi lighting himself on fire in response to the police confiscating his fruit cart too many times.

 
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Burning man

The TMPD is called into an incident where an old man douses himself with gasoline before immolating himself. This is one of the first major crime scenes where Jake Adelstein is present.

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