Let it Burn Higher

January 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Fire. The word evokes long tongues of flame, yellow, orange and red, flicking back and forth through the night air. It follows no discernible pattern, untamed as it is, beckoning and threatening with its selfsame light and heat. Perhaps it is the mysterious quality of fire, its burning and comfort, that has so endeared it to the artist in his search for the perfect metaphor or simile to express the necessary emotion.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road.


I recently watched The Road which tells the story of a Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young Son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in post-apocalyptic America as they journey southward in search of a better place to survive.  Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is bleak, as grays, brown and blacks dominate the landscape, with the only respite being flashbacks to the time before the war started. In both the film and book, however, there is a ray of light that bursts through the clouds from time to time as the Man interacts with his Son, spurring him on throughout the many difficult times they have.  Refusing to let hope die, the Man tells his Son to keep carrying the fire, the fire within his soul. Often it seems as if this fire, this hope, is the only thing that sustains our main characters.

Fire is such a potent metaphor for this internal hope, this endless struggle between perseverance and defeat. If one fails to keep stoking their fire, it will inevitably go out, weakly smoldering until it ceases to give off warmth or light, a pile of forgotten black ash that returns to the soil. Such is the human life, and without doubt all our fires will encounter this final dampening. But what is so horrific and disappointing is those, like the bandits in The Road, who have put out their fire before their deaths. They have squelched their flames and given in to the ceaseless drudgery and overwhelming brokenness of life, their ashes only awaiting the final scattering to the wind. I sense in The Road a fierce rebellion to this way of looking at life, even though the characters inhabit an America filled with even more reasons to abandon hope.

It is this fire that hip hop group The Roots sing of in The Fire on their latest album How I Got Over. Like The Road, How I Got Over is an album filled with tales of hardships and problems that refuses to forsake hope. Black Thought raps, sounding like he’s read The Road, “I’m an icon when I let my light shine, shine bright as an example of a champion…Burn like a chariot, learn how to carry it…Fuel to the flame that I train with and travel with…I realize I’m supposed to reach for the skies, never let somebody try and tell you otherwise.” It’s a fantastic song that urges us to never give up, even amidst struggles and difficulties, which will surely come in this life.

If you permit me to speak metaphorically, we all have this fire inside of us, burning to varying degrees. Hope is hard to find sometimes in this world, but it exists, and it is this hope that can sustain us in the darkest of times. Don’t let your fire be put out by the cares of this world, keep blazing. After all if we’re carrying this fire, let’s carry it well.


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§ 3 Responses to Let it Burn Higher

  • First, great song. I’ve heard you mention The Roots a few times but this is the first time I’m actually listening.

    Second, I think my biggest problem with The Road is that its hope is exegetic. Without a faith, a God, a future, the flame carried in this vision of the world is mere self-delusion. Though we as Christians can certainly be encouraged to keep alight the driving force behind our lives, we must also acknowledge the root gospel of The Road: in a nihilistic world, it is enough to be an existentialist.

    • Carl says:

      I see what you are saying, and I agree. Without a God or future, keeping a flame inside of you is futile, because eventually it goes out when you die. But I think you’re discounting The Road by assuming there is no future hope or that God is assumed to be irrelevant. I’m not sure the book ever makes a consistent statement on that point, but your criticism is well founded.

  • gwen says:

    I watched The Road just last night, i waited as i heard it was horrific to watch, also about cannibalism & so forth….the movie in my opinion, was beautiful! as someone who lost their dad not so long ago – i could see my own father in every scene, how he would handle things, how he would do his utmost to protect me (although he was more giving then the man in the movie)….my dad would have never given up hope either 🙂 i did cry & quite a lot, only because i saw visions of my own father, woven throughout….funny, after being so hesitant to see this movie, it will become an all time favorite of mine, it already is 🙂

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