Where the falling angel meets the rising ape
This article is a web original.
Marco Cian (Hyogo)
Quest for Fire is a strange movie. It’s not so-bad-it’s-good, because it conveys what it wants to convey. And it’s not an arthouse film, because what it wants to convey is fairly simple and straightforward. It’s simply that what Quest for Fire wants to convey is so… weird. The film follows three Neanderthals on their quest to retrieve fire when their tribe’s lantern goes out. The Neanderthals know how to guard and use fire, but they don’t know how to make it. So when their lantern is extinguished by an enemy tribe, their survival depends on the quest’s success. Things go south quickly though, as the three heroic Neanderthals encounter many new and dangerous challenges when they step into the wider world.
You would think, given the inherent goofiness of cavemen, and the lack of any modern dialogue in the movie, that Quest for Fire would quickly turn into a farce, and indeed, several scenes are akin to a pantomime. However, the three leads instill their prehistoric characters with this wide-eyed, innocent earnestness that shines through even the silliest of scenes. Just as often as I laughed, I cried out “No!” when our heroes found themselves in their latest death-trap and needed to escape. And, most intriguing of all, despite our protagonists being knuckle-dragging troglodytes, not one of the obstacles they face is solved by brute force, but instead by quick wits and lateral thinking.
This is what Quest for Fire seeks to convey. The titular quest is for fire, but by story’s end, our heroes have learned so much more. They learn over the course of their quest how to use new tools, tame new animals, express new emotions, and become new people: the first Homo Sapiens. They are no longer the simple Neanderthals who fear the dark and cold, because by meeting new people, new cultures, new ideas, we grow beyond what we thought we were.
Like I said, Quest for Fire is a strange movie. But man is a strange creature, and the movie knows this and uses its inherent silliness to showcase this. Shows like Star Trek present humanity’s quest for knowledge as something noble and confident, like fallen angels reclaiming their lost divinity. But Quest for Fire presents this quest as something messy and confusing, like rising apes smashing a bone until they realize its value as a tool. We may no longer live in caves. But as humans, we are still searching for new ideas and innovations, even if we stumble and make fools of ourselves in this searching. So, despite its prehistoric setting, Quest for Fire is a story whose message and value remain timeless.
Marco Cian is a second-year ALT in Toyooka, Hyogo. He really hopes those Neanderthals killed that bald mofo at the end (that guy was just awful). He is also amazed at just how many actors got their big breaks with this movie. He reads a lot, particularly fantasy, and he even wrote his own fantasy novel, which you can find on his Substack here (new chapters every other week). You can also read more reviews and recommendations of his on his website here.