The lowly candle has played a significant role in many films. It has been used for the scary effect, the dramatic scene, romantic scenes, in comedies, and as symbols of goodness.
In The Abyss (1989) the character Lindsey Bergman has a long section of dialogue in which she symbolizes faithfulness or sticking together with someone no matter what by reminding Bud what she had said before about everyone being alone. She goes on to remind him of what he said and did in response.
“I know how alone you feel... alone in all that cold blackness... but I'm there in the dark with you. Oh Bud you're not alone... Oh, God. You remember that time - you were pretty drunk, you probably don't remember - but the power went out in that little apartment we had on Orange Street? We were staring at that one little candle, and I, I said something really dumb like, that candle was me, and like every one of us is out there alone in the dark in this life... and you just, you just lit up another candle and you put it beside mine and said "No! See, that's me. That's me"... and we stared at the two candles, and then... well, if you remember any of this, I'm sure you remember the next part. But there are two candles in the dark. I'm with you. I'll always be with you Bud, I promise that.”
Bell, book, and candle have been a phrase in western culture since the 9th century. The Roman Catholic Church started a form of excommunication from the church at that time that involved these objects. Someone that had committed a very horrendous sin could be excommunicated in this manner. Twelve priests and a bishop perform the ceremony. They would recite an oath that separated the sinner from the church and say, "So be it!"
Then the bishop rang the bell. This signified spiritual death. He shut a holy book, which depicted the ex-communicant's being separated from the church, and snuffed out one or more candles and slapped them to fall on the floor. This action signified that the sinner’s soul had been extinguished and was distanced from God.
How does that scenario relate to movies? It definitely relates to one: Bell, Book, and Candle, which was adapted from a play by John Van Druten. Daniel Taradash wrote the screenplay. It is a fun comedy from 1958 about modern witch (Gillian) that falls in love with a neighbor (Shep). He is engaged to a college rival (Merle) and she decides to charm her rival’s fiancee into falling in love with her, but her scheme backfires as she finds herself in love with him.
Thus, Gillian loses her supernatural powers; she has to make a choice between love and the powers and the powers lose. When Shep finds out that she is a witch and what she has done he is mad. Gillian tries to cause Merle to fall in love with the first man she sees and other schemes to get rid of her. But Merle finds out that because of romantic love she is now powerless. Meanwhile, Shep gets another witch to break the hold that Gillian has on him and he goes away, but comes back after several months have passed. When he sees that she doesn’t have her magical powers anymore he reconciles with her.
Though it isn’t explained outright in the movie, the relationship to the Catholic ceremony and use of candles is implied in the name of the film. Being a witch is the grievous sin, which the name is pointing at in the film. This movie and the play take place in Greenwich Village. The original play of 1950 evokes a gay element in the village.
The phrase, book, bell, and candle became infused in our culture and it is used in songs, computer games, poems, and board games. It is part and fabric of ours lives and candles are too. There are many candle films to explore. Until next time, don’t snuff out your candle.