by Afra Nariman
Fire of Love (2022)
Director: Sara Dosa
Stars: Katia Krafft, Maurice Krafft, Miranda July (narrator)
“This is not a science fiction movie. It’s two young volcanologists dancing on the edge of a volcano.”
What constitutes a meaningful life? This simple question has long been debated in philosophy circles; with no clear answer to serve as a guiding light in deeming any given life meaningful or not. In fact, I’d personally argue that in practice, any simplified description of a meaningful life will be arbitrary and impossible to encompass all lived-experiences. The conversation, in terms of the West’s obsession with pursing a meaningful life, is all too abstract to attach too much importance to judging our lives and others’ through a lens of meaningfulness. Thus, the pursuit of a meaningful life has become relatively counterproductive for many in the West. Nevertheless, in theory there are some general parameters that have been proposed, which offer us some insight into how we can better understand the lives and experiences of others. Most importantly, these parameters allow us to value our differences by finding the common threads which connect us all in the ways we experience the lives we live as human beings.
In his book A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe (2016), philosopher Todd May offers one of the more agreeable sets of terms and conditions within the scope of this discussion. In short, he outlines that the three aspects necessary for living a fulfilling life are: atonement, engagement, and endorsement. In other words, people must do something that they are passionate about and that engages them on an intellectual level, keeping them constantly interested — not falling into a rut or routine. Even more important for May in defining what constitutes a meaningful life, is his emphasis on “narrative values,” which are objective qualities of an individual that can be understood, appreciated, and respected by others — even if the others don’t value them personally. In less words, they must be objectively attractive qualities. Other contemporary philosophers (i.e. Elizabeth Anscombe, Daniel M. Haybron, etc.) have referenced similar modes of measurement as May, in their writing on the matter of a meaningful life. It’s also worth noting, that the concept of virtues being directly correlated with living a “good life” goes all the way back to Aristotle, and his Nicomachean Ethics. For Anscombe, she builds upon Aristotle’s interest in the virtues, but expands the characterization of virtues beyond only moral ones, characterizing them also as “admirable ways of being and living more generally,” similar to May’s notion of narrative values.
While as I alluded to, I do not necessarily agree with everything listed above — at least, I do not believe in generalizing in any mode of thought or context, that nothing is strictly black-or-white; and personally, that meaning should not be something constantly pursued — I reference May, Anscombe, and Haybron’s writing because they serve as an interesting vehicle to view the lives of the volcanologist couple featured in Sara Dosa’s inventive and deeply affective Fire of Love.
After watching the engrossing documentary, we are left to ask — did Katia and Maurice Krafft live a meaningful life? If speaking subjectively — (if you ask someone) would you want to live such a life as they did, and if you did, would you say that you lived a meaningful life on your terms? — it would likely be the case that the vast majority of people would not choose to live such lives. For example, unlike the Krafft’s, most people today would still cite starting a family among the things they’d consider to be the most essential factors in building a meaningful life for themselves.
Though objectively, we can look at their lives through the lens provided by the thinkers discussed above. The Krafft’s easily fulfilled May’s outline of atonement, engagement, and endorsement. They lived a life of true conviction and an all-in pursuit of love — and all that it encompasses for them — as love consists of different elements for everyone. For them, the elements were that of fire and earth, the flowing rivers of lava, and the eruptions that exude volcanic bombs. Few have ever attached their lives to a passion or cause, with such determination as we see that these two did.
Growing up in a post-war Europe that was recently ravaged by human-induced explosions, they find an ironic saftey near the certainly unpredictable sources of nature’s most grandiose explosions, finding direction in the harmonious unknown.
“We live on the rhythms of the Earth. And the earth decides where we go next.”
In the beginning of their lives together, they were still attached to the human world. As a young couple, they saw evil and indifference everywhere, and resisted them when they could.
“But human pursuits of power begin to feel vain and absurd next to the power of the earth.”
They mention that they originally got into the profession of volcanology because they were disappointed in humanity. Leaving the human world mostly behind, they headed into the then-unknown territories of volcanos — this feeding their deepest curiosities and giving way to a lifetime of atonement, engagement, and endorsement.
“What is it they ask that makes the Earth’s heart beat, and blood flow?”
Though as the thinkers I’ve referenced would say, it is narrative values which bear a larger weight in measuring a life’s meaningfulness; and while many people clearly do not choose to live the lives that the Krafft’s led (there were only 350 volcanologists in the entire world at one point in their careers), when simplifying the qualities that filled their lives to feelings and actions — intensity, love, passion, adventure, intellectual stimulation, scientific discovery, educating, etc. — most of us will likely agree that they lived a life filled with qualities that defined their lives’ narrative as a meaningful one.
Everything about Fire of Love is mysterious and mystical. The film captures an ambiance of the unknown and grandiose beautifully, leaving you entranced in both the romance we witness being lived, and the earthly wonders of that romance’s bonding element. The film, through the words of Katia and Maurice Krafft themselves, explores the intersections between life and death, love and beauty, creation and destruction. These dichotomous elements can be used to define the properties of nature and of art — and in Fire of Love, we are given both.
“Curiosity is stronger than fear.”
MY RATING /5:
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