The Quest for Fire (1981) shows the Next Nature of 80.000 BC. Set in a world without highways, supermarkets, airports, Internet, television, farming, money or written language, the film depicts a group of Neanderthalers who are able to control fire, but cannot create it. Similar to our habit of carrying a mobile phone, these Neanderthalers consequentially wonder around with a mobile fire.
When one day their fire is tragically smothered, the three bravest men leave the tribe and set out in a quest for fire. Throughout their journey they meet with various other humanoid species, of which the most outlandish is undoubtedly the Homo Sapiens, who impress not by their size or posture but even more by their ability to domesticate their surroundings through the use of tools and technique.
While the Neanderthaler men are accustomed to a life in caves, the geeky Homo Sapiens amazes them with technological gadgets like pottery, an artificial cave created from animal skins, advanced weaponry and, most of all, their astonishing ability to create fire – which in its time was at least equally if not more impressive than any nano-, bio-, or digital technology of today.
The Quest of Fire is a honest attempt to look at the origins of the species and the development of humanity through loss, tragedy, hardship, hostile elements and the beginnings of laughter, morality, community service, leadership, friendship and of course, love. A wondrous feat of body language performances as there is no truly discernible spoken dialogue.
The film can be thought of as the first five minutes of Space Odyssey 2001 (1968) stretched up to a feature film length. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud manages to capture the essence of the human condition as ‘natural born cultural beings’. Which deepens our understanding of the ever-changing relation nature and makes us see some of the contemporary technological ‘upgrades’ in a different light.
Passed: 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), The Gods must be Crazy (1980), Surplus – Terrorized into Being Consumers (2003).