During the 1930’s, Charlie Kilworth (Christian Campbell), a piano-player turned ballroom dancer, has many liaisons, usually only with older women. Given the madness that runs in his family, he avoids most relationships out of fear that he may pass on some form of the hereditary affliction. When he begins to fall in love with a seductive blues singer in his band, Charlie also starts to comprehend why his mother, Lily (Stockard Channing), is a visionary who has been obsessed by fire for her entire life.
Charlie pieces together stories of how his superstitious Irish ancestors made disastrous attempts to shut away earlier family visionaries. Slowly, he begins to grapple with the supernatural images that have plagued his mother. Once he discovers something about the secret image that lurks in Lily’s flames, he is able to accept his mother’s illness and to arrive at the resolution of his own quandaries about fatherhood.