LOST: What It All Means

Well, it’s been four days and I’ve had time to come down somewhat from my instantly euphoric experience of viewing the LOST finale. As with most things, time gives us the perspective to cut through the hype and hyperbole to understand and appreciate a particular work of art with much greater clarity. It’s really the only fair way to unequivocally grade a finale as grand as LOST’s. We all feared that the show would falter by “going for it”, trying to do and say too much — tackling issues both cosmic and salvific. So after thinking about it for a couple of days, I have a much better perspective from which to offer this critique:

The LOST finale was absolutely perfect.

Did it resolve every mystery sufficiently? Clearly not, judging by the reaction of some fans. Sure, I would’ve loved a little more clarification on how the whole Jacob’s cabin thing worked. But the answer-philes never quite got LOST anyway. LOST is one of most prominent network programs to so fully embrace the postmodern comfortable approach to ambiguity. It isn’t so much about resolving every mystery; LOST is about learning just enough to accept the reality of mystery. That’s a message that rings true in my life.

After six years, I doubt many of us were hoping for an expository resolution of the show’s myriad mythological threads anyway. (The producers gave ample warning that we wouldn’t be getting a midi-chlorian discussion or a ten-minute monologue from “The Architect”.) Instead, we wanted to see how these characters’ stories would be resolved. Would Jack’s heroic arc finally reach completion? Would Sawyer revert back to his pre-Island roguish ways? Would John Locke rise out of the grave on Boone Hill to walk again? Would our characters find redemption, salvation, or something else in the Sideways world? These were the stories we wanted to see and feel and experience. And in that regard, the finale satisfied on a very deep level.

So what is the Island? The Garden of Eden? A communal salvation project? Storehouse of mystical hoo-ha? A little bit of each, I suppose. In light of the finale, it’s easy to see the Sideways world as the Island’s complimentary space; if the Island is understood as some sort of destiny-soaked testing ground, the Sideways world functions as Purgatory — a place where our castaways work out their own salvation with fear and trembling before they can move on to whatever afterlife awaits them. But this process must be communal. As we’ve seen, even the Island needs a complimentary space — a yin to it’s yang — to bring these characters destinies full circle. I would even argue that the Island’s “purpose” is incomplete and unknowable without the Sideways world. No Island is an island, I guess.

And this is where the show’s theme emerges: “Live together, die alone.” LOST remains fairly ambiguous about a great many things (those pesky Dharma food drops, for instance), but this much is clear: we need each other more than we realize. Sociologically speaking, we’re all guilty of the same thing our castaways were guilty of early: identifying the foreign as “Other”. The castaways demonization first of themselves and later of the Tailies and finally of the Others all speaks a relevant word to our pigeon-hole-happy, bifurcated culture. Fast forward to the closing scenes of the series, however, and Benjamin Linus (of all people) completes the final circuit in John Locke’s eschatological ascension by imploring his Island nemesis to get up out of his wheelchair. Locke’s expression shines as if Ben has told him something he’s known to be true all along but he’s never dared to believe. John stands, says goodbye to Ben, and climbs the stairway to heaven. Without Ben, would John have tried unsuccessfully to climb the stairs on his own? How fitting that Ben — the source of John’s Island pain — holds to key to John’s afterlife actualization. As Locke said in Season 5: “I needed that pain to get where I am now.”

In the end, LOST had much to say about the enterprise of faith; but it wasn’t so much about faith drawing us closer to God as it was about faith drawing us to one another. From the last paragraph of Doc Jensen’s awesome EW review:

With fear and trembling, Jack stepped out of the cloakroom and into the sanctuary where his soulmates were waiting for him. Was he fully enlightened by that point? I think no. I think a few more things needed to happen, and they all did. I think he needed to be greeted by John Locke. Greeted with that smile and that handshake and be told, ”I’m glad you decided to join us.” I think he needed to be touched by his friends. Hugged by Boone, the man he couldn’t save. Hugged by Sawyer, his enemy turned ally. Hugged by Desmond, his brother in Island salvation. Bear hugged by Hurley, who takes care of everyone. Then he needed to be led by Kate to his seat, and he needed one act of love from his father, that touch that said, ”I’m proud of you.” Christian opened the doors. Light flooded into the church. Jack smiled. It was real. It was all real. And in that moment, he was complete. Redeemed. Reconciled. Restored. He remembered his last moments on The Island. He remembered his sacrifice. He remembered he had lived a life, a hard life, a life full of mistakes and pain, but that in the end, the good in him won out, and that he died with heart in the right place. He was a hero. And he let go. The End.

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3 Responses to LOST: What It All Means

  1. Dylan Pyeatt says:

    Awesome post. I’ve been planning on making a thorough comment on it, but I want to re-watch the finale first.

    But first, I was watching the Times Talk on Lost that was in movie theaters last week and Darlton answered David Skidmore’s question!!! They answer it at the 3:40 mark here:

    Wow! Someone I’ve met asked Damon and Carlton a question!

  2. Dylan says:

    Ok, so I’ve re-watched the finale. It really is an amazing hour and 45 minutes of television (without the commercials). And really it’s more like a movie. Sure, it does satisfyingly wrap up this six year epic and it wouldn’t have the emotional power if we weren’t already invested in the journey of these characters. But “The End” also stands alone as a beautiful story of redemption and hope and of good outlasting evil. It’s funny, many people were speculating before season 6 if the finale might possibly set up a Lost: The Movie one day. But the irony is that “The End” WAS the Lost movie (unless in 2013 we see in theaters “The Adventures of Hugo and Ben”).

    I like your idea about Ben holding the key to Locke’s final actualization of his eternal destiny. Too add on to this: it’s cool how Jack also played a major part in awakening Locke to his eternal reality. It’s amazing how these two allies/adversaries, the opposing men of science/faith came together in this operation that took both science and faith, as they helped each other “let go” and complete their journeys. They both needed each other. Just like they always have. Just like everyone on Lost did. As Christian Shepherd said to Jack, “They needed you as much as you needed them.”

    I was discussing the episode with a guy here, and he was frustrated with it and was saying “What did all the rest of the show matter? What did seasons 2 and 3 and the Others and the Dharma Initiative matter?” And I feel like he missed the point. All of it mattered. Everything in these six seasons were part of the journey that played essential parts in the ultimate story. But what mattered most were the people. The relationships. The ways they helped each other and overcame their baggage and despite different agendas and levels of faith and disagreements, came together as a community and brought each other home.

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