Reflections on LOST

I’ve just seen the entire run of LOST over the course of about two months.  It is time for a few reflections.  To those who intend to watch the show, stop reading now.  There will be SPOILERS.

The show begins with a jet crashing on an island in the Pacific.  The first question is, “Who survives a jet crash, especially one in which a plane cracks in half?”  I thought of that often.  As I watched the program, I wondered along with probably everyone else whether anyone on the show actually survived.  The other possibility is that they are dead and we are watching them move about in the afterlife.  To refine the thought a little, are the characters in purgatory working through their sins?

Things happen in the course of the series to make the viewer think that the characters have not died in the crash.  I know at one point I abandoned the theory entirely.  But by the time I got to the final season, I began to think the matter through again.  By the end, I felt confirmed in my belief.  These people are dead.  They are working out their own salvation.

One thing that sucked me in to the show was the names of some of the characters.  There is a John Locke, a David Hume, a Faraday (scientist), a C.S. Lewis, a Jeremy Bentham, and maybe some others I missed.  For the most part, I think this naming was a display of someone’s dilettante-ish learning in the core curriculum at college.  The names didn’t correlate to the characters.  C.S. Lewis, for example, is a gorgeous redhead.  She is a Brit, but otherwise doesn’t resemble her namesake.  There was, however, one name that seemed to be important.  The most heroic character is Jack Shephard, son of Christian Shephard.  And, indeed, Jack is a man willing to give himself for others.

At one point, some of the characters manage to get off the island (in your face, Gilligan!), but they end up having to return.  They realize (some involuntarily) that they must return.  There is something wrong with them being off the island.  The island isn’t done with them, yet.  This part played into the notion of purgatory.  Their leaving is wrong because they have abandoned the work of the soul.  They must return and continue the process, miserable and trying though it is.

In the final season, the characters are living dual lives.  They are living one life on the island and a parallel life back in the civilized world.  What is interesting is that in their parallel lives, things seem to be going well.  Wrongs are being righted.  Problems are being resolved.  Wounds are being healed.  It is as though their suffering and struggles on the island have somehow been redemptive.  Their lives on the island (a place where wounds heal rapidly and cancer goes into remission) is exerting a restorative effect on their lives in some parallel place.

There is also some exposition about the bizarre nature of the island.  We see something like an origin story about two brothers.  It is somewhat reminiscent of Cain and Abel, but hybridized with the tale of Romulus and Remus.  The brother who lives is the more righteous one.  His twin (not identical) is not unambiguously evil.  He is more like a Lucifer who wants to overthrow God (or God’s will for his life) because he doesn’t understand him (or it).  The dead brother continues on in a supernatural life as something of a monster.  He is the black smoke which has been terrorizing our heroes throughout much of the show.  Certainly,there is a sense of something Edenic which has gone wrong.  The good brother, Jacob, is the protector of the island who is working toward the achievement of some good.

The conclusion of the series centers on the murdered brother living anew in the possessed body of John Locke.  He is determined to leave the island.  It is what he has always wanted.  But we are given to understand that he must not leave.  Somehow, he is evil and must be kept on the island like wine kept in a bottle by a cork.  Ultimately, he must clash with Jack Shephard.

This is the point where I started to see some strong religious themes.  The island has a heart which emits amazingly powerful and destructive light.  Desmond David Hume is the man who can withstand it.  Jack and the monster accompany Hume.  He goes down into the light and removes a stone stopper which is containing it.  This seems to put out the light and trigger the slow destruction of the island.  The monster feels he can now leave the island, which is sinking, but Jack determines the monster has now become vulnerable to physical harm.  They struggle and Jack is able to kill the monster, but not before he is mortally wounded by a dagger in his side.  At this point, one cannot help but see Jesus stabbed the spear in his side.

Jack is dying.  The disruption in the island and his suffering seem to have made victory over the monster possible.  Jack returns to the source of the light to restore the stone stopper.  When he does, the island is saved and the light returns at full strength.  Jack has successfully given himself for all.  His suffering has made victory over evil possible.

Before he died, he made Hurley the new protector of the island.  Though I am not Catholic, what I saw here was Jesus giving Peter the kings to the kingdom and establishing him as the new head of the church.  To me, it looked like the beginning of the papacy!  Benjamin Linus, a man who has been a persecutor of the characters and has been wrongly related to the island’s protector, Jacob, steps up to be Hurley’s co-laborer in the protection of the island.  Looking at Benjamin in this new role, I could not help but think of Paul.  Linus is very much a Saul-Paul type of figure.  (It helps a little that his name, Benjamin Linus, could be linked to the famous scientist Linus PAULing.)

Ultimately, the characters living in their parallel lives encounter each other and come to an astonishing collective memory of their time on the island.  These scenes are quite beautiful.  They all come together in a church (except Linus who stays just outside).  Christian Shephard and Jack Shephard talk.  Jack realizes he is dead and so, too, are the others.  To my mind, it appears that what has occurred is a triumphant tour through purgatory for them all.  They have been sifted like grain and what is of value is what remains.  Though the stained glass contains a variety of holy symbols from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian faiths, the dominant imagery is Christian as is much of the narrative.  The characters gather in the pews as pure light spills over them.  They are moving on, presumably, to Heaven where true reality is (e.g. The Great Divorce).

I appreciated the final season very much because I felt it was the kind of story which could prepare people’s hearts for Christ.  It was a tilling of the soil.

(One final thing.  What about the DHARMA Initiative?  They are a communal project with researchers and scientists of various types working on the island attempting to pierce its mysteries and perhaps harness its special powers.  In the end, their efforts add up to little of consequence.  Indeed, much of what they do leads to tragedy.  I suspect the story of DHARMA was designed to highlight the instrumental limitedness of science.)

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4 thoughts on “Reflections on LOST

  1. Are you suggesting that the island was a part of purgatory in addition to the “flash-sideways” reality? Interesting. I am inclined to think that “the island is purgatory” theory was merely a red herring.

    Also, have you considered the strong parallels between Jack and the Apostle Thomas (who, interestingly, was killed by a spear)? Here is an intelligent YouTube video which expands upon this:

    I am nowhere near done discussing this with you!

  2. Yes, I am sticking with my interpretation that the entire thing was a post-death, purgatorial process. I will check out this video, but I don’t think Jack is Thomas. I mean, c’mon, Jack Shephard son of Christian Shephard????

  3. While the Catholic details you see (Hurley receiving the keys to the kingdom, for example) are interesting, I have to say that I don’t give the show writers that much credit. For one thing, they grossly misunderstood Roman Catholicism when they had Mr. Eko (a RC) teach Claire that Jesus became the Son of God at baptism (adoptionism). Furthermore, far from Jacob being a totally good character, he admits that he created the Smoke Monster by mistake. His flashback implies that his unnamed Mother was also a Smoke Monster. Evil has been the prevalent force on the island, not good. Ultimately both Jack and Locke were right: Jack was right that the island is a horrible place that should be destroyed, blown up, etc. and Locke was right that wonderful things can happen on the island.

    Lastly, the show ends with a sort of religious pluralism. There are plenty of other religions running throughout the show besides Christianity. The Smoke Monster, for example, is reminiscent of the Islamic djinn.

    I think you have some interesting thoughts here, but I thought I’d throw in a few of the above thoughts as well. Thanks for the post.

  4. I’m with John Locke – the pluralism oozes out of the last episode (the stained glass window in the church has symbols of Islam, etc). The Christian allegory and allusions are deliberate, but also deliberately not the whole thing and possibly deliberately a bit wrong. That Lost was very much not secularist is worth noting, but it just shows the new Zeitgeist (a British show ended with a similar ‘everyone is Jesus in purgatory’ ending the same weekend that Lost did) – one of second chances, works-based, all religions are the same (and none are portrayed by Hollywood correctly).

    The smoke monster was arguing for total depravity, whereas Jacob was arguing for the Pelagianism that is so loved by people today – hence why Jacob’s portrayed as good and his twin evil. Both are evil in their methods – smoky killing people, Jacob subjecting them to a nasty fatalism where they end up on the island (how many people died in the plane crash, done just to bring 50-ish people to the island, most of which die on the island having served little purpose? How often had he done that before?).

    As for ‘how did they survive such a plane crash?’ – as a work of fiction with disappearing islands, time travel, smoke monsters, immortals, etc: the answer is simple – it’s an important plot point and screw reality. The plane splitting up gave the immediate plot of ‘hunt for the pilot’ and the later ability to add new characters from the tail section. They weren’t dead while walking and talking (with a couple of exceptions) outside the flash-sideways universe.

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