Lost: A Reflection

By Hannah Spadafora  

The History of Television  

In the mass-produced commonly-owned television of today, new art and technology transforms people at all levels of economic wealth into a relatively new kind of audience and consumer; one who receives daily, usually easily relatable, visual productions in the home.  From the director’s eye to a beholders pupil, this has caused a change in the nature of identity and culture, though the shift is one most modern people (myself included) may never be able to fully fathom.  We are inundated with messages about what to buy and how to view things every day to the point it’s difficult to realize what has happened, though when something new comes about within the field the viewer isn’t immune to feeling the shift.  

The enticing provision of constant entertainment (along with the industrial revolution) has helped shape identity of modern consumers and producers by dictating both the way we play and the way we work. On the one hand, artists are offered the great opportunity to create narratives woven vividly in their mind with near-precise duplication on screen; audiences can relax as every possible gap of detail is filled in for them, and the imaginations’ position as co-creator, seen more clearly in other art forms, is lessened for a cheap monthly fee.  On the other hand, audiences have a different role to fill; quick, to the point, and back-to-back/non-stop is the way television programs are executed, and neither much time nor, often, much depth of subject is offered for the viewer to reflect upon what they see.  

As expressed brilliantly (albeit cynically) by critics over the past century (most notably Theodore Adorno), TV doesn’t seem to often encourage truly unique, spontaneously-creative products made in the way other art forms seem to have in the past.  Aside from off-beat avant-garde experimentations which rarely (if ever) have made it onto mainstream television, we are left with that which most people (myself again included) easily fall into the trap of getting hooked on, shows replaying the same basic stories that have won ratings before. Whereas religion and literature were once a major vehicle that challenged the individual to self reflection and provided imaginative scenarios that inspired and educated, TV—which rarely offers the viewer encouragement for silent contemplation or great reactionary creation—now fills the gap.  

The television series Lost brings us to an interesting, arguably somewhat new place in TV history.  Lost is a show which requires re-watching, insisting in its mystery a rise of philosophical contemplation within both the individual and the community, incomparable to that which, it would seem, any other show has generated. The thoroughly confusing, exciting web of plotlines has offered delicious mysteries not just about the story happening on screen, but also about existence and connection within the real world when the picture has faded from the screen. In the use of camera angles, other technical aspects of production, and most notably the infliction of a narrative tale (albeit a not totally linear one) makes Lost fall a good bit short of the ultra-experimental quality of the avant garde, but the methods employed show a huge possibility for new ways visual narrative can be conducted and new ways mystery and vision can be brought to the art of television production.  If pursued further, this could perhaps spark a re-interest in finding new innovative ways in transforming a society stuck in stagnation of cynical interpretations, a way of getting away from the idea that nothing new will ever come forth, an interest which could change the way people see the world and themselves.  

Journeys, Events, and a Vision of Life   

The journeys that Lost characters have undergone take many forms : journeys of dying to faith, journeys of acceptance of mortality and death, journeys of letting go of all anxiety , the realization of what is impossible and possible, and being convinced that one’s circumstances are the result of the actions of others:  Jacob, Whitmore, Linus, and the dharma initiative.  Unlike the average sitcom, the events of Lost challenge the viewers and engage their minds on multiple levels.  Although the audience encounters what may at first appear fantastical, these fantastical confrontations are readily converted to relatable human issues: natures’ transience, humanity’s interconnectedness, possibilities of truth behind myth/magic still existing in the world, and the many forms in which faith presents itself in the world.   All these are old issues all too familiar—if not on the surface of most people’s minds then in the recesses of one’s consciousness as it attempts to locate itself and make sense of the world.    

Lost presents a vision; life is a finite experience, yet everything in it is so briefly ephemeral, possibilities can be endless.  Actuality is what makes experience more difficult, since one has to contend with all which could have been—but isn’t. Reminding the viewer that, separate journeys connect with each other through suffering, and are given meaning and redemption in community.  Lost is an artsy take on the religious or contemplative path.   

Title: Magical Thinking

Profoundly important for our journey through this life and our interpretation of Lost is the notion of magical thinking. The modern Cartesian effort to bring “everything to light” has left us in an age removed from certain possibilities, a place where things are straightforward, always explainable, and frankly kind of boring.  Lost brings us to a place where mysterious forces still work, obscure zones abound, and around this or that corner (or ocean) lurks new possibilities. It gives the viewer hope that there is still a place where new things may be experienced, where the intangible forces of the universe are given form and yet still remain somewhat incomprehensible. We may claim to want answers but it is the questions which hook us, we may profess to want the subject/object of our desire, but if we have everything—what would be left to desire of the world?  

The Last Crash Shot  

There has been well-earned controversy over the last scene shown after the opening of Jack’s eye when the plane crashed on an island left empty.  I, like many other viewers, immediately assumed this to mean that everyone had actually died when the plane originally went down, and that everything on the island had just been part of an elaborate “after-world.”  

Thankfully, this is not the case; ABC has said that the misunderstanding is their fault and that the images were added not as part of the plot so much as a momentary pause at the end before viewers were hurled into the disturbingly different pace of the local evening news.  I temporarily held a grudge against the network for having led us so astray—if nothing in the series actually happened in this world, it would have thoroughly ruined the most awesome idea to be found in Lost: hiding within the fog of the (frightfully) scientifically elucidated world we’re familiar with, mysterious experience is out there, there is a place where magical forces still intercede in one’s journey, and ultimately one’s destiny as well.   

Whether this is true or not is debatable; the point is how amazingly Lost succeeded at opening the viewers’ heart to this possibility and their mind to a more complete suspension of disbelief than most other science fiction shows may have accomplished in their time.  In the literary world Lost would be a top work of magical realist fiction; in the religious world, it is similarly a beckoning call to a place where magical beliefs of old times meet with objective science of today, and neither get completely thrown out. In fact, this is what makes Lost so completely enchanting, and, for me, the lack of answers so electrifyingly stimulating.  No possibility is ever completely left out; as the Bible and the Byrds would likewise assert, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”   

The Ending  

Does what we do matter? This is a rather weighty question beautifully confounded by Lost. Did everything on the island, killing the man in black, and ensuring there’d always be someone there to protect the lit heart of the island (and the world?) make a difference? Before descending into the cave of light, Desmond insists to Jack that none of this is going to matter, that their going to escape into a place where they can be with their loved ones (possibly a sideways universe).  Jack responds that there are no shortcuts to “heavenly existence,” still very convinced in his own role and what he sees as a crucial mission.  In some ways, they are both right.  In the big scheme of everyone ending in inevitable death, none of it matters.  But, for one’s own consciousness, the closure of having confronted the conflict holding one back, can be the only thing that allows one to move on; the emotional resolution time cannot offer—thereby mattering greatly.  At the end though, what happens is that they disappear into the church and into some new plane of existence, some new journey for all of them to enter into now that they’ve left the past behind.    

In creative writing classes we’re taught that this is a very cheap ending, that the killing of all one’s characters is an “easy-out” for the writer rather than a creative solution. While, when put in perspective, this ending adds a new dimension to the flash-backs, flash-forwards, and sideways dimensions provided throughout the series, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.  This ending choice suggests that part of the characters journey was overcoming: all which is (the island), all that was (their pasts), all that could be (the escape of the Oceanic 6), and, most difficult, all which would have been had fate (the ‘others’, Jacob, natural disaster, humans meddling with electromagnetic fields, or whatever X is oppressing) not intervened. The tension built over the series between fate and choice climaxes in a paradox with this last episode. It is repeatedly asserted that the individual is the only one who can apply meaning to their life, and no one can take that away, yet, for all the characters attempts at meaningful actions, for all the attempts to transform one’s current life, they are left with destiny shaping reality’s truth.  

Moreover, the fate of the characters feels too close to reality. I was on Desmonds’ side, feeling that the best ending would be for them to dive into the light and emerge in a newly shaped sideways reality, to have the multiple realities collapse on themselves as they gained the realization of where they all had met and overcome things on another plane, in another life. Of course, no matter what we do, we will be inevitably led to death, but this series established itself as one where rules can be broken, where every action someone does has consequences not just for that person but—like the butterfly effect—for the rest of the community and world.   

In real-world-life, we deal with the fact that we don’t have as much control over life as we’d like (or as we’d like to think). The world pushes and pulls at its own will, the decision of one person affects many and the decisions of groups can affect the one, and no matter how much we like to gloss over the real impact of difficulties with catchy phrases like “Attitude is everything, Choose yours”, reality is that we are only human, doing the best we can with innate brain chemistry that at least partially determines how well one weathers a storm. This isn’t to say that one cannot ever prevail over natural forces, just that it can come at a cost—just like technology which has had unforeseen, sometimes catastrophic, consequences in addition to its benefits.  So too can the denial of the true nature of one’s emotions, even if giving into them means temporarily being overcome by the sensation of drowning.   

Perhaps the division between viewers who were satisfied with the ending or disappointed lies in the place of divide over what the series was meant to be. I was looking to be shown that this web of interconnectedness was a path to gratefulness for all that is in the sideways life, for a feeling that they had undergone the trials in another life, another realm, and earned the place in which they found themselves.  But maybe my reaction is just characteristic of my wanting Lost to provide us with something magical, something we cannot find in this life. Perhaps my disappointment rests in my desire in thinking Lost could be more than a metaphoric parable representing real life, but could be something which inspired us, removing us from the mundane realities of “real life” (as the series seemed set up to do from the start), and something that could give us hope for transformation and not just (even if they did leave it vague enough for the audience to wonder whether they were approaching Heaven or a blank slate for a new life) an acceptance of the destiny of death.  

I wish Lost would have left things more beautifully half-answered, leaving it up to the audience to place meaning on the art and with a non-contradicting message to viewers; one that reminds us of the ability to form meaning ourselves, rather than cave to fate. Perhaps fate of death cannot be denied and Lost was instead meant to leave us the way it greeted us—with an unresolved tension between that which controls us and that which we can sculpt.

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