Are the mysteries of the island on LOST ultimately irrelevant?
Any true fan will of course be ready to hurl a can of Dharma Initiative baked beans at me for even thinking such a questions, much less putting it in writing. But please hear me out. I am not suggesting that the mysteries of the island are not interesting, nor even that they are not important. What I wish to propose instead is that the mysteries of the island may be distracting us from the most important thing going on on the island: human lives being lived.
One reason why LOST has the ability to keep the attention of fans is the depth to which we come to know the characters on the show. I wonder if, ultimately, that is what the show is supposed to be about: people in difficult and challenging circumstances responding to them in a way that acknowledges Jack’s guiding principle, “live together, die alone.” Most of us have had the experience of forming deep friendships with individuals with whom we would not normally have done so, because there was some shared bond that was more important than all the differences of personality and interest between us. As our lives move on, and the shared experience that united us fades into the past, sometimes the relationships themselves can fade. When they do, we can feel like Jack in the earliest flash-forward scenes. We may be inclined to start drinking, or at the very least to grow a beard.
The questions raised by the island’s mysteries, on the other hand, include many of the standard questions that people ask about “Why are we here?” These are metaphysical questions, and they do not have easy answers, if indeed they have answers at all. Among the big questions on LOST are the following familiar ones:
Do we have free will?
Are we alone?
Is time travel possible?
Do other universes exist?
Is immortality possible/real?
What happens after we die?
What is the nature of good and evil?
What is the meaning of life?
These are questions that are typically asked within a religious setting, often with very specific answers being given. Debate and conflict regularly breaks out between individuals and groups with differing viewpoints on how to answer these questions.
In a recent episode, Ben provoked Locke by suggesting that he is in the same place again as he has been in the past: trying to get answers and finding his quest frustrated. Locke is so desperate for answers that he placed a hand grenade in Miles’ mouth. Locke has identified himself as a “man of faith”, and perhaps this is the most fundamental challenge that LOST sets before us: is being a person of faith about getting to the bottom of life’s mysteries and answering all the questions, or about how we relate to people? Is salvation about getting off or even staying on the island? Or is it about working through the issues and experiences that have left scars on our lives, so as to become better people in the present and future?
If the point is about people, and indeed to challenge the way the mysteries of the universe and questions about the meaning of life can distract us from focusing on human beings and the ways we relate to one another, then perhaps LOST will end like The Sopranos. (Of course, it might be necessary to borrow the ending from The Sopranos anyway, if there is another writers’ strike the year LOST is supposed to end, but that is a different issue.) Perhaps Locke will be the last one on the island. Everyone else has either left or is dead. He confronts an apparition of someone he once knew, and demands to know what is really going on, and what the smoke monster is. “You really want to know?” comes the reply. “All right, I’ll tell you.” Then the screen goes black, and the final LOST logo appears for the last time.
Then we’ll have to ask ourselves whether the hours we have devoted to watching the show, and talking about it, and pondering its mysteries have led us to become better human beings and relate to one another in more positive ways. It would be ironic if the lesson which many of the survivors of Oceanic 815 learn on the island is not taken to heart by the show’s viewers.
“Live together, die alone”