Lost and Life

Several weeks have passed since the Lost gave us it’s final farewell. Most fans of the series have formulated strong opinions of favor or disdain. Overall I have a favorable opinion of the last episode. One reason for my opinion is that the series finale did not pander to the audience by answering every unanswered question in the series. But while I see the unanswered questions as favorable, it is the very reason why many fans of the show were disappointed in the ending. This particular issue is probably the biggest hot button of the series finale. I’ve had many debates with a co-worker who keeps saying “when I read a book, I don’t want any loose ends at the end.” It is my argument, however, that this viewpoint totally misses the point of the finale! Of the entire series even! The questions left unanswered in Lost mimic not only life, but also religion.

As a writer, I tend to hate the fact that every detail in a story has to mean something. Life is simply just not like that. Life is a chaotic spill of random events, which sometimes interlock, sometimes hold significant meaning, and sometimes mean absolutely nothing. Consider the following: You’re driving to work and you’re running late.  You look down and discover a mysterious rash on your arm. In real life, you might put some Cortizone on the rash, and think nothing of it. In a  work of fiction, this rash would probably have a meaning. This rash would later be revealed to be a deadly disease or a mark of greatness. Writer’s choose their details for a reason. Writers usually don’t insert random events just for the sake of inserting random events. Random events confuse people! But random events are all a part of life. Random events are in fact reality. Going back to Lost, the writers insert many random things that apparently have no meaning. Why were the numbers so prevalent and what do they mean? Why was Desmond able to see Charlie’s future? Why was Walt Special? Was it the island, or was it the smoke monster that healed John Locke’s legs? Why didn’t Kate grow any leg or armpit hair? OK, the last question was more about aesthetics and sex appeal, but the other questions will never be answered. They remain huge mysteries. Well, guess what? That’s life. We never find out what the rash on our arm is, and we don’t really care because the cream took it away. But Lost is a work of fiction, therefore it should wrap up into a tidy little package, shouldn’t it? Nope! Arguably, one of the key themes in Lost is life and death. What better way to emphasize this theme than to emulate something that happens in life? What better way to emulate life, than with random happenstances and unanswered questions?

But the unanswered questions are not just about life. The unanswered questions go hand in hand with another prevalent theme in Lost: the theme of spirituality and religion. There’s a reason that mysticism is a synonym for spirituality, religion, and the like. Mysticism shares a root word with mystery and mythology. Mysticism indicates a sense of not knowing the whole story. And that is precisely the sense we get with Lost; we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know where the island came from, we don’t know what the island is capable of, and we don’t know why the island behaves the way it does. We know some things, just as in all myths we know the basic concepts. We know the island is a cork that keeps evil from flooding the Earth, just as we know in the book of Genesis that it was God who created the Earth. But just as we don’t exactly know how God created the Earth in Genesis, we don’t know why the island exists in the first place. We can speculate all we want to, but we are never going to have all the answers. This is the nature of religion; this is also why having some of the big questions remain unanswered works so well in Lost. These unanswered questions emulate mysticism, and thus adding to one of the major themes in Lost.

I’ve been reading all kinds of comments online since Lost ended, indicating that JJ Abrams is a hack. Such comments state that JJ Abrums relied on MacGuffins; that he intentionally led the viewer on so the viewer would keep watching. Well, considering my stance on the intentional fallacy, I am not about to say that Abrums did anything of the sort intentionally. But even if Abrums was just being a jerk to the viewers, even if he was just trying to string us along for six years, in the case of Lost, it worked. In the case of Lost, MacGuffins served a purpose to illustrate it’s key points. Besides, said commentators also state that JJ Abrums does this in everything he touches. While that’s certainly an exaggeration (ahem, Star Trek had none), even if it were true, it doesn’t matter. If JJ Abrums did this in everything, then that would  cease to be a plot device used to hoodwink the audience, and start to be Abrum’s style and form.

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