This is a two-part post. The first section discusses the finale and addresses a significant overarching theme of the show, which is affirmed in those final scenes. The second section explores the potential legacy of Lost and offers a definition of “good storytelling” to see how Lost measures up. Hope you enjoy!
“Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone”
Billy Bragg,“The Internationale”
I was sincerely awed by the emotional power of the last few scenes of the finale, which were intensified even more by the subtle tenderness of Vincent, who did not let Jack die alone. I realized that, despite my recent criticism of everything Lost, from hokey dialogue to implausible motives, I have maintained a deep connection to these characters. Much has already been said about how the finale, and the series in general, is fundamentally a character-driven story. But it wasn’t just the individual personal dramas that moved me; it was the return of a few very fundamental themes, most notably, redemption through community. Emotional interdependency and salvation through a communion with others drives this episode and, arguably, the entire narrative.
Jack’s transformation from doubting Thomas to savior was compelling by itself. He journeyed from being a reluctant leader to a prodigal son and, finally, a man of faith. From there, he was able to see that he had a purpose, that there was an order to the universe and that he was chosen to protect it from chaos. As Damon Lindelof said in an interview and I will paraphrase here, the metaphysical conflict has shifted from faith versus reason to order versus chaos. The Smoke Monster threatened to destroy everything and send them “all to hell,” as Isabella (Richard’s wife) told Hurley. Granted, we did not get an explicit answer about what exactly would happen, but we can assume that by destroying the monster, Kate and Jack might have very well saved the world, and that whatever Jack did with the giant cork, he preserved the island. Jack did all of this selflessly; he served as the sacrificial lamb for all of humanity.
Jack became a willing participant of an extraordinary community, a kind of microcosm of the world, and worked with this group to shift the paradigm of the island. He had to accept, not only his role as a leader, but his function as savior. Quite literally, he did all of this “in communion” with others. So it was not only Jack that was redeemed, but everyone who cooperated in the greater cause. And they all achieved a sort of salvation, or at least authorization to “move on,” by re-assembling the group in the afterlife and by remembering the significance of their lives together. This theme—redemption through community—has arisen throughout the series, most notably in Jack’s “live together, die alone” speech, so it is no surprise that it plays such a crucial role in the resolution of the plot.
It makes sense too, within this context, that Hurley has been appointed as the next Jacob. He understands the value of community and how, if done right, a collaborative effort can elevate human beings. Recall his very first job on the island—to distribute food to the “masses”—and remember the golf course he made to ease the tension within the group and bring them all together. He is clearly in communion with others. What many of us didn’t realize before, including me, is that being in communion with the island is not as important as emotionally connecting to others.
The episode’s inherent message is that social collaboration and emotional engagement are the keys to redemption and a “life after death.” Christian tells Jack that all of his friends have come together “to remember;” they have constructed a shared space together because “No one does it alone.” Like Jesus and the disciples gathered at the last supper for communion, in anticipation of renewal and transcendence, the Lostaways gather to create a place for their own salvation, even if being saved is simply “letting go.” (Remember the “Lost Supper” image?)
It’s “Just a Story”: Lost’s Legacy and the Purpose of Storytelling
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel…is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin
People have asked me if I think Lost is a work of literature. I suppose this is a reasonable question, considering I’m writing a book titled Literary Lost and that I am a teacher of literature. But the answer, of course, is a resounding ‘no.’ How can it be literature? It was written for one very specific type of medium—episodic television. But that aside, certainly both written narratives and television shows serve a similar purpose: to provide entertainment through fictional stories.
Azar Nafisi, author of the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran once paid a visit to our university and I was fortunate enough to have her as a guest in my classroom. One of the things we discussed was the role of fiction in our lives, the significance of stories that “are not even true.” (Here I quote Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories “what is the use of stories that aren’t even true?”) In Nafisi’s memoir she answers this question with the following statement: “A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil…”
Lost is not a “great novel”—it is not a novel at all–but I think most viewers would agree that it does pass the test of good storytelling, in the sense that it has “heightened our senses and sensitivity” and that it has been guarded about judging its characters, careful to stay away from “fixed formulas” of morality. Lost has allowed its viewers to identify with a diverse community of people struggling with basic human problems and learning to connect with one another. I think a majority of the audience would agree that it has pushed viewers to interpret aspects of their own lives in a new light, just like any good story should do. In fact, many fans have expressed such extreme sentiments as, “Lost has changed my life” or “the show has changed the way I view spirituality”… or even “the way I read literature.” These comments and other responses like them are unique to Lost, at least in the world of broadcast television storytelling. Certainly they count for something in the assessment of Lost’s success as an engaging narrative.
Thanks for reading. Long live Lost!