“Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
– Lewis Carroll “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Oh yeah, the Alice/Lost connection never ends.
Every story has three main parts: the beginning, middle, and end. If you’ve ever attempted to write a story you know how vague that notion can be. Just what exactly is in a beginning? In Part Two of Lost: The Journey to Redemption, I’m going to explore Lost’s beginning in order to help us understand what it’s middle and end might be.
First, every story, no matter the genre or plot is really about one thing: Someone’s identity. The purpose of the story, or the journey of the character, is to discover the their true-self. At the beginning of the story the hero has a false identity. For example, in the film Election, Mathew Broderick’s character, Jim McAllister, believes himself to be a noble teacher who puts the interests of the students ahead of his own, but by the end of the film his true essence is one of selfishness and ambition and he must find a balance in living for his self while holding onto his noble sense of purpose.
The monomyth that I introduced in the first part of this four part article is based on Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge’s “The Hero’s 2 Journeys.” It illustrates how the hero of every story goes through a journey of self discovery. At the beginning of the story the hero is in his Ordinary World, living his life based on who he thinks he is, but as things quickly changes he discovers that he too must change. So it is there, in the Ordinary World, that we’ll begin.
1. The Ordinary World
In storytelling the Ordinary World is where you create empathy for your main character. This allows your audience to see themselves in the character. You might make them powerful, or an expert, like a neurosurgeon or might hunter. You might place them in situations beyond their control, like being a captured fugitive. Or you can make them charming and likable, someone who can easily gain your confidence.
The Island is definitely no ordinary world, but it is the one in which we are introduced to our heroes. So just who do Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Locke think they are? Well, look at the Pilot episode.
· Jack is a heroic doctor frantically racing to save everyone he can.
· Kate is emerging from the woods, rubbing her wrists where her shackles had been.
· Sawyer is instigating fights with other survivors while leeching off them.
· Locke? He’s the mysterious man sitting in the rain.
How we first see them is exactly how they see themselves. At this stage, they’ve accepted who they are and see no need to change. They need a “godsmack.”
2. The Call to Adventure
Welcome to the island.
The story is just getting kicked off. Our heroes are faced with some challenge to their status quo. In this case a plane crash. But what is really happening, the subtle piece that most of us miss (great production has a tendency to do that), is that our heroes are getting a wake up call. They are slowly becoming aware of their need to change. Take another look at the Pilot epsiode.
· Jack and Kate, doctor and murderer (as we’ll soon discover) run off to find the cockpit in hope of making contact with the outside world and getting everyone rescued. They’re the first ones to go deeper into the island (with Charlie) and they’re the ones that wind up wanting off it the most. Why? Hold that thought.
· Sawyer, despite initially going to lengths to alienate his self, joins the trek up the mountain to capture the signal and when Kate asks him why he replies, “I’m a complicate man, sweetheart.”
· What about our main of mystery? Locke tells Walt a secret.
Now, back to Jack and Kate, the two people who are presently doing everything possible to get off the island, why do they want to leave so bad? It’s at this very early stage that we see two people who are so connected to their identity that the mere glimpse of the opportunity to change frightens them so much they’ll do anything to avoid it. This leads us to…
3. The Refusal of the Call
The biggest obstacle to every hero is fear. It is often manifested in some external antagonist (ask yourself who are the first two people, other than Charlie, to experience the monster up close?) but it really is just a symbol of their fear to change. They’ve glimpsed their true essence and they don’t want anything to do with it. Why? It is because they have been wounded. Can you say flashbacks? Can you say daddy issues?
· Jack’s father, also a neurosurgeon (chief neurosurgeon), is an alcoholic who sacrifices his family for the sake of his career while justifying it in the belief that he is saving lives. Like father like son.
· Kate’s biological father was abusive, but her paternal father abandoned her. He was unable to live with the woman he loved because she was unable to love him. Oh look, another triangle.
· Sawyer’s family was destroyed by a selfish, manipulative man. “Sawyer’s” real name is James Ford. ‘Nuff said.
· Oh, and the same man who destroyed Sawyer’s family destroyed his own son, John Locke. Locke is the only person at this point in the story (Season One) to look the monster in the face and not run in terror, but does not mean he’s not afraid?
These four characters have all suffered wounds at the hands of their fathers and they are deep. So deep in fact, most of them cannot face who they truly are without the help of someone else.
A push is as good as a pull if it gets your character moving. They can either have someone they look up to, or someone who looks up to them. Regardless, the point is to have someone who reflects the hero’s inner conflict. On the surface they seem as if they’re merely there to help the hero achieve their outer goal, but their true purpose it to show what the character might become.
Locke had a sidekick in Season One named Boone. He reflected Locke’s need for purpose and answers. Locke was not afraid of change, he just simply didn’t know how. Did you often get the sense that Locke explained things more for his own benefit than Boone’s? It is no mere coincidence that the two of them discover the hatch. Presently, Locke seems to have taken on a mentor (he does seem to be acting rather Booneish don’t you think?). This serves to show that the roles are not permanently set and that the steps are sometimes repeated, out of order, or even skipped (see, simply knowing the pieces of the formula doesn’t automatically generate a good story).
In fact, Jack has only recently discovered his mentor. In season three he meets Juliet, another brilliant, wounded doctor, except she is not wrapped up in the past. Juliet is all about the future, in particular, babies. Having found a mentor late in the story doesn’t bode well for Jack (one could argue that Sayid has been Jack’s sidekick, and I’m sure one will), but it’s even worse for Kate.
Kate’s mentor, or sidekick, has yet to be revealed. At times she seems to play the role of sidekick, but she is so wrapped up in her identity that she’s never really aligned her self with anyone. Why do you think she keeps going back and forth with Jack and Sawyer?
Speaking of Sawyer, yes, he has both a mentor and a sidekick; Locke and Hurley, respectively. Hurley is a reflection of the childhood that Sawyer had stolen while Locke is the man of purpose Sawyer might yet become. At this point, Sawyer seems in the best shape…but he didn’t have them until Season Three.
Whether it’s a mentor or sidekick the hero is enabled by their outside force, their “supernatural aid” according to Joseph Campbell, to take that first step toward their true essence.
5. The First Threshold
The hero’s life is changed in a big way. They now have a goal to pursue with a visible finish line that the audience can imagine . They are now taking the risk of stepping toward their true essence. For our heroes this occurs in the Season One Finale, “Exodus” and the Season Two Premiere “Man of Science, Man of Faith.”
For Locke it’s obvious (probably because in Season One he is the only one to have a mentor/sidekick). It’s when he opens the Hatch. He is now fully committed to discovering the purpose that has been hidden from him his entire life..
Sawyer appears to be leaving the island, but what did he really do? He committed himself to a group of people. He knows that in order for him to survive he can’t do it alone. Even later when he allies himself with Locke you have to wonder, was it more for survival as he told Kate, or was it for the people that he truly feels closest too.
Jack still wants to do everything possible to rescue “his people.” He refuses to go into the Hatch (clearly a representation of the island itself). Without a threat he sees no purpose in pursuing the mysteries. But remember, he’s a man of faith, he just doesn’t know it yet.
And with Kate, again, it’s her inability to remain in her identity. She switches from Jack to Locke in order to enter the Hatch with no clear explanation as to why. Yet, could it be that Kate has no need for a mentor or sidekick? Or perhaps, she has not yet glimpsed the need to change (at least not before the end of Act One) For her sake, I hope it’s the latter.
Now, with the First Threshold crossed, so ends Act One, and as I said (even underlined) by this point the finish line should be one we can imagine. Based upon what we know thus far, even without looking at Season Two or Three, we can see that:
· Locke will either find his purpose through the island or die trying
· Jack will rescue everyone or die trying
· Kate will either save herself and lose her soul…or save her soul and lose herself
· Sawyer will either sacrifice himself for the sake of the community or sacrifice the community for the sake of himself
Seems rather vague doesn’t it? At this point you were expecting a clearer picture. Well this is just Act One. In order to get to the end we have to start and the beginning and make our way through the middle. In Part Three of our “Journey to Redemption” I’ll lead us through Act Two, the middle, and show you how you can be certain that Benjamin Linus is the main antagonist of Lost (yeah, take that for a revelation) and how getting what you want can actually be the worst thing for a hero.
Oh, and it will be more brief.