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Self as Savior: A Theory

By Sarah Clarke Stuart,

  Filed under: Lost
  Comments: 37

“That’s not a bad theological idea…You find yourself facing yourself.”

–Phil talking about Judgment Day in VALIS

Normally, I don’t offer theories about how Lost will end. The “how” of the show doesn’t interest me nearly as much as the “why.” I enjoy teasing out obscure associations to deepen the meaning(s) of Lost, without addressing “what happens next.” But two things have led me to believe I might know what’s going on here: a science-fiction novel, VALIS, which has been referenced in the show more than once, and the most recent episode, “Ab Aeterno.” Both reveal evidence that the narrative strings of Lost will be pulled together to create a satisfying end.  So, without further ado, I will offer my prediction through a close “reading” of the show.

The foundation of this proposal rests on the fact that each character faces himself as the ultimate judge.  From the beginning of season one, the castaways were compelled to turn inward and scrutinize their lives, as illustrated by the flashbacks. Within each person there are two opposing forces, sometimes represented as mirror images, which are designed to maintain balance within the individual, like the white rock balances the black rock on Jacob’s scale.  The island signifies the typical human being, striving to keep his own destructive forces at bay. With that in mind, the island is all “id” at this point in the season, “id” being a Freudian term for a force that “has no organization, produces no collective will, but only (strives) to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs” (Sigmund Freud). I would suggest that when all of the characters find equilibrium within themselves, the island can also be redeemed, or vice versa. That is the basis of my theory, but here’s how I think it will be played out:  John Locke will either defeat the Smoke Monster in a face to face confrontation (either by traveling between splintered universes or by rising from the dead) or he will overcome the Smoke Monster from within. There are signs that a component of John Locke dwells somewhere inside the monster, even if the two never actually shared the same body. Not only does he seem to have John Locke’s memories, but he also uses John’s catch phrase “ don’t tell me what I can’t do.” It doesn’t matter if Locke materializes as an external force or an internal one; the idea is that 1.) John will be the savior by balancing or overcoming the destructive forces of the Smoke Monster, 2.)  John will face himself as a judge, and 3.) John will finally be redeemed.

Let me briefly present two superficial clues that foreshadow this idea. First of all, the only notable thing we have seen lying “in the shadow of the statue” is John Locke’s body. And we all know what lies in the shadow of the statue: Ille qui nos omnes servabit, meaning “the one who will save us all” or “he who will protect us all.” The next bit of evidence is buried deeper, but it is a surprisingly relevant quote. In season one Charlie tells Jack that if anyone could save them, it was John. “If there was one person on this island I’d put my absolute faith in to save us all, it would be John Locke” (Hearts and Minds).

John-as-savior makes the most sense as a resolution to the story simply because of the significance with which John has been branded. If all of the main characters are destined for redemption, as promised by Team Darlton, then how could they leave such an important man to die such a pitiful death without fulfilling his purpose? The only thing he has fulfilled thus far is the Smoke Monster’s wishes, with the help of Benjamin Linus.

Which brings me to one key component of my theory: Benjamin Linus, always the shape-shifter, has been working for the Smoke Monster, sometimes wittingly, as when he unleashes it after Alex’s death, but sometimes through a veil of confusion, as when he visits “Jacob” at the cabin and heeds the instructions to move the island. The Smoke Monster takes advantage of Ben’s weaknesses (his jealousy of Locke and his raging despair over the death of Alex), forming a union between man and monster that spirals into the chaos we see in “The Incident.” Ben struggles to be a good person and prides himself on his blind faith in Jacob, but his fragile ego succumbs to a darker side. Ben’s better nature can’t withstand Jacob’s question: “What about you?” It is too big of a blow to the self he has constructed.

Ben’s jealousy of Locke begins early on, probably even when he is first captured by the castaways. Recall, too, that Richard tells John in “The Brig” that “Ben wanted to embarrass you and have everyone watch you fail. Ben doesn’t want anyone to know that you’re special.” Apparently the Others were excited when they heard a man with a broken spine had been healed by the island. They thought he was special, a new leader to replace Ben. For whatever reason, he seemed to be leading his flock astray. Perhaps Ben is part of the Smoke Monster, deep down. Perhaps he was healed (or “infected”) by the smoke when he was brought to the Others as a boy. When Charles Widmore says to Ben, “I know who you are, boy. I know what you are,” maybe that’s what he means.

So the question is, was John Locke really “supposed to” die? Recall that it was the Smoke Monster in the form of Locke who instructed Richard to tell John that he was going “to have to die.” In committing suicide John would have fulfilled his fate, but it was a malevolent prophecy from the get-go. Ben does seem sincere as he pleads with John to not kill himself and, again, reiterates the special nature of John’s purpose. But then he is gripped with the same old jealous rage when John reveals that he has the inside scoop. He’s been told to find Eloise Hawking.  And so Ben does the dirty deed for the Smoke Monster, delivering a body, and perhaps a soul, to the island.

So how does VALIS enter into the picture?  If you recall, John brings this book to Ben in the basement (“Eggtown”) where he is being held prisoner. John suggests Ben re-read it saying, “You might catch something you missed the second time around.” This comment is a valid statement considering the complexity of the novel, but it is also an inside joke (for those who have read the book) which I don’t have time to address here. VALIS is a strange spiritual quest story about faith, the illusion of reality and the nature of time. One of the main characters, Horselover Fat, spends his time searching for a savior as his mental health disintegrates. He receives information through a pink beam of light and believes that the truth about reality is being revealed to him alone. He has plenty of faith, like a certain Lostie we know, but it turns out that he is schizophrenic. At the same time, he is still genuinely special, a chosen one, so to speak, but desperate to find a savior. The first-person narrator (who turns out to be the same person as Fat) says, “I don’t dare tell Fat that he is searching for himself…like the rest of us he seeks an external savior” (132). This is exactly what John Locke needs to be told. Looking for an external savior only got him into to trouble, even when it was Jacob he sought. Horselover Fat is a misguided soul, but he comes to realize that having faith in himself and in humanity is what is most important. If Locke could have realized this, he could have attained salvation. As the “fifth savior,” a voice of wisdom in VALIS says, “Man is holy, and the true god, the living god is man himself. You will have no gods but yourselves” (198).

There’s been so much talk about gods and devils and saviors in Lost, but the man in Black and Jacob are, of course, just representations of traditional religious figures. And, according to VALIS, gods are just representative of the forces within each human spirit—the good, the evil, the creative, the destructive, the charitable, the jealous, the merciful, the cruel, etc. As the fifth savior, proclaims “you are to follow one rule: you are to love one another as you love me and I love you, for this proceeds from the true god, which is yourselves.” So if the Lostaways can face themselves as judges and turn toward each other for salvation, rather than seeking external gods, maybe they will be redeemed after all.

Thanks for reading! Please leave  a comment and let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in reading more about Lost and literature, check out my material at where I hope to unlock the mystery of Lost with books!

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  • MIB Pants

    tru dat. also, the flash sideways are a dream that Hugo had right before the plane crashed.

    • Ed Holden

      So where are the cheese curds in the flashes sideways? 🙂

  • con_man

    very good article. my own ideas on the ending of the show compare very favorably with this analysis of VALIS. cant see Team Darlton ending LOST on a religious note

  • Jack’s Beard

    Actually, John’s body was buried near Nikki and Paulo, in the survivor’s camp. So, he’s not lying on any shadow, he’s getting a permanent sun tan.

  • Dorf

    Some nits to pick:

    John’s catch-phrase was “Don’t can’t tell me what I can’t do,” not “You can’t tell me what I can’t do.” And it wasn’t just John–several of the characters said it. I don’t think Smokey has taken the phrase from John–I think you have the chicken and egg reversed. Those who have used the phrase, John included, have done so because of Smokey’s influence. Moreover, John doesn’t NEED to be redeemed. He’s one of the extremely few people on the show who always has tried to be a good person, and who has almost always succeeded in doing so. Along with Hurley, Rose and Bernard, he’s pretty much the only character on the show who can make that claim.

    And I don’t for a minute believe that “Ben struggles to be a good person.” He regrets what he did to his daughter, but he has definitely not shown signs that he really wants to be good. He’s a complete sociopath, and a multiple-murderer. He hasn’t seemed to have any care about what’s right or what’s wrong, until this season. From then time he met Richard as a boy until Ilana convinced him not to join MIB, Ben has had no inner struggle at all, other than jealousy of John’s favored-leader status, his fear of dying, and his jealousy of Goodwin’s relationship with Juliet. He’s been led entirely by self-motivation, not notions of good or evil. Those whom he kills or hurts don’t matter to him, nor do those who are killed or hurt by other circumstances–he’s made that clear. Ben cared only about himself, and about his daughter–but he still put himself first. With all due respect, it’s extremely revisionistic to say Ben struggles to be good, because that’s clearly not the case, other than in the past couple of episodes.

    • Dorf

      Er…I meant to say, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” not “Don’t can’t tell me what I can’t do.”

    • Sarah Clarke Stuart

      Yes, good point about John’s words–you’re right… and it makes a difference. But I don’t agree that John’s actions would prove him worthy of redemption. He killed Naomi and was responsible in the murder of Anthony Cooper. But most notably, he gave up at the end of his life and almost committed suicide. It just doesn’t seem noble or heroic enough for a John Locke ending.

      • I disagree with the notion about Ben being a sociopath. This word is thrown around a lot, and I don’t think anyone is using it correctly. A “sociopath,” according to, is “a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.”

        Ben does not fit that definition. Most of the arguments in favor of him being sociopathic point to his involvement in the Purge, but that’s ridiculous. He was leading his side in a war, and the Purge — while certainly an act of vengeance — did not show a lack of social conscience. Ben cared very much for the well-being of the Others/Hostiles/Natives.

        Ben’s decisions, for the most part, have been selfish, but that does not make him sociopathic, or psychopathic. It makes him human. Even though I was very anti-George Bush, I’d never dare call him sociopathic for leading us into the Iraq War, despite the fact that his values and intentions have led to the loss of thousands of lives.

        It’s interesting that we’ll label Ben this way, but not Sayid, even though the writers have linked their stories over the last couple seasons. We give Sayid a pass, though, because of his love for Nadia and the incredible self-loathing he affects while inflicting pain on others. Ben is really no different, which is why it was so resonant in season 5 when he tells Sayid, “You’re capable of doing things other men aren’t.” Ben can say this because he’s cut from the same cloth.

        I think Sarah nailed Ben’s involvement in the endgame on the head. He is struggling to be a good person. The moment he allowed Keamy to murder Alex was the moment Ben began this struggle. Now that he has killed both Locke and Jacob, I think Ben is beginning to get a bigger picture understanding of the consequences of his actions, which is why he is sarcastic on the beach in “Ab Aeterno” about Jack learning of Locke’s “resurrection.” We’ll see more of this Ben, though, as the story progresses, and in the end he will redeem himself.

        • Handsome Smitty

          Sorry, but that’s the new definition of sociopath. Traditionally a sociopath was someone completely without normal human feelings; no understanding of love or hate, right or wrong, the sociopath knows only gratification and whatever gratifies him or her (I married a ‘her’ so they do exist) usually defines their lives. They can blend in quite well because deception seems to be a common trait among them.

          The new definition of sociopath as someone that is maladusted to society was meant to encompass you basic dysfuntional twits, like me. We know right and wrong and experience love and most normal emotions; the problem is understanding mainstream milquetoast middle class society’s insincere rituals. Today’s sociopaths come mostly from the lower socioeconomic classes, which is really the main reason the definition got dumbed down.

        • Dorf

          So you don’t find the slaughter of the Dharma kids to “show a lack of social conscience?” What Ben did to Dharma was completely without conscience. He wasn’t leading his side in war, as you put it–he was contributing to wholesale slaughter for the sole purpose of self-preservation, nothing more. He knew that if he stayed with Dharma, he’d be killed. So instead, he helped to kill everyone in the Initiative–and that clearly included kids. And Ben and Sayid are VERY different. Sayid is a man capable of bad things–I’d even argue that he’s a bad, unredeemable person. But Ben’s actions and reactions were very different than his–he’s definitely a socioppath. There’s no way he CAN be redeemed.

          • Ifoundwalt

            In that case, Richard and the rest of the Others are sociopaths as well. The act was sanctioned by them too.

  • B.A.Y.

    I think your theory is brilliant. Not only does it makes sense, from a logical standpoint, it makes me happy. I would be satisfied if Lost ended with John Locke redeeming MIB from within. For those of us who cried when Locke, our favorite character, was murdered, his being the “one to save us all” would be a breathtaking event. It would be better than the best Christmas present ever. (Darlton keeps promising us a Christmas present, and I hope it’s the fulfillment of your theory.)

    Thank you for posting your theory on this site. I’m definitely going to your website. It’s the very next thing I’m going to do.

  • Zonker

    I like it! I’ve been curious about the religious themes on the show, and it wasn’t until I read some of the comments on Fishbiscuit’s most recent recap that I found the references to Carlton Cuse’s Catholicism, and the fact that Damon Lindelof’s wife is Catholic. I think you may well be on to something. The thing I also remember about PKD’s Valis is the sub-plot that its 1970s Nixon-era setting was just a veil masking the supposed underlying true reality of 1st century Christendom. Kind of like the supposed island reality is a construct or a stage for the character’s spiritual journey. I hope you’re correct– since those awesome metaphysical possibilities of the 2nd season have seemed to given way to a more conventional good guys vs. bad guys worldwide secret agents plotline as we’ve progressed.

  • dd


    That’s all I will say about this speculation.

    • Dorf

      Agreed. No. It’s completely off-base.

  • Benjamin

    I’ve read a lot of theories, including this one, that suggest the ending will happen with a disregard to Jacob and MIB altogether. The characters will supposedly confront themselves in judgment and join together rather than with either Jacob or the MIB.

  • Jack’s Sidekick

    Yes, since “The Substitute,” it has seemed to me that if MIB has all of Locke’s memories and emotions, then maybe Locke’s feelings will make him waeker over time. That’s why he’s in such a hurry.

    • Jack’s Sidekick


  • Bob

    Very thought provoking, well-thought-out theory. I’ve spent a LOT of time analyzing all things Lost and have come to some very similar conclusions. You’ve actually given me some additional ideas that expand on my own theories about where the show is going. Regardless of who is right or wrong, I enjoy bantering this stuff around almost as much as I enjoy the show.

    Kudos, and namaste.

  • alpha&omega

    So what exactly is the inside joke in the novel?

    • Sarah Clarke Stuart

      In the novel there is a movie of the same name. As the story progresses, Valis, the film, becomes a central point around which the characters develop their theories on the true nature of the cosmos. They watch it multiple times and spend a hours and hours sitting around, trying to decipher the clues they saw. They watch the film over and over again, commenting on how they didn’t catch certain important clues “the first time around.”
      Reading these scenes through the lens of Lost, I can’t help to draw a comparison to the religious fervor of the show’s fandom. Like the best Lost detectives, not a single detail escapes Fat and his friends’ critical analysis of the movie. Consider the following discussion between a character named Kevin and Phil about whether a particular model of car was intentionally used in the movie:

      “It could have been a coincidence.”

      “In Valis (the movie) nothing is a coincidence. And they zoomed in on the car where the metal thing said Ford. How much else is there in Valis that we didn’t pick up on? Pick up on consciously. There’s no telling what it’s doing to our unconscious minds” (156).

      This exchange is reminiscent of how forensic fans analyze the minutiae of each episode. Not unlike this discussion 🙂

      So there’s the “joke”… on a couple of different levels, actually.

      • Wow! They just descibed this website! Love this theory! I am heading to your website right now.

      • Andrew

        I feel like they might have been thinking about VALIS when they wrote the “Orientation” scene where Locke says, “we’re gonna have to watch that again.”

    • alpha&omega

      wow thanks 🙂 better start reading VALIS then…..

  • The Mantis

    Damn fine observation/theory! I really hope you’re right about Locke making a return, in any way. I’m not convinced that it will be the case, the revelations thus far haven’t been “out there” quite enough for me to believe it’s in the cards, but I’m loving your thoughts and hoping you’re on the right track!

  • l-i-v-i-n

    i would love for locke to make some kind of return, a la parallel universe crashing together, truly rising from the dead, or beating the smoke monster from within.

    however, i’m missing one key part of the story. it’s been clear from the very beginning of the show that jack and locke are going to come head to head somehow, that these two characters are intertwined. how does jack factor into this endgame?

    read some theory somewhere that maybe jack’s ultimate purpose is to dig up the dead locke, resurrect him in some way and allow locke to be their savior. it’d be poetic to jack’s character arc as he’s taking the role of leader throughout, but giving the role to locke once he’s risen, and it really would be the ultimate leap of faith for him.

    but not sure. i’ve always had a very strong feeling that lost will end much like the first scene of the incident. locke and jack sitting on the beach, discussing their philosophies, and inheriting the ‘thrones’ of jacob and MIB. seems more in line with how this story has been building over the past 5 seasons.

  • tinaw

    I’ve read many theories and have even come up with my own. My final conclusion on the subject of Lost is, it is abundantly clear that this is a television show, meant to entertain us. That’s not to say the writing on this show is bad; in fact, it’s brilliant. The direction the show has taken this season, as well as the themes introduced, has just made me take a step back. Whatever the outcome is on May 23, I will be thoroughly entertained. That’s all I ask for, and all I expect.

    • panos13

      I totally agree with you. It is an exceptional TV show that tries to create the necessary backgroung in order to amaze us for one last time. therefore I expect at least one major surprise. The most obvious has to do with MIB’s real name. There is a reason he is still nameless. WHat if he and Jacob are in fact the same person?

      • Sarah Clarke Stuart

        I’d like to think they are the same person–that would be cool. But haven’t worked out a theory yet…hmmm.

  • Irma

    Does anyone else think that the writers gave PKD got a character shout-out via Dharma Phil? That dude was a total dick.

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