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May. 24 2010 - 3:37 am | 3,809 views | 4 recommendations | 11 comments

LOST: What It All Means (And Why It Was Worth It)

Childhood Lost

Image by Coyote2024 via Flickr

I’m taking a break from my usual California-centric column to talk about an Island.  But before I do, I’m going to talk about LOST. Last night’s finale was in many ways, like every episode, leaving its audience filled with questions, yet this time the questions weren’t about polar bears or smoke monsters, but with questions about ourselves.

The following is filled with many spoilers for the series finale of LOST.

Now, I fully expect folks to pile on the LOST ending.  After years of speculation that the Island (or at least, the Season 6 flashsideways world) was Limbo, it turned out to be just that. Or maybe it was two halves looking to be made whole. Whatever it was, the reunion of all the Losties in a big church of feel good karma all but invites a cynical response from the critical eye.

But eyes are all about what LOST is about, from the first frame to the last, and how we choose to view the world and how that view shapes our lives is a central question of the show.

Come On Everybody! It's about the people.

To those who view the hippy-dippy faith trip that the final episode winds up being as cheesy or ludicrous, I ask, what show have you been watching for the last six years?

It’s never been the plot conceits or mystery that have made the show; it’s the human connections these strangers find that have brought us back season after season. Why are you judging the show on the mechanics of the metaphysical.

The metaphysical is the true heart of The Island.  It’s mysteries are those of the human condition. How do we forgive? How do we fall in love? What can we do to not feel so damn alone?  In this respect, LOST’s final moments deliver in every way. For it offers up a clear, definitive answer:

We find meaning in our lives by living our lives like they have meaning.

With a Smoke Monster pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, with our future bleak and unknown, with our lives already ridden with mistake and sin, we can survive and yes, I’m going to say it– “We can either live together or die alone.”

Whether we’re a leader questioning our purpose, a couple who no longer love each other, a heroin addict or a former torturer, we are capable of our destinies, not because of any all powerful force, but because how we live our life is our destiny. In fact, despite the clear afterlife shown at the end, the show still tells us, “Dead is dead.” It’s life that matters.

Yeah, but what happened to Vincent?

We can spend our lives chasing after Dharma stations or contacting freighters or following some neurotic blond dude who thinks he’s God, but our lives are not about that, just as the show has never been about that. It’s about who touches our lives and who we touch.

And in the end, LOST shows us the possibility of a world in which we are fully aware of our lives and how short they are. Call it Heaven or Nirvana or Enlightenment, but it doesn’t take magic to get there–it’s available to us right now.

That this message was transmitted by a network television show originally inspired by Survivor is a stunning achievement incomparable to any drama before it.  It stands among The Illiad and Shakespeare in terms of telling the story of who we are as a species. But more than beautiful drama, LOST is a call to action to our own lost world.

It sends massive warning to obsessive fanboys, be the object of their obsession comics or nuclear bombs or the minutiae of a television show, that they are chasing the wrong things. That in the end, what matters is each other.

It’s a show that has always provoked discussion, but now it asks us to ask questions about ourselves and our world, which can be seen either as a horrible place of isolation and destruction or as a miraculous place in which we are all capable of redemption.

To All Survivors: So let’s all of ask the question LOST started on our Island? “Why are we here dude?”


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  1. collapse expand

    Japhy! I couldn’t agree more with your views on the Lost finale; I thought it was an eloquent metaphor for how we connect and process, and I’m sure lots of people are going to rag on the purgatory angle, but I flat-out loved this ending. Sure, there were unanswered questions, and sure, much of the action was predictable (the last scene especially) but I was moved by the performances and the writing, and I felt *satisfied*, which is honestly all anyone can ask from a series finale.

  2. collapse expand

    Sounds like a whole lot of weak justifications for wasting the last 6 years.

  3. collapse expand

    I like your argument and appreciate how well you’ve made it. You’d have made a better writer for the final season than they had on board.

    The problem I have with the wrap up is that the “mechanics of the metaphysical,” as you say, were not ancillary to the storyline for 6 seasons. They only became so because there wasn’t a satisfactory way to make sense of them. You don’t have to be an obsessive fan to see that. And even for the ‘big picture’ message, I think the clarity of your argument isn’t mirrored in the muddled spiritual mish mash of the finale.

    All of that said, I’m going to recommend your post because your argument is a better option than thinking the show was a failure in the end. It was, for the most part, a groundbreaking success.

  4. collapse expand

    LOST was successful because it did not insult the intelligence of its audience. Nowhere else on television have you seen so many literary and Biblical allusions, so many deeper philosophical questions being brought to the fore.

    The series will stand as a modern-day equivalent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which cataloged the sum of a culture through the eyes of its highest and lowest citizens. It is the work of an age, and one that does not segregate itself from the culture that shaped it but rather celebrated it through constant reference.

    Leave the unanswered questions unanswered. We learned a lot about ourselves, and that’s the hallmark of great storytelling. We were entertained and elevated at the same time.

  5. collapse expand

    The author writes “It’s never been the plot conceits or mystery that have made the show; it’s the human connections these strangers find that have brought us back season after season.”

    I strongly disagree. The plot conceits and the mysteries were 95% of why I watched the show, and that’s what set it apart from such character driven dramas as Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, etc. I was deeply disappointed by the ending, there were just too many inconsistencies and unanswered questions for it to have been a satisfying resolution for this dedicated fan.

  6. collapse expand

    You make me want to go back and watch them all (I was *not* a regular viewer). I have to prize anything that glorifies human connection, particularly when we’re living in a world where so many of us are so used to communicating via technology that we can barely talk any more.

    Dammit. With all of this TV to catch up on, I’m never going to see daylight again, am I?

  7. collapse expand

    yes, LOST “answered” all questions for fans precisely because, as you write, it was really about “a call to action to our own lost world.”

    …if fans found disappointment in the ending it’s because those fans are still attracted to the lost world/

    I thought it was stunningly well done, too.

  8. collapse expand

    The writers made an ass out of the audience, give it a break. It was like if you put this post up with all the lines you wrote still there, never mind that it won’t make sense.

    They were dead all along, and alive, and somewhere else alive while dead here, in another time by time travel, who the OKed all that?

    They made fools of their audience.

  9. collapse expand

    Grant’s take on things is that fanboys don’t have real lives. Actually, we do. And we appreciate comic books because we like good narratives. The Lost narrative had the potential to be great, but it fell short in the end. The writers created numerous questions to engage our curiousity. When fanboys wanted answers, they blamed us for asking the questions. It’s sad to see so many people buy into the obtrusive command of the writers to “Let go.” I refuse. I won’t absolve the writers of their responsbility and take the blame. I also won’t sit back and allow pretentious writers like Grant to tell me how to live my life. My guess is that I’m probably doing more good than he is sitting behind his computer screen typing out inane comments about Lost. Perhaps if he were a fanboy, he know more about he the abuse of omniscience in Lost and the danger of accepting the opinion of an obtrusive narrator without holding the narrator accountable.

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    About Me

    I'm a web TV producer and journalist living in Los Angeles. I've written for Salon, Out, The New York Observer, The Advocate and have directed music videos for bands like Grizzly Bear, as well as creating ads for BCBG/ Max Azria.

    I have a website at www.japhygrant.com because that seemed easier to remember than www.thatguywhoifollowonfacebookbutihavenoideawhyidothat.com

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