Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mysticism in the Media: LOST, Part 2 (The Finale)

SPOILER WARNING: If you're squeamish about spoilers and you haven't watched the last episode of LOST, don't read this post until you have. 

The second half of my analysis of LOST will concern the final scene of the series' last episode, titled The End.

Many people were disappointed by the ending, saying that the series didn't end up answering many of the questions that came up over the course of its run. This is true, to an extent. But this scene is so perceptive, so beautiful and so all-encompassing in its scope that I believe it makes up for any of the show's transgressions. Knowing this, in this post I intend to analyze this scene and explore its spiritual components.

First, a quick summary of what happened. The Jack featured prominently in this final scene is the Flash-Sideways Jack, in the world where the plane never crashed. He is in the middle of a grand awakening: everyone who was on the plane in the main world is starting to remember their lives on Island. All except him. From his perspective, he is surrounded by a bunch of people he does not know, all saying that he was their friend in another world. It scares him. He insists to himself that this reality, the Flash-Sideways world, is all there is, even after he is given preliminary glimpses of his Island life. 

Just before the first video below starts, Jack was in a car (parked outside a church) with Kate, his on-Island love. She insists that if he goes inside, all his questions will be answered.

He walks inside and sees his Father's coffin, which was lost by airport customs and only recently returned. He circles around the casket, nervous to actually open it. He finally is brave enough to touch the coffin, and in a surge of relief the memories of his Island life come flooding back to him. Everyone he loved and lost, and all the adventures he had are finally restored to his mind. 

Finally beginning to understand, he opens the coffin, but it is empty. For an instant, his doubt and fear returns, until a voice from behind causes him to turn around. Jack's dead father stands there, in the flesh. Jack, shocked, asks him how he could possibly be there. Christian (Jack's father) turns the question around and in turn asks Jack "How are you here?". Jack turns his recent epiphany over in his head, still processing the data. It finally comes to him: "I died too". He remembers his as-yet-unseen death, and realizes that the Flash-Sideways world is some sort of afterlife. Feeling strangely relieved, he embraces his long-estranged father,  finally able to say that he loves him. After a long hug, he asks his father for some details as to the nature of the Flash-Sideways world. Christian affirms that it is real, just like everything Jack has ever experienced. Seeing Jack's confusion, Christian tells him that it is outside of time, so that individuals who died at different times could all meet there.  He then says that the Jack and his Island friends made the Flash-Sideways world as a place where they could find each other after their deaths, reassuring him the reason they are all there  is because they spent "the most important part of [their] life" together. Jack then suddenly recalls something Kate said in the car: that they were going to the church to "leave". After Jack tells Christian this, he confirms it, but offers "moving on" as a better expression. A nervous but increasingly happy Jack asks Christian where they are going, to which he replies "let's go find out". 

"Meanwhile", the on-Island Jack is mortally wounded by his encounter with the Island's source. He stumbles forward, knowing that he has only minutes left to live. He walks through the bamboo forest until he reaches the spot where he woke up in the very first episode. No longer able to stand, he falls down. He lays there alone, until suddenly he hears a dog's bark. The dog Vincent, who woke him up in that first episode, lies down next to the dying Jack, comforting him. With only moments left to live, Jack looks up and sees a plane pass by, letting him know for sure that his friends are safe. He smiles, and knowing that his purpose here is fulfilled, he closes his eyes and expires.

Jack and Christian step into the main area of the church, where everyone he had come to know and love in his Island-life is there, all showing their love for one another. Happily, he acknowledges Locke, his one time rival. He proceeds to hug Desmond. He then proceeds to embrace Boone, Hurley and Sawyer; Finally, he sees Kate, and takes her hand. Everyone takes their places in the church's pews. Christian then pats him on the shoulder and walks down the center aisle to the back doors, which he opens. A bright light fills begins to fill the room, enveloping all who are there. Jack, overcome with joy, excitedly enters the world to come.

Amazing, eh? Now, I had a friend who claimed that LOST was like a crossword puzzle. In a crossword puzzle there are intersecting big words and small words, and often by filling in the small words you can have enough letters in the big word's space to guess what it is. He claimed that in the end, LOST had no "big word", indicating that the various pieces of LOST didn't resolve themselves into some higher meaning. I highly disagree. In fact, I can think of at least eight (one of the numbers!) higher meanings that emerged in the final moments of LOST. Here they are:

What Happened, Happened: Just before Jack lowers Desmond into the Heart of the Island, he tells Jack of his encounter with the Flash-Sideways world, where the plane never crashed. He insists that he is going to travel there, and offers to help Jack go there as well. But Jack refuses, saying that "there are no do-overs", and "what happened, happened".   This latter phrase refers to Daniel Faraday's insistence to the survivors, once they begin jumping through time in Season 5, that they cannot change the past. But it has a deeper significance than meets the eye. By saying these things, he affirms that his life on the Island matters, and that he shouldn't try to escape from it. This is precisely Christian's sentiment in the second video above, when he says that "everything that ever happened to you was real". In short, Dave was wrong. The Island is not some easily escapable dream in someone's head: it exists, and everything that happened there means something.

Man of Faith: For the bulk of the series, Jack Shepard and John Locke stood apart as the manifestations of two opposing viewpoints. Jack was a man of science, referring to his need for evidence and his constant skepticism, while John was a man of faith. Their ideological battle continued for several seasons, ending when John Locke died. However, Jack did not remain a "man of science" for the entirety of the series. Beginning in his encounter with Jacob's lighthouse, where he discovered that his life had been guided from the very beginning, he changed, and began to be as faith-centered as you can get. This came to a head in The End, where he agreed with the Man in Black to extinguish the Source, even though he knew he had to protect it. He had faith in Jacob's plan, knowing that things would work out in the end. But this is not mere confidence; he didn't even know what the result of his actions would be. After all, he jammed a giant stone cork into a hole (the height of ridiculousness) not knowing what he was doing, why he was doing it, or how it would work. It is a leap of faith. 

But this new-found faith of Jack can also be found in the final scene. Kate told Sideways Jack that he needed to go into the church, in order to "leave". The remarkable thing is that, even though Jack had no idea what this meant, and even though he is very aware that this might be the end of the world as he knows it, he ventures inside. This faith is displayed even more when Jack expresses his wariness at "leaving" to his father. Christian  responds simply: "let's go find out". This statement, and Jack's acknowledgment of it, is the ultimate leap of faith: I don't know what's coming, but I'm confident enough that it will be a good thing that I'm eager, even excited to learn what it is. It is like they have just blown open another hatch: a new world full of possibility, wonder and hope remains inside.

Live Together, and You Won't Die Alone: In one of The End's deleted scenes, a curious Ben asks Desmond what existed in the Flash-Sideways universe. He responds with one word: love. This admittedly isn't understandable at the point where the scene would have been placed, (which is probably the reason why it was deleted) but it make all too much sense after viewing the final scene. For it doesn't portray anything but love: love between Jack and his father, love between the various romantic pairings, and love of each person in the group for everyone else. Moreover, one could easily say that the entire series had been building up to this moment thematically. After all, didn't Jack say that "if we don't live together, we're going to die alone"? The great truth is that they did live together, and that each of them will enter the next life as one, overwhelmed by the others' love for them.

Resurrection: The last episode is probably the strongest example of a tendency which I noted in the previous part of this post, that it portrays spiritual stories in a new light. The concerned story is probably very familiar to you, probably more so than any other, as it is none other than the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. For Jack, just like Christ, gave his life to save the world. I firmly believe that if Jack had not re-plugged the Source, all things would have become purely material and mortal, just like the Man in Black. There would be no such thing as a spirit or an afterlife, meaning that a) death would be the end, and b) the final scene would be impossible.  But Jack did plug the cork back in, meaning that he became the Christ-like savior of all people's immortal souls.

The last scene provides the climax for this scriptural representation. For when Jack opens his father's coffin, his Father isn't there. That phrase, repeated by an angel at Christ's tomb, and actually uttered by Jack in White Rabbit, perfectly conveys the despair any person feels at loss. We literally fear that they are no longer there, that they have ceased to exist. But both stories say that one need not worry, for from behind both Jack and Mary Magdalene the one they mourn speaks, showing us that they continued to exist after their death, that they are there.

Light: Some might consider the end of the final scene, where the Losties become engulfed in light, as a little cliche. However, if they do, they are missing the incredible significance that light has as a motif. For light is at the center of all that happens on the Island. First, it was the shining light of the Hatch that comforted John Locke in his moment of despair. But more importantly, the literal light at the Heart of the Island (known in earlier seasons as a buried electromagnetic force) is one of the main actors of the series: it healed John Locke, sent people traveling through time, and even crashed Oceanic 815 on the Island.  But even more significantly, in Across the Sea Jacob's mother states that this light contains "life, death, and rebirth". Whether we think of the first and last scenes, Aaron's  birth/Boone's death, or even the flashbacks, LOST has always been about the contrast of what is gone and what is here, of what is dead and what is alive. Thus, considering the Mother's information, perhaps we can say that the Light has been the driving force behind all of the action on the Island, making the final scene that much more meaningful.

To Remember: When Jack asks his father why the he and his friends needed each other, he gives a simple answer: "to remember, and to let go". This, to me, is the thesis of LOST. I believe that if we remember, let go, and help each other do both, we can perhaps achieve our life's purpose and end up like the Losties did.

First, what does Christian mean by "to remember"? The answer has been staring us in the face ever since the pilot, for what is a flashback if not an act of remembering? Starting when they arrive on the Island, each character spends about half of their episodes recalling the past. But this is more than mere reminiscing, for the two storylines' parallelism ensures that they are also coming to terms with the past. Whether it's Jack's obsession issues or Charlie's drug problems, remembering the past allows them to confront it and let it go.

To Let Go: The whole series has been centered around people letting go. When they come to the Island, each character has an issue which they must get rid of in order to progress. I've already mentioned Jack's and Charlie's, but we could also consider John Locke's need to prove his ability, Hurley's food problems, Sun and Jin's marital issues, Michael's relationship with Walt, and Sayid's remorse over his past as a torturer. The fantastic thing about this series, though, is that nearly all of these characters will let go of their baggage and move on. 

Moving On: "Moving on" isn't just an activity; it's a way of living. To "move on" means to be ready to forsake the past and accept the future. It involves a willingness to "leave" everything that holds you back, that  halts your progression. 

But if we think of "moving on" literally, at least for the moment, we can see that this too has been a center point of the series. For from the very beginning, the Losties have always been going somewhere. The series is centered around the various places they are trying to reach on the Island, ranging from the Hatch to the Others' Camp to the Radio Tower. But none of these are so symbolically important as the very first and last voyages, for the trip from Sydney to the Island and the trip from the Church to the next life are the capstones between which the series is built. You see, the latter is a parallel of the former. You can see it visually, as the pews of the church are like the rows of seats in a plane, and the back of both places opens up to a bright light. But more significantly, both involve leaving behind a place filled with suffering and baggage to one of freedom and peace. This is the great secret hidden in the heart of the last scene: this parallel tells us that the the place to which the Losties are "moving on" is actually a greater and more wonderful version of the Island. You can be sure that this place has all of the Island's life, wonder and adventure, and that everyone who goes there will be forever happy and peaceful. 

There you go. If you read it all the way through, I apologize for the length. It's just that I feel extremely passionate about LOST; it is my favorite TV series ever, and I believe it deserves the attention I have given it.

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