Letting Go…Some Thoughts on ‘Lost’

Of course many of us saw, are still thinking, and want to talk about ‘Lost’.  I’m no expert (that appelation belongs to good folk like Chris Seay), nor even that much of a fan, but I have followed the show, in good times and bad.  My brief thoughts on the implications of how it ended and why I liked it:

1: It does what good conclusions always do: allows for us to go back and watch from the start with enhanced enjoyment.

2: It genuinely lets characters breathe, and despite the surreal contexts of the narrative, do things that real people actually do, which makes it better than almost anything else currently screening on network television.

3: It ends up being more like a film that I never considered a progenitor until last night (‘The Last Temptation of Christ’) than its most obvious grandfather (‘Star Wars’).

4: It earned the right to attempt serious points partly because it was always able to laugh at itself.  (‘Christian Shephard?  Really?’)

5: It suggests something hugely significant about our current popular culture: the narrative of personal transformation dominates, and the link between facing your own death and making a good life is front and centred.  John O’Donohue always said that the greatest privilege of working in a pastoral context was helping people to die well; in that sense, at its best, ‘Lost’ is like a meta-level good priest, a comforting myth, a reassurance that every moment allows for the possibility of miracles: the miracle of human beings in conflict forgiving each other, the miracle of lives well lived, and the miracle perhaps most underthought, that of the ability to choose.

But before we get too excited and announce the Second Coming of Tolstoy, there’s a shadow side:  I think part of why the ending of a show like ‘Lost’ affects people is because we’re all longing for lives that seem as rich as the characters in good fiction; or, frankly, we want to have lives as rich as the lives of people who work in television seem.  Of course this is to collude in a myth that is ultimately oppressive: while we may be thoroughly enjoying and learning from ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’, ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Lost’, and now ‘Treme’, we’re also paying for it by sitting through advertising, or buying Dharma Initiative branded lasagna; more than that, we’re subject to the temptation to confuse reading directions with climbing mountains (how many young men saw themselves in Neo, were inspired to re-evaluate their lives and sense of vocation, made emotional commitments to living subversively, and fleshed this out primarily [or exclusively] by purchasing the Playstation 2 game?)  The map is not the city.  ‘Lost’ is over.  It’s time to let go.

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2 responses to “Letting Go…Some Thoughts on ‘Lost’

  1. You make a very excellent, precise point how, in the end, Lost was consumer entertainment, not a truly voluntary, participatory, enlightening myth.

    Perhaps in our day and age, myth has become entertainment product, fandom, “communion” and merchandising. ritual. But that’s a whole other topic…

    I think that’s why the finale in particular felt like so much emotional manipulation; it served up borderline trite spiritualism as a way to heal conflict. But it really did come down to wiping away a tear, going to bed and dreaming of Dharma Initiative boxed lasagna and DVD boxed sets.

  2. Very well put, Gareth. I take what you’re saying to mean that these entertainments are only useful to the extent that we make use of them, that we take the brief insights they afford us to look inside, ask ourselves the big questions, and act on what we come up with.

    I think the show actually underlined this insight: time and again “men of science” came to the island and tried to dismantle its secrets rather than using it for its real purpose: facilitating personal growth. And every time these men were annihilated. I saw that as kind of a meta-commentary on those of us who spent so much time trying to make sense of the mysteries, rather than being enriched by mystery.