"How did you get here?" "The same way as you…by accident."
Call it purgatory, call it Hell, call it a test, call it a cosmic game to prove whether people are inherently good or bad, call it whatever you want…this is the Island. A metaphor for the struggle to choose good over evil that's inherent in all of us. It's the battleground between good and evil that we all face everyday inside of each and every one of us. And it is absolutely necessary for this battleground to exist. We must be given the opportunity to choose good for ourselves. It can't be chosen for us, because that's against the rules.
In a way, Lost is the story of Adam and Eve. Allow me to explain…
In the beginning, there was humanity, and all we knew was goodness and love. But, you can't fully love unless you consciously choose to love. Therefore, you need to be given a choice, a choice to love or to hate, to be good or be bad, to follow the rules or not follow the rules.
Without actively choosing love, you can never fully experience love.
However, at some point along the way, humanity created sin by purposely choosing to do the wrong thing - to break the rules. Someone chose to be bad, and evil entered the world. In the story of Adam and Eve, God explicitly told them not to eat an apple growing from the tree of knowledge. This was a test. A test to see whether humans would choose God (representing Love) over something else if given the opportunity. The apple isn't important, it's just a metaphor. What's important is that by eating the apple, Eve broke the rules. She went against God and did what she wanted. She was selfish, she gave into temptation, and in the process learned what it meant to sin. This was a new concept for humanity, but it represents a turning point in our society. For the first time, someone did something bad.
It is this concept that is at the heart of Lost. If given the choice between love and hate, which would you choose? Are you on the side of white, or the side of black? Good, or evil?
The writers of Lost have always hinted at eastern philosophies, most notably the notions of karma and resurrection. The act of dying can be seen as your soul passing on to the next "reality" to be reborn into a greater or lesser existence based on your previous deeds. Life and death is a repeating cycle. You die, you get resurrected, you improve, you die again, you get resurrected, you improve and so on until you reach enlightenment.
This is what Jacob meant by "It only ends once. Anything before that is progress." Jacob is a metaphor for karma. He represents to choice to be good. He is the one who protects the "light". The light represents the goodness that is inside all of us, and it is his job to help people along the path towards enlightenment. It is his job to give people the chance to redeem themselves; to let go of the baggage of their previous existence in order to better themselves and move on to the next level.
However, Jacob isn't perfect. He, too, was human, and gave into anger. Along the way, he sinned, killing his brother by sending him into the light, knowing that what awaited him was a fate worse than death. He created the smoke monster, a constant reminder of his choice to sin.
People who are brought to the island are being tested. If you follow Jacob, then you choose to follow the path of goodness and love. If you follow the Man In Black, then you are choosing a life of evil. This is what the writers of Lost kept referring to with the scales, using white and black stones to signify the good and bad in all of us. If your soul can tip the scales towards good, then you get to move on. If it tips towards darkness and evil, you are claimed by the Man In Black, and your soul is not allowed to pass on to a higher level of enlightenment.
What we've watched over the past six years is the story of a small set of people as they pass from one reality to the next, and finally on to the next beyond that. We saw a cross-segment of humanity who, despite their baggage from a previous existence, were able to redeem themselves and in turn, pass on to a higher level.
As for the question of being alive versus being dead, life itself is just an illusion. For all intents and purposes, it's all in your head. Life…what we would call real life…is simply your brain trying to make sense of a bunch of electrical signals as generated by your senses. You can't say with any certainty what was before, or what comes after. We live in the now. So, to say that the characters on Lost were already dead, or still alive, that they died in the plane crash or whatever, really doesn't matter at all. What matters is that, right now, what you perceive to be real is real to you. This is the case in the show as well. The flashbacks were real to our characters. The island timeline was real to our characters. And the flash sideways was real to our characters. However, these were three different realities. Three opportunities to better themselves before passing on to the next level.
The flashbacks on Lost were of the characters "previous" lives. The events that we watched on the island were of the characters "current" lives (at least as we the audience perceived it), and the events of the "flash sideways" were the events of the characters "next" lives. Yes, I believe that they died in the original plane crash. Who knows? Perhaps there were events that happened to these same characters before the flashbacks, in an even earlier life that we the audience weren't privy to. And there could very well be events that occur to these characters after they pass on to the next life beyond the doors of the church. I love the idea that it is these characters destinies to always find each other, always love each other, over and over again. It's a comforting feeling to think that perhaps, no matter what, we're not alone in this world. We keep passing from one level to the next, repeating many of the same events that have shaped our lives, with the same set of friends and family, while things get better and better each time.
This is the circle of life, and I think the writers did a brilliant job of representing this in a way that kept us as an audience guessing for years.
After watching the finale, though, I realize now that the story that they were telling, and the story that I was watching, were two different things. In the end, it's not the little things that matter. Much like real life, I was too focused on the small things to see the bigger picture. It really makes no difference that the statue had four toes, or that polar bears were on the island, or that MIB could turn into smoke, or what the Dharma initiative was up to, or that turning a donkey wheel sends someone through space & time. What matters is the life that these characters lived, what they did with their time while they were there, and how they were redeemed in the end.
As with all great stories, the details are used to illustrate and illuminate a higher meaning - something that explains some aspect of the human condition - something that we all, as human beings, can relate to.
"How did you get here?" "The same way as you…by accident."