LOST Theories - DarkUFO

After six thrilling seasons on the air, the television show “Lost” has finally come to an end. For some of us, our relationship with this show was a casual affair, nothing more than weekly escapism, and indeed it was a show that could be legitimately enjoyed on that level. For others, myself included, I couldn’t help but see it as something more.

The best stories transcend mere entertainment. These stories have themes and lay out truths that change the way we view the world and ourselves. For me, Lost was one of these stories. While not strictly “literature,” it nevertheless possesses a great deal of literary merit, and in order to be fully appreciated for what it was, it should be analyzed as such. This is why I’m undertaking to explore each of the major themes of the show as I see them. I’m not an academic, so this is not intended to have either the depth or quality of an academic analysis. It’s just one layperson’s perspective of the themes that resonated most deeply with me and had the greatest impact on my life. There are many themes to talk about, so I’ll discuss two or three at a time over multiple postings so you don’t have to read too much all at once.


One of the biggest expectations that many LOST fans had of the show was that all the mysteries would be answered. Therefore this was also a source of great disappointment for some of these fans, as many of the mysteries built up throughout the previous seasons went unanswered (although intriguing hints were frequently dropped that allow us to piece many of them together). Many of those fans who stuck with the series primarily because they wanted to see those mysteries explained are walking away from the series unsatisfied, and even feeling angry and cheated.

However I think many of those people may have missed what I see as one of the major themes of the series: Mystery must be accepted, not answered. We live in a universe that inherently possesses a great deal of mystery, and so the Island in many ways serves as a microcosm for the larger world, where there are phenomena that occur that simply lie beyond the realm of human understanding. There are two ways in which humans seek to understand the mysteries of the universe: Science and Religion. And indeed we see both groups represented on the Island: the Dharma Initiative and Jacob/The Others. The ultimate message the show was trying to communicate is that even science and religion can’t answer all the mysteries of life. In a universe that is actually far more mysterious than we can possibly imagine, what we're able to know and understand is actually very little, and those who often seem to have all the answers are really just stabbing in the dark like the rest of us. We humans simply create the illusion of control and comprehension for ourselves in a universe that is actually well beyond our control and comprehension.

This was brilliantly laid out on LOST in the following way: Every time we met someone who we thought was in-the-know, who would have all the answers, it turned out they were really pretty clueless after all, and had simply created the illusion that they knew what was going on. First we were introduced to John Locke. He seemed to have some deep connection to the island and to be some kind of survival guru. He turned out to be a wheelchair-bound, fear-filled man who was desperately searching for a purpose beyond himself. Next we met Desmond. Surely whoever was living in that hatch would have the answers to what was happening on the island? But no, Desmond was just as clueless as the rest of them, going only off the little information that his predecessor had provided. And even his predecessor didn't know if what he had been told was true. Next we met Ben. Surely the leader of the Others would have all the answers! But no, Ben simply came to the island as a young boy and was only acting on what little information he could glean from Widmore and Richard (and, of course, it turned out that Widmore really knew very little, too). Well then, what about Richard? He was ageless and had been living on the island with Jacob for “a very long time.” Surely he would know everything? But no, he came to the island, was given two sides of a very incomplete story, and picked a side. He was acting mostly by faith and actually knew very little.

Then we finally got to the two men with all the answers: Jacob and the Man In Black. At least, we expected them to have all the answers. But no, it turned out that Jacob and the Man In Black were simply going off what their "mother" had told them. Even they really didn't know exactly what the island was or what it was either protecting or containing. And presumably their “mother” similarly came to the island and was simply going off what little information she had been told. So we can see that there was really no one who had all the answers. If that person existed, they were lost in the mists of time, or more likely that person never existed.

So what is the Island? Where do its mysterious properties come from? Well, Science explained it as “electromagnetic pockets” and “exotic matter,” while Religion explained it as “the light” and “the source of all life.” Both explanations are probably insufficient, fumbling attempts to explain something that is ultimately inexplicable because it’s beyond our understanding. “Every question you ask will just lead to another question,” said the “mother” of Jacob and Man In Black. As finite, limited beings we need to learn to be okay with the fact that some mysteries just can’t be explained – at least not in a way we’d understand.

2. Faith

So then, how are we to function in a universe filled with unsolvable mysteries? How are we to make decisions when nothing is certain? The answer is Faith. The theme of Science vs. Faith ran throughout the entire series, most explicitly introduced in the Season 2 episode, “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” where Locke characterizes himself as a man of faith and Jack as a man of science. Since the very beginning, Locke has believed that the Island brought them there for a purpose, and although he doesn’t know what that purpose is he’s willing to do almost anything to discover it. Jack sees no reason to believe this, thinking that they just randomly crashed on an island, and therefore he’s willing to do almost anything to help everyone get off. The tension between these two views drives much of the next few seasons. One of the more notable exchanges is in the episode “Orientation”:

LOCKE: [trying to convince Jack to push the button in the hatch] You saw the film, Jack. This is a... this is a two person job, at least.

JACK: It's not real. Look, you want to push the button, you do it yourself.
LOCKE: If it's not real, then what are you doing here, Jack? Why did you come back? Why do you find it so hard to believe?
JACK: Why do you find it so easy?
LOCKE: [shouting] It's never been easy!

LOCKE: [pleading] I can't do this alone, Jack... I don't want to… It's a leap of faith, Jack.

In the same episode, there’s this exchange between Jack and Desmond:

JACK: It says quarantine on the inside of the hatch to keep you down here. To keep you scared. But you know what? We've been up there for over 40 days and no one's gotten sick. You think that this is the only part of it that's true? Do you ever think that maybe they put you down here to push a button every 100 minutes just to see if you would? That all of this, the computer, the button, it's just a mind game? An experiment?
DESMOND: Every... single... day. And for all our sakes, I hope it's not real. But the film says this is an electromagnetic station. And I don't know about you, brother, but every time I walk past that concrete wall out there, my fillings hurt.

These two exchanges really summarize a lot of what the show had to say about Faith. First, it isn’t easy. It’s a lot easier to make a decision and to act when we have all the information we’d like to have, but it’s very difficult when we’re dealing with uncertainty – especially when we’re being called to live in a hatch pressing a button which may or may not do anything, and especially when Jack’s explanation for the button, that it was just a mind game, made so much sense and seemed to be a much more logical explanation. Even Locke struggled with his faith many times during the series, such as when he found evidence at the Pearl station that Jack’s explanation might be right after all. This led to him not pushing the button which almost led to disaster (although again, the nature of said disaster was never clear).

Second, Faith is not blind. Both Locke and Desmond have good reason to believe what they do, Locke because he was able to walk again and Desmond because “his fillings hurt.” Although there may be a great deal of uncertainty, we’re not required to put our faith in something without any evidence at all. However some people, such as Jack, need a lot more evidence than others before they’re willing to take a leap of faith. As Ben told him in Season 5, the apostle Thomas needed to stick his hand in Christ’s wounds before he would believe, with the subtext being that Jack is like Thomas. Yet as Ben also said, everyone believes sooner or later, and interestingly Thomas went on to martyr himself in India for his faith. In hindsight, this is some brilliant foreshadowing of the fact that Jack, like Thomas, would ultimately sacrifice his life for his faith despite the fact that he initially had trouble believing.

Lastly, Faith requires action, perhaps even sacrifice, whether that means becoming a martyr in India, pushing a button in a hatch for 3 years, or laying down your life to save an island. The finale represented the completion of Jack’s journey of faith. By the end, he’s a true believer, even defending Locke who had for so long been his antagonist, saying that he was “right about pretty much everything.” One criticism of the end of Lost is that it never made clear exactly what the stakes were. What would happen if the Man In Black left the island? What would happen if the Light at the center of the island was put out? What would happen if the island sank beneath the waves? The answer was kept intentionally vague so that the answer could quite easily have been “nothing.” The hatch was like a microcosm of the island as a whole, where pushing that button may have been doing nothing at all. And in the same way, perhaps the island would have sunk, the Man In Black would have left, and life in the world would have gone on without even noticing. As we learned, Jacob himself only did what he did because of what he was told, and for all he knew it was all a lie. It’s essentially a metaphor for religious belief, where we are willing to believe something that changes the course of our entire lives based upon the age-old testimony of people who could very well have been completely untrustworthy. But despite the uncertainty, both Jack and Jacob had seen enough to be willing to stake everything on what they believed to be true. They (and the viewers) had seen enough evidence that the Island was special, that the Man In Black was a real threat, and that the Light or exotic matter or whatever you wanted to call it needed to be protected at any cost. And so Jack was willing to lay his life down to fulfill what he saw as his purpose. It was important that Jack not learn too much information about what exactly he was protecting and preventing so that his decision would be one of faith and not one of science. And in the same way, we the viewer are required to exercise our own faith in believing that Jack died for an important reason.

There are many mysteries in our universe, most of which will never be resolved, yet in the face of such mystery we must be willing to make choices – even life-altering ones. Again, “every question you ask will just lead to another question.” The time comes when we must stop asking questions, put aside our doubts, and be willing to act upon what information we do have. That is the very nature of Faith.

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