The Scope of Lost: In Dialogue with Joe CarterOther — By Hayden Butler on May 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm
(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the end of Lost)
To no one’s surprise, the final episode of this cultural behemoth has sparked a flurry of dialogue and theory-sharing. One such theory was recently put forth by Joe Carter at FirstThings.com. His opinion, however, expresses a dissatisfaction with plot holes, but this overlooks the primary objective of the show. Rather than creating a plot that moves characters along, Lost is about the characters that create a story. It is the fixation on these characters that gives the show its power and popularity. So, in order to frame the dialogue appropriately, it helps to remember a few key things:
1. Lost is NOT a Christian allegory.
A Christian viewer should not expect to find one-to-one correspondence between the characters and events of the show and the Christian narrative, much less with that viewer’s doctrinal iterations of the Christian narrative. The show makes allusions to components of the Christian narrative, but because it is merely referential and not allegorical, it is under no obligation to offer a modus operandi for the Christ-figure achieving any particular atonement model (e.g. Jack does not have to be Christ in order to possess traits that are similar to those of Christ). Lost is doing something different.
2. Lost is a post-modern narrative.
The show wields a compilation of mythic components or archetypes for the creation of a message that is not achieved through any of the individual myths from whence the elements are derived. In terms of the show, this technique is seen through the simultaneous operation of Egyptian, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, and scientific paradigms. Lost is not trying to say that Jack’s character is the savior of the world, but that the development of his character obliges him to die for the cause to which he has pledged himself. It is this fixation on character development (the stated point of the show according to producers Cuse and Lindelhoff) that lends so much force to the show’s popularity. It moves away from abstract concepts and focuses on individual lives and the choices that direct them. In short, the dramatic effect of Lost is not reliant upon the plot as a framework, but about bringing characters to their fruition, which the show does marvelously.
3. Lost is ultimately about finding the unknown beloved.
The show’s final season reveals that the arduous paths the characters follow is directed toward their finding the thing they are looking for, and that is different for each character. While Christians see this journey as ultimately leading to God made possible by the work of Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit, the show’s scope does not encompass such a claim. Rather, Lost depicts the struggle of character development as centering on the obstacles to finding what is true and the choices we make to overcome those obstacles. To argue about the sufficiency of the extent to which the show provides conclusive statements about reality is moot, because the development of the characters does not necessarily require them.
At its core, the show gives its viewers a meticulous study of the choices people make and the wide-reaching effects of those decisions. The drama of the show, the reason why so many people are drawn to it, is found in characters with whom the viewer can relate and struggle alongside. If looked at in terms of the narrative framework alone, then the show makes little sense. It is the people involved that give the show life. To watch the show well, then, we should avoid dwelling on conceptual matters and remember that Lost ventures to portray the compelling struggle of characters traversing the human journey. ‘