• And now, before The End comes to an end…I give you Final Jackface (All instances culled from The End). We’ll miss you, Jackface. Thanks, for the memories.
Ahhhhh. That’s cleansing.
Christian: “Well, there is no “now” here.”
• Still-more evidence for “Limbo” as a plane of reality that’s at the “center” of the Island – a place that already seems to sit at the “center” of space/time, like the hub of a giant Dharma Wheel. There is no “now” because Limbo is an instance of pure, literalized Minkowsky space – where past, present and future are erased as meaningful concepts.
As mentioned earlier, Limbo seems to be a realm that’s contained in/accessible from/powered by the Light. It’s arguably another “plane” of reality – and that, along with the ways in which it mirrors the “real” reality of the past seasons, is similar in concept to the idea of Quantum worlds. Those of you looking for a “science-based” rationale for Limbo can find it in these ideas. Yes, you need to do some work to connect these dots – whether you want to make the effort is up to you. But it’s a mistake, I believe, to claim that Lost has abandoned science totally in favor of faith. Its past seasons and the way in which what we learned in terms of scientific theories colors what we see here are arguments against that stance.
This Limbo and its levels aren’t specific to any one religion, or arguably to “religion” in general insofar as the “religions” that some of these characters subscribe to emphatically condemn men like Ben Linus and Sayid Jarrah. Despite their series-long willingness to break Commandments, both of them end up having the choice to “move on” and join the rest of the Castaways in Light-Brite-Land. If there’s “Cosmic Justice” in Lost’s world, it plays by very subtle, Jacob-esque Rules. It’s either that, or we accept that there is no “Divine Judge” assigning these people Afterlife Dharma Duties; we accept that these people ultimately judge themselves. They are the causes of their own suffering, and they are the causes of their own salvation.
• It seems to me that there are different levels to “Limbo” – that these levels seem to be roughly correspondent to the spirit’s proximity to the Island’s heart – an afterlife mirror of Dante’s 7 circles, of the Gnostic notion of “projections of the divine.” We have othe living, most of whom never find the Island (and if that’s not a big, stinking metaphor that I’ll explore in depth in the upcoming Back to the Island book I don’t know what is), we have off/on Island apparitions, and we have those spirits which appear to reside inside the Island’s heart.
• I find the argument that having the Castaways reunite in the afterlife diminishes the drama of past episodes to be bizarre at best, frankly – and the very picture of Nihilism at worst. It isn’t as though the pain, struggle and confusion that the Castaways dealt with in their lives didn’t exist, or that many of them aren’t re-living the same sorts of traumas and self-imposed set-backs in the world of “Limbo.” It’s as though those folks arguing this point feel that the very existence of any “heaven”/”purgatory”/“afterlife”/”quantum world”/”plane of existence” renders our lives meaningless – as if receiving new life means that your old life would no longer matter. To make that kind of an argument would seem to dismiss the idea of second chances entirely, in this world and/or in any other. It suggests a worldview in which there is no forgiveness, a world in which there is no learning or growth or Grace, since that growth would apparently render the past actions of people “meaningless.” That’s a kind of high-octane nihilism. To take that tact is to essentially argue that Locke gaining the use of his legs in Walkabout renders all of his flashback suffering moot. It’s to argue that all pain is meaningless unless its unending pain. You can go ahead and ride that particular pony all day, but I’ve got no interest in watching you.
Above and beyond that, the notion that the sideways world is simply a “do over” without consequence blatantly ignores the reality of what we’ve seen in the show itself. Sayid is profoundly unhappy and disconnected in Limbo, despite having all of the tools to change that fact. Jack has achieved a kind of happiness and contentedness, but only by confronting his previous, still-unresolved issues – something we see him do in the off-Island universe. Where they are apparently allows them the chance to choose connection and evolution, growth and change. It also allows them stagnation, isolation. That’s Karma, in a nutshell, not some version concocted specifically for the show. That’s the process described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It’s the Catholic conception of Limbo, and etc. et al. ad infinitum.
And yet despite the fantastical names, in essence, it’s no different from their “real” lives at all. It might as well be another “quantum world” instead of a proper “purgatory.”
The choices made here matter as much as the choices made prior and in both cases they allow the characters to let go of what has haunted them, to make peace with what unsettles them, to learn from their upbringing and hopefully improve on it. Conversely, these characters have the choice to stay, with the knowledge they’ve connected to, in order to try and work through their “issues.” In the confrontation with his Other, Ben Linus makes a choice to effect his own salvation, by staying and working on himself, aware of who he was, of who he is.
Are there plot problems with this ending that I can point to? Yes, of course. Are there confusing aspects to the meet-up at the church that I wish were more firmly defined? Yup. Do I think that the overarching idea here, and its overall execution over six seasons trumps those problems?
Yes. Very much so. Selfishly, the finale firmly affirmed a lot of what I’ve been saying about the show’s themes and interests. I’ve genuinely loved what the show seemed to be saying all this time, am glad to find that much of it wasn’t entirely the ravings of an insane person, and have found it rewarding and edifying to think about these things for a few hours a week with all of you.
• My final word on Lost’s intelligence-level, or lack thereof, at least until I take up work on the Book again: One can snark about Lost’s “philosophy 101”-level themes and its simple New Agey spiritualism, but its sorta intellectually dishonest to do so. Too much of the show itself actively refutes such a dismissive interpretation. There’s nothing simple about Lost’s critical eye toward religion and religious hierarchy, nor about the ways in which that sometimes-vicious criticism coexists, largely successfully, with a seemingly-genuine reverence for the kind of unaffiliated Oceanic “spirituality” that’s bound up in recognition of mankind’s essential Existential state and our kind’s endless capacity for violence and grace, sometimes all at once.
• More than anything, that’s what the final minutes of this show evoke for me: Grace. You don’t need to be religious or even spiritual to appreciate the importance of Grace, or to understand how difficult it is to perceive and achieve.
As theologian, Pastor and Righteous Hero of World War II Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, true Grace is costly. It is not the cheap grace of once-a-week gathering in the spaces consecrated to various faiths. Costly Grace – real, true Grace – demands sacrifice. It requires the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s fellow man. Bonhoeffer ought to have known. He was, after all, a man who put his money where his mouth was. His was a Grace that cost more than I can honestly imagine giving. Unlike far too many of his fellow “men of the cloth” in germany during World War II, he passionately opposed the Nazi party, helped found the Anti-Nazi Confessing Church, and was hung as a traitor shortly before the war ended.
You don’t have to be religious at all to find profundity in Bonhoeffer’s story.
I would never seriously compare Bonhoeffer’s life or works with a fictional television show – it would be inherently disrespectful toward a man that I have enormous respect for. But the idea of costly Grace is certainly applicable to the saga of these Castaways. We’ve been watching them struggle toward it for six seasons – moths wrenching free of their cocoons.
• Can you make a spiritual show that’s also caustically critical of and suspicious of religion? I believe that you can, and that Lost can be seen as just such a show. I’ve talked about this extensively throughout these columns, and I’ll be summing this aspect up in Back to the Island: The Book, since it’s one of the areas that I think Lost has succeeded most brilliantly in exploring. John Locke’s exploitation, the MiB’s manipulations, Jacob’s removed-and-detached approach to leadership, the Others and their interpretations of Jacob’s orders, whether false or true….all of this operates as a pointed and powerful commentary on the dangers of blind belief, while also, simultaneously, operating to explore the necessity (at least as far as Lost is concerned) of faith. As Aldus Huxley wrote in Island – a book that Lost name checked back in Season 2:
“Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalyzed words much too seriously. Paul’s words, Mohammed’s words, Marx’s words, Hitler’s words—people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history—sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending the victims of their own church’s inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For Faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.”
As Huxley and, so it seems, Lost’s writers appear to believe, Faith is an exercise in hope. Belief is an exercise in certainty where there is no certainty. Lost is a show, ultimately, about Faith and belief. It’s about the perils and the power, the blindness and the awakening.
It’s about two sides: one black, one white.
It’s about a journey to find The Answers, arriving at the end to find yourself before a giant mirror. In the column for Lighthouse, I talked about The Conference of the Birds – a Sufi poem wherein a group of birds go looking for God and discover themselves instead. Their community is divinity. It is through their connections that they will be saved. In an Existential universe, where meaning can be endlessly debated, we can choose to create our own meaning through the communion we share with one another, the community we build with one another, the communication we forge between one another.
That’s Lost’s final message to us, and it’s one that never fails to move me deeply.
• The final shots of Jack, returned to the place where the story began – passing a rotting, dangling white tennis shoe – are sad and uplifting all at once. There’s something beatific about the sight of the plane arcing overhead as Jack lays there, chuckling, and finally lets go.
That’s all, folks. You know the drill – you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. Thank you, sincerely, for reading my ramblings and for your thoughts, comments and inexplicably-flattering compliments. It’s been a blessing to write for you. I’ll hope to see some of you back here in a weeks’ time for “Lost and Found.” In the meantime, take care of each other.
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