And now for another installment in our weekly Lost discussion. (If you don’t care about Lost, just skip to the other posts).
A central theme in Lost has been the ambiguity about whether events occur as a matter of luck or as the result of a supernatural plan. It’s true that it would have to be incredible luck, but up until the most recent episode everything (or almost everything) could be explained without resorting to the supernatural.
Now the ambiguity is dissolving and it is becoming very clear that supernatural explanations are required. The most obvious sign of this is the introduction of dead people as characters who talk to multiple people, carry things, etc… In other words, we can no longer hold onto the possibility that the appearance of a dead person is simply the delusion of a single living person. The show has largely foreclosed the possibility of psychological explanations.
I think this takes some of the fun out of the show since a central mystery is being resolved. It’s true that we still have to discover the nature and purpose of these supernatural forces, but that’s a much less interesting puzzle. Once we get into the supernatural, the rules could be whatever they want them to be.
But how long could you really keep the show going without ever moving any closer toward resolving the mysteries? This is the same problem the X-Files ran into. To keep the “are there aliens or aren’t there?” thing going, you had to keep running into more and more coincidences that might be significant. And eventually, when you’ve had about the millionth coincidence, you’re already effectively foreclosed the possibility that there’s nothing otherworldly going on.
If you don’t want the show to lose interest, there has to be a payoff. People keep watching a show like this because they want to know what’s going on. And they want to know because they’re driven by the very primal human need for narrative – and narrative implies conflicts that get resolved. The ambiguity is fun for a while, but if ambiguity were all there were, and we never found out the truth, what would be the point? A story where the central conflict is never resolved is the kind of thing that sounds great in theory but doesn’t work in practice. It’s not a story without an ending. “They all got home and lived happily ever after, or maybe they all died slowly and in agony, or maybe they were all part of a weird virtual reality experiment, or maybe we never find out what happened, depending on what you the viewer choose to believe” is not an ending, and the story that ends that way isn’t a story.
Like C.S. Lewis once wrote, some people say “to travel hopefully is better than to arrive,” but if that were true, and known to be true, how could you travel hopefully?
As usual, Greg makes excellent points. I would only respond by saying that some very good stories never fully resolve their ambiguity. For example the book, Life of Pi, never resolves whether the events in the lifeboat are real or a self-protective delusion. Even the movie, Signs, which leaned heavily toward an interpretation of faith and purpose, leaves open the door to other explanations (e.g. maybe the asthma was just an incredible piece of good luck).
I agree that not all ambiguity can remain unresolved if stories are to advance. But did they have to resolve this big ambiguity so early and in this way?
Wait, what “big ambiguity” was resolved this week? Jack and Claire both saw their dead father, but Jack had seen the father on the island early in the first season (right?).
When Jack saw his father in the first season, we could believe (as he did) that it was a delusion. Now (meaning in the last few episodes) Hurley has seen him in Jacob’s cabin, and it can’t be Hurley’s delusion because he wouldn’t know what Chirstian Shepard looks like. And Claire sees him, although Claire would know what Christian loos like. Lastly, in the preview for next week we see a charcter say that he’s been dead for 12 years.
There can no longer be any doubt. Dead people are walking around, talking to people, etc…
Previous episodes of Lost include a magical island that heals paralysis and cancer, a “monster” made of of smoke, a character who has visions of the future, time travel/time warp, a character who is invisible, a character who can speak with spirits of the dead, magical numbers than will win you the lottery but curse you, and an obese character who can’t lost weight despite being stranded on a tropical island with a limited food supply.
Your threshold for “supernatural” must be a little higher than mine.
But how do we know that it’s not time travel of some sort? Which could still be supernatural, of course.
You can get away with a lot in a novel (Life of Pi) that you can’t get away with in a movie or TV show. A novel is a book, so it doesn’t have to rely on the story to accomplish its purpose. A TV show isn’t a book, so you have nothing but the story to rely on. It’s no coicidence that the attempt to make Life of Pi into a movie was scrapped (excuse me, “put on hold”).
Don’t you remember Adaptation? Everything I really needed to know, I learned from Spike Jonze.
One thing I meant to mention in my earlier comment: I’m glad that they’re not going to drag out the love triangles forever. The Juliet/Kate rivalry is officially over, and not a moment too soon. So between that and the whole supernatural thing, I guess the lesson this week is “Don’t be the X-Files.”
I agree with Greg- I checked out on the X-Files after the movie. The truth may have been out there, but I got bored to death waiting for them to tell us what it was.
They have fixed an endpoint for the show, which is a good thing. Now if someone could explain what that Smoke creature is, I’d be a happy camper.
Good point. But they have almost always left open the door to a rational explanation. It has been suggested that the smoke monster is some sort of security system. Just because we don’t know how it works or who controls it doesn’t mean that it is supernatural. I don’t know how transporter beams work in Star Trek but we don’t have to think of it as supernatural. Similarly, the rationalists among us have been able to cling (with difficulty) to the notion that the mysteries of the island are sci-fi, not supernatural.
You’re probably right that they did cross a line this week that they hadn’t crossed before. I just don’t regret that they crossed it.
But if you draw a hard and fast distinction between “sci-fi” and “supernatural,” that ambiguity is still open. As Stuart pointed out, time travel could account for the appearance of “dead” people without the need for a “supernatural” explanation.