Becoming: a brief Philosophical Examination of the TV Series Lost

I am well aware that the TV series Lost ended over four years ago and this examination is long overdue,

but I recently re-watched the series and as it just concluded last night I had an Ah Ha moment and I think I have put it all together in my head.

If you have seen the series then you are well aware that there are many, and I mean MANY, components and I will do my best to cover what I feel is important. I will break this up into parts, as there are many layers to this examination and I am going to do my best to make easy to follow.

Part 1, the title:

In the second to last episode Jacob tells the main characters that they were selected to go to the island because in their regular life they were struggling to make it work, struggling to find meaning and hope. They needed the island, as much as it needed them. This is key to understanding the entire series in a broad strokes sort of way: it is the quest for meaning, in a purely existential way. Martin Heidegger in History proposes that humans are thrown into existence and this metaphorical thrownness is what helps explain the angst and confusion of human existence[1]. Geworfen is the German word for ‘thrownness’ and is sometimes translated as ‘abandonment’, or in other words Lost. Heidegger goes on to claim that existence can be broken into two categories, which he calls authentic: when a person is living a life of their own choice or inauthentic: when a person is living a life that is pre-destined[2].   The former category does allude to having freedom of self, but the reality is being is comprised of both parts. This is the core of the angst of human existence and this is why they are Lost.

 Part 2, plane-crash reality:

As the series is a quest for meaning I am going to categorize the (3) story lines as follows: (1) the story that would have happened if the show never happened, which is essentially everything that happened before the plane, we will call this their pre-show reality, (2) the reality that includes them getting on the plane and crashing, living on the island and then leaving and then returning and then engaging in a good versus evil battle and then escaping on a plane— I’ll call this the plane-crash reality and (3) the reality that took place after they went back in time and altered history to make it so the plane never crashed in the first place— I’ll call that the did-not-crash reality. Before I delve into my examination of the island I wanted to clarify that this section will only be covering reality #2.

The island is, in essence, a big giant metaphor for life. It represents the inauthentic life, a life that is pre-destined and it is filled with have to’s. Examining the island from Lacanian psychoanalytic theory it can be broken up into the following components:

  1. Jacob
  2. Black Smoke
  3. The others
  4. The subjects (main characters)

Jacob and the Black Smoke, which represent Good and Evil can be viewed as a mirror image of humanity, in of itself.  It holds within it all the attributes of human existence. In Lacanian language this would represent The Imagination from registry theory, or in other words the ego or the reflected (mirrored) self. The others represent The Symbolic, which is natural structures, laws, norms, rules and practices. Despite the wild-west nature of the island, The Others have laws, symbols, traditions, hierarchy and all things symbolic, including language (as they are all speak Latin). And in relation to the subject the Others could be seen as the Big Other[3], which is the symbol for the symbolic structure, or the overarching ideological power of society, or in Hegelian language: the “objective spirit”[4].

Between The Others, subjects, black smoke and Jacob there is not really any entity that is better from an ethical position. In fact all the lines of ethics are completely blurred between all these parties, as they all seem to be in a constant state of conflict, or power. Equally taking part in what Nietzsche called passive and active nihilism[5]: in a state of completely diffused and broken down morality— a state of complete anomie, as if the characters are in a transitory rite of passage[6]. (insert foreshadowing)

This complex and dynamic relationship between the different entities on the island can easily be seen as analogous to current events:

Jacob = Israeli’s

Black Smoke = ISIS (or Palestinian fundamentalists)

The Others = are Western Society, United States and Capitalism (Symbolic Structure)

Illustrating that they are in a timeless battle of good versus evil, with all the inherent contradictions and complications that always ensue.

And as I mentioned earlier, Jacob chose them because they lacked meaning in their life and he gave them a life of meaning. A life worth sacrificing for, as Jack, Desmond, Charlie and John Locke all do. Even Jack, with his biblical like sacrifice at the end– just like Jesus. They all became archetypal heroes in a journey against evil. And in this, they found meaning.

Part 3, they did-not-crash reality:

As stated earlier, Being, according to Heidegger, is both the authentic and inauthentic existence, and it’s only right that if we have the metaphorical inauthentic existence, we need to have the metaphorical authentic existence as well. As Jacks father Christian explains in the final episode, this reality was “created by them”, and they “built it”. In other words, it was reality built of their own freedom, their own will and without any pre-destined notions by external forces.  In this reality instead of finding meaning in ridding the world of evil, they are finding meaning in human connection, or more so, in each other.   Almost as if their life went from no meaning to too much meaning and they resolved with the synthesis of perfect meaning. 

Part 4, the end:

If you have been following along then you can guess that we will continue on with more metaphors, even in the end. As life seen from a Hegelian point of view is monist and comprised of one single entity: spirit, which is the product of everything— the infinite. In this position of absolute idealism, where everything is the same— there is no good or evil, no right or wrong, no past and future, no life and death. Everything that is everything lives in the void of space that lives between everything.

In other words, Lost is about the process of being Born (tossed on the island), living a life that is both authentic and inauthentic at the exact same time, and all the while, trying to find meaning and purpose. It’s about living among powerful ideologies that are always struggling for your allegiance and loyalty.  And lastly, it’s about recognizing your authentic self and finding freedom in Being.  

In short, Lost, is a metaphor for the human condition.

 


 

[1] Heidegger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. Print.

[2] Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: Harper, 1962. Print.

[3] Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. New York: Norton, 1977. Print.

[4] Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, and Arnold V. Miller. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford [England: Clarendon, 1977. Print.

[5] Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Walter Arnold Kaufmann. The Will to Power. New York: Random House, 1967. Print.

[6] Durkheim, Emile. Suicide. 1970. Print.

 

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