SCIENCE FICTION UNIVERSITY:Staying Lost

Charlie W. Starr
Charlie W. Starr's picture

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 11/24/09

The tail goes one way and the head another. Locke stands up and helps; then, by firelight, the invisible dino-tron rips trees from the roots and Merriadoc cum Charlie says, “Terrific” but isn’t very happy. We watch the flashback twenty times or so, letting character thicken plot. The rain—“day turning into night, end of the world type weather”—is a baptism. Forty-eight survivors plus one, not including the Captain who wakes and dies (from one flight too many) so he can get back to Alias. And that’s only the first hour.

Re:vision

Jack and Kate lead without leadership (after she puts him in stitches on the side), though he sees dead man walking and she’s a criminal. Bears and boars hound them though Vincent survives without a scratch and with quite a gloss on his coat. Sayid works on a boom box to capture Rousseau’s chart topper—sixteen years and playing strong. Claire dehydrates, so the survivors split—beach from cave. Locke begins his lessons when Charlie becomes a moth. He takes FATE into his own hand (only to lose FAT later one letter at a time ala Hansel and Gretel bread crumbs). And though Shannon can’t breathe to save her life, Hurley’s greatest huffings and puffings can’t lose him a single pound (though they do manage him a nice golf course).
Sawyer is as conniving as his fence painting namesake Tom, but Locke is more shaman than was philosopher John, and Sayid is an Iraqi Republican Guard torturer with a conscience and a noble heart. The woman from Babylon 5 leaves more questions than answers. Claire dreams the truth, not in time for Hurley to make his list and check it twice. It doesn’t matter that Ethan Rom (who has no connection to Wharton’s Ethan Frome as far as I can tell) looks a thirty-something waspy geek—he can kidnap a nuclear family, beat the best trackers, beat Jack to the ground and put caution in Locke’s step.
Jack hates his father, Boone has sex with his sister, Claire is a single mom to a messianic baby, Michael is dad brand new to a pre-teen psychic son who knows what not to open—the bird flies into the sliding glass door and dies anyway, like Walt’s mom, Jack’s dad, Kate’s love, Sawyer’s childhood, Sayid’s Muslim beauty (or so it at first seems), and Rousseau’s child.
The hatch is Boone’s bane and Locke’s unlockable puzzle. The numbers are a combination to Hurley’s fortunate curse. As for the briefcase Kate finds taking a bath (a cheeky ploy for ratings, no doubt), it has a key (buried with the dead Marshall, but they are both soon dug up). Now, Charlie can blow Ethan away, payback for Ethan’s having killed him the first time. Loose Shannon has the hots for a man from a sexist, fundamentalist culture who has lost the love of his life. And he has the hots back? Well, at least she can read French.
Sun and Jin (whose food makes Claire’s baby kick) talk in subtitles till she reveals her secret. They had a dog once—payment for a stay of contracted execution. She grows plants while he and Michael beat the crap out of each other, then make up and build a raft twice. They have less trouble communicating in two languages than husband and wife do in one. Jin teaches Hurley to fish but Jin won’t pee on him.
Claire saves herself, allowing Charlie to put her diary down which is good since she can’t remember a thing. Sawyer shows up in everyone else’s flashbacks, even the mystic pig’s. His headaches redefine nerd glasses. Locke builds the baby a cradle and himself a trebuchet, loses his kidney to the guy from Emergency, almost loses his legs again, and sees the light, though it costs Boone his life after breaking the Madonna and talking to someone else claiming to be the survivors of Flight 815. Then the baby is born and the guy who always plays a sinister spy ring-leader in the movies (Long Kiss Goodnight, The Bourne Identity, X-Men 2) narrates the recap episode to suck the rest of America in.
There’s a moment when everyone wants Locke dead, even Shannon (though before she’d sarcastically referred to her only technically incestuous un-brother as “God’s friggin gift to humanity”). Sayid, it turns out, ended terrorism in Australia. Sawyer’s reading ends the baby’s tears. Walt’s the saboteur who has a change of heart. Rousseau sees smoke that warns of the Others, takes them to the “Black Rock,” and takes the baby. Jin and Sun play make up while Artz—suddenly a new, old character out of beach survivor obscurity—plays with dynamite and blows himself up.
The Dark Territory—more questions than answers; Locke loves the security system. The raft is launched. The Others come by sea—turns out it was the wrong child. Everyone got on the plane in some strange way. They blow the hatch and it’s secret is revealed: a long row of rungs and a cliff hanger.
And that’s only the first season.

Comments and Questions

They began almost immediately: the Lost boys (and girls) plunging into the adventure as far from primitive jungles as possible: the virtual reality, the internet super highway. Labeled “Losties,” they’ve plumbed the mysteries and pointed out the inconsistencies together on the world wide web. Some have said the survivors didn’t— they’re all dead and the island is Purgatory or Limbo (or worse). After all, Jack says, “Three days ago we all died” and therefore doesn’t want to know what Kate did before the crash. How could polar bears survive there, and why didn’t they eat the one they killed? Australians keep correcting Americans on accents, idioms, spellings, geography, and which side of the road to drive on. How can people who’ve survived a crash be so healthy and healed?
The dead couple at the bottom of the lagoon couldn’t still be holding hands. The camera crew appears in brief, freeze-frame-and-you’ll-see-them shots (as noted by the truly anal retentive) all throughout the series. Perhaps Walt’s supernatural abilities are the origin of the strange island phenomena: he reads a Spanish comic book with a polar bear in it, and then is attacked by one (and that comic has aliens in it too!). Did Vincent survive the crash (or return to life) by Walt’s power? The baby is named “Aaron” in the season finale titled “Exodus”—they haven’t wandered the island wilderness forty years, but it has been forty days.
Dino-tron is actually (or apparently) a whiff of black cloud—is it a collection of nano-bots? The island may be a government experiment gone terribly wrong, a kind of Area 51 left on automatic to run its out of control experiments. Or it may be Captain Nemo’s Mysterious Island—the base from which he launched the Nautilus twenty thousand leagues ago. Or perhaps it’s a Disney theme park gone awry (who names their kid “Walt” anymore?), the hatch a doorway to Tomorrow Land, the “Black Rock” a prop for Pirates of the Caribbean (where the dynamite is live and unstable). They could be caught in a parallel universe, a recurring time-loop, a limbo-place between times—perhaps that’s what Michael means when he says, “Time doesn’t matter on a damn island!” Is it an alien experiment, an ark created by God to preserve a group of people from a worldwide apocalyptic disaster—alien attack, meteor strike, plague?
I like the various virtual reality theories: while their bodies are held in technology induced comas, their minds experience the island—when they die, they return to their bodies and wake up; or it’s all a dream, or it’s a VR game, or it’s a game show—Survivor gone Twilight Zone in which the players don’t know they’re playing a game. But many insist that it’s all real, sometimes adamantly so: “It’s all real; real, Real, Real!”—forgetting, I guess, that it’s actually only a TV show.
The island may be moving, may be a Japanese stronghold from World War II, a refuge for survivors of a nuclear war—sent by some benevolent, though conspiratorial government, or even an old forgotten European mining colony wherein the miner’s descendants have some how become technologically more advanced than the rest of the world. There have been connections to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (the plane an albatross?), Saint John’s Apocalypse (baby Aaron the anti-Christ?), and Disney’s Finding Nemo (Rousseau’s song, “La Mer”). And let’s not forget Watership Down which figured prominently in Donnie Darko which suggests maybe the parallel universe theory isn’t so strange after all. As for the numbers, they have more connections than can be counted—but someone on the net did.
What’s up with Ana Lucia, the box next to Locke’s bed (called “Locke’s Box” on the internet, and no one misses the fact that he worked for a box company before the crash)? And what’s the deal with the cable Sayid finds, with there being any survivors from a plane falling from thirty thousand feet in the first place, and with the Others? My favorite Others theory has them as telepathic telekinetics, drawing people like themselves (i.e. Walt) to the island. And the most interesting insight to me is the point that all the survivors are either fatherless or have severe issues with their dads, a theme at the heart of American story telling since the colonials flew from the lands of their fathers for an ocean voyage to an unknown place.
There’s the hatch, the child, the Others, the numbers, the monster, and the island’s seeming sentient will (hmm…six numbers, six mysteries…) and in the end we’re left with nothing certain but 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 and the one theory that hasn’t yet been suggested.
Surrender
Nearly two hundred years ago, the English poet John Keats discovered the secret to Lost:
“...at once it struck, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason….This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

The secret to Lost is surrender. Negative Capability is the secret to all mystery: the ability to surrender our demand for answers and revel in the beauty of the experience, to even playfully enjoy when things stop making sense. The one theory that no one seems to be taking seriously is the theory that we’re not meant to know the answers to the island’s mysteries (at least not now). We’re supposed to enjoy the journey. That is how I’ve decided to approach the show. I’m not giving up; I’m giving in—going along for the ride.
Surrender is the key to all true knowledge. To Charlie Starr the teacher, this truth came years ago as a momentous revelation. Those of us not teaching our students to conform to the rest of society are constantly teaching them to think for themselves, to ask questions, to doubt. Such thinking has its place, but it has incredible limitations as well. I know of few teachers instructing their students in the value of surrender. A high school senior of mine (this was a millennium ago) doubted, questioned and probed everything I tried to teach her for two years until, one day two weeks before her graduation, she said, “So what you’re saying is…” and she beautifully summarized the theory of literature I’d so long been trying to get her to understand. I said, “Yes, that’s it exactly,” and I saw the light turn on in her eyes, the guard fall in her smile. In the next three months, by e-mail, I was able to teach her more than I ever could in person the previous two years. Granted the questioning, probing and doubting were what she needed to do before she could learn from me; nevertheless, it got in the way for a very long time.
My best students have never been the self-thinkers and doubters who confused true learning with thinking for themselves and doubting things. Only those brave enough to risk trust, to go past mere ideas and experience what I would teach them in a dynamic relationship have ever really learned from me or the literature and movies I share with them. Only those willing to surrender. It is a risk, no doubt. But it’s one I’ve taken myself, finding that there’s no other way to survive the island of mystery without going mad. Let analysis and doubt come later—they should. What has to happen first, though, is the experience of wonder and mystery—coming to truth through the beauty of surrender.
As Seen on TV
It’s the lesson of the island from the very beginning: don’t try to find out what the monster is; don’t fight or run from it at all (and whatever you do, don’t poke your head out of the cockpit window to get a look at the thing!). Don’t go looking for Ethan on his turf; Claire will come back on her own (though the intensity of the experience will keep her from being able to recall what happened). Forget about torture—you can’t demand answers to the island’s mysteries. At best all torture will get you is a cheesy pick-up line (“Baby I’m tied to a tree in a jungle of mystery,”) and a kiss from Kate.
The light from the hatch suggests that it’s meant to be opened; the numbers suggest it’s not. But to force knowledge through violence or violation rather than surrendering to locked mysteries will doubtless prove perilous. In a poem by the German poet, Friedrich von Schiller, a youth who would have all knowledge comes to the temple of Isis at Sais where a great statue of the goddess stands, her face covered with a veil. According to the temple priests, the one for whom the goddess lifts the veil will learn all truth, but woe to him who comes to knowledge by guilt. Unable to wait for the understanding that comes through the long process of contemplating the mystery of the veiled form, the youth sneaks into the temple at night and lifts the veil. The result: he loses the joy of living for the remainder of his days, and the anguish in his heart leads him to an early grave.
Pardon the pun, but Locke is the key, even if he violates his own understanding in leading Boone to his death and then blowing the hatch open. He teaches Charlie to surrender addiction, Boone to surrender his sister, Michael and Claire to surrender their suspicions—and always by some experiential method that demands surrender, a way of learning that is indirect, unclear to the rational mind, but crystal clear in the impact of what it reveals. He understands, even if he can’t always follow the way of surrender himself, that the island’s mysteries cannot be discovered; they must be revealed. Boone learns this lesson from Locke so well that he dies with it: he teaches Jack to surrender control when Jack is so adamant about saving Boone that he pumps his own blood into him and almost cuts off his leg. Says Boone: “Let me go Jack. I’m letting you off the hook.” Jack had to surrender.
And so must we all. Locke tells Charlie, “The island can give you what you’re looking for, but you have to give something back.” And he’s telling us: we must wait and see and, until season two takes us further along, stop, surrender and revel in the mystery. Don’t go on the raft, out on the sea of internet trivia-lizing, desperately searching to be rescued from the frustrations of questions without answer. Wait. Just wait. The island will show us the way. It’s showing us its most important mystery right now. The secret is in staying Lost.

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