Monday, May 24, 2010

Life, Death, and Rebirth

The finale of Lost was done superbly. I cried. I can't wait to someday re-watch the whole series!

In the episode previous to the finale, Jacob, who had been resurrected temporarily by the act of burning his cremation ashes, explained to Kate, Hurley, Jack, and Sawyer about someone needing to take over the role of island protector. In doing so, he said that he had been appointed and chosen to take on this role but wished he had had a choice. Jacob asked if anyone would be willing to take over the role, and Jack volunteered. Jacob then went through the ritual of having Jack drink from a cup. It seemed Jacob might have turned some water into wine, but we're never sure. We go into the finale knowing that Jack is taking over the role of island protector.

Watefall in Lost

We also learned that Desmond would be a failsafe for Man in Black's opposing role of destroying the island. We already know Desmond is like the timecop or something, and can travel back and forth not only through time but between the island and the rest of the world.

Rose and Bernard make a cameo, still living on the island happily with the dog Vince. Meanwhile, Charles Widmore and Zoe are still on the island doing something. We're still never sure of their complete intentions, though it is clear that Widmore is interested in preserving the island. We just don't know if it's because of greed and desire of power or something more honorable.
In the finale, we have Jack and Flocke meeting in a final showdown, where Jack must protect the island and Flocke (or Man in Black) must destroy it. The heart of the island is through the bamboo forest where Jack first opened his eyes when Oceanic 815 crashed. Past the bamboo forest is the well with the tunnel/waterfall leading down to the intensive light. In this showdown, Desmond is also needed. He is the failsafe, the only one who can withstand the electromagnetic radiation emanating from this bright core of the island. Flocke and Jack, though they have different objectives at this point, are working together to help Desmond down into the tunnel and believe Desmond will accomplish one of their two biddings. Jack believes Desmond can protect the island; Flocke believes Desmond will destroy it .

Meanwhile, Hurley and Ben are left behind and not allowed to the final showdown. Kate and Sawyer are attempting to get back to the other island, where Miles and Richard are also headed in an outrigger. They think they need to blow up the plane to disallow Flocke leaving the island, since they have been told if he leaves the island the world is doomed. While rowing across the water, they stumble upon Frank Lapidus, who survived the submarine blast and is drifting on a life jacket. Now that the pilot is alive, they don't have to destroy the plane, just  fly away without Flocke.

While these things are going on, a beautiful flash sideways story is happening. Desmond has been busy gathering the main people from the 815 crash together. In these acts of getting them together, it is shown that memories of the islands are sparked when people touch. This was a great side-story. 

The island on the other side of reality was tying up the structure created by the the whole arc of the long fight between Jacob and Man in Black, complete with us knowing that their rules were lines drawn in the sand. Jacob had made his own  rules about things: who could leave the island, for instance. Even his rules about who would replace him, and why candidates were crossed off the list, were not that important. He had crossed Kate's name off the list, for instance, and told her it was just a line of chalk, because she had become a mother in raising Aaron, but that she still had the choice of becoming the island protector.

The side-story dealt with reunions off the island. The  flash sideways in season 6 brought forth a confusing third timeline--that is, we had a main 2004 timeline and then a 1970s Dharmaville timeline and then this third  flash sideways timeline. I believe I likened these before to what happened, what could have happened, and what should happen. In the sideways, there's the exciting promise that these characters will get together again somehow, in someway. Desmond is there as the catalyst for seeing that that happens, and Hurley is helping him too.

Trust me, I'll talk more on this later, because there was really only one timeline on the island after all.

Miles and Sawyer are cops, so the arrests of Kate and Sayid for separate incidents lands all four at the jail in the LAPD station. 

Ben and John Locke have gotten to know each other via the school they teach at, where funnily also was science teacher Arzt from the island, who had counseled Michael when he built the raft back at the island. Jin and Sun are not married in this sideways time, but are having an affair and find out that Sun is pregnant.

Miles' dad Pierre, who was the narrator for the Dharma orientation videos, works at a museum along with Charlotte Lewis.

Daniel Faraday in the sideways is Daniel Widmore, son of Eloise and Charles, just like in "real life", except he is not a mathematician but a piano player.

Charlie is a junkie, and in his band Driveshaft.

Boone and Shannon show up in the timeline, as does Libby who meets up with Hurley, a successful owner of Mr. Cluck's Chicken.

Claire is pregnant in this timeline and meets up with Jack after the death of Christian, because they understand now that they are brother and sister. Jack has a son.

Slowly, as this alternate time is revealed, we see similar dispositions of all these people, but no true recognition that they ever knew each other from the island. It is Desmond's job to make them remember, by getting them together in manners where they would touch each other, whereupon the memories would come flooding back like old videos.

The finale weaved its way back and forth between the island and this other timeline.

The heart of the island is down in an old-looking tomb or something, where a waterfall feeds, and is a very bright ambient light stone centered in a pool of water. It was hard to make out what was down there. Definitely some skeletons, so we figure Man in Black wasn't the first or last to enter this dangerous place of "life, death, and rebirth."

Desmond has to go down and fix things. Desmond, Mr. Failsafe, is somehow immune to being destroyed by the electro-magnetism in this light.

Once Desmond removes the bright stone, which also serves as the symbolic cork in Jacob's previous wine bottle analogy, the water disappears and this old room is filled with fires below, which begin to erupt like a volcano, reflecting a destructive power, possibly hell. The island begins to self-destruct, with cliffs crumbling and ground shaking. We already know that the destruction of the island would make it sink underwater. It was very clear in this scene the idea of life-giving water and death-giving fire. It reminded me of the "Fire Plus Water" episode back in Season 2, when Charlie was so convinced that Aaron must be baptized and saved. Turns out, once this light is put out, both Jack and Flocke become mortal. But there is still the possibility Flocke will take his boat over to the other island and get on the plane and leave, unleashing his evil on the world.

In the end, Jack and Kate kill Flocke; Jack gives Hurley the role as protector; Hurley appoints Ben as role number 2 protector; Richard finally has a gray hair, a sign of aging!; Sawyer, Claire, Kate, Lapidus, and Miles successfully make it o ff the island; Jack goes back into the well to reignite the light; Hurley and Ben pull Desmond up with the rope Jack used to climbed down the well; and Jack died as the water and light returned, as well as all that electromagnetism.

Last remaining Dharma symbol on Oahu

The circle becomes complete in this framework. In the pilot episode Jack had opened his eyes to the bamboo forest while the dog, Vincent, came up to say hello. In the end, he closed his eyes with the bamboo trees waving high in the island wind and the plane Lapidus was flying safely off the ground headed toward home. Vincent once again joined Jack.

The other story in what we thought was an alternate timeline during the 6th season ended too, with the main characters reuniting both in this alternate reality and finally in a church, after their deaths. The ending was poignant, beautiful, and moving. I will always haunted by Lost's final scenes and the entire series.

The reunion church itself is an inter-faith sort of church. There is a banner at the church showing many religions. I remember seeing a Buddha, Jewish candles, angels, a cross with Jesus, and so on. I think the aim of Lost was simply to show that dying is a process, in a time, a place in which many times spirituality enters and people are moved to forgive, forget, love, and remember those who touched their lives in whatever religious or even non-religious lives people have. In this room were several of the main characters, who had remembered their island connections after Desmond pushed them toward their "constants" (pushed their buttons!): Jin/Sun and (possibly?) Juliet remembered the pregnancy on the island; Claire, Kate, and Charlie connected when Claire gave birth to Aaron; Jack's constant was his seeing his father's coffin again, though he also had a close encounter to a flashback when he fixed Locke's spinal cord; Juliet and Sawyer connected upon touching each other near a hospital vending machine; Sayid and Shannon found each other when Sayid intercepted a guy accosting Shannon outside a club; Daniel and Charlotte may have reconnected, or would; and so on.
Inside the church, Christian tells Jack that "There is no now here."

I think the process of death was an act of lingering inside the church with loved ones. That time was not time as we know it in linear space, but another layer of life before "moving on". I'll go into more on this in a second, but we do learn that the "what should be" or flash sideways timeline I discussed in my blog often was not real at all. This alternate universe, or whatever you want to call it, did not happen. I am not sure I'm equipped to explain the un-reality of this timeline, only that it seems to be a construct before death and rebirth, where the characters would find each other so they could remember their time on the island together, with Desmond being the catalyst for making sure they remembered. Without these connections, the world would not end necessarily, unless the other part of Lost's structure about the Man in Black opening some universal Pandora's box had occurred, but these people might have died alone. 

Remember Jack  from season 1. "We'll live together, or we'll die alone." Let's talk about the process of death and rebirth now. 

First, death itself is a process of shutting down and dying. It can be a slow process. People who have died and come back to life can often report visual and other sensory perceptions after death. While these of course can be explained scientifically, I'm not sure scientific explanations completely cover everything. When my father died last year, for instance, he'd been non-responsive for nearly 5 days, but right before his death he looked at Mom and tried to speak. The idea of your life flashing before your eyes when dying may be a similar process, at least symbolically, represented by the flashes of memories found in the sixth season "unreality timeline". The flashes before your eyes trope exists often in Lost.

I think it's important to forget time as we know it and liken it to a dream. A dream may seem long and detailed but be really only a  flash of memories lasting a few seconds. 

I remember once asking Dad about what heaven was, and what if he died way before me, then would he not remember me when I got there? He'd once had a dream about what heaven was like, and said it was full of the most beautiful lakes and rivers. He said that the eternity of heaven would be unfathomable to our human minds, and that many years in heaven would be similar to a mere second on earth. This was from his Christian perspective, though the scripture itself has two views: one being that the soul sleeps until judgment day, when all souls enter their afterlife at once, and the other being that upon death the soul will be judged and sent to heaven or hell immediately. Sounds more like a physics lesson in time and space.

Lost's story begs, "what happened, happened," with the only real timelines being the main one (2004) and then the Dharmaville time travel one (1970s), which were really equal to one timeline since they both happened.

Lost contains metaphors for life, death, and rebirth, rebirth being not what happens just after physical death, but what happens after spiritual death. Redemption. I think the surreality of the area in time and/or space that the main characters gathered in the flash sideways signifies a holding place, some sort of purgatory, "soul sleep", crossing over to the Third Realm, Bardo, Limbo, or what have you; many religions denote a certain period of crossing over before entering some other side. Some other life. Christian Shepherd said it was not "leaving," just "moving on".

I think it's interesting, by the way, that recorded Near Death Experiences have concluded that people's experiences when they die are based on their memories and ideas, not on something else. Christians might see a biblical heaven, Catholics something else, Buddhists something else, etc. (A person's upbringing has a lot to do with what they see in afterlife experiences.) So it isn't really surprising that Lindelof/Carlton had this sideways universe that actually was a construct of the characters, a place to meet with those they experienced the most important parts of their life with. It's an interesting and sort of complex idea, but I liked it.
Final Church in Lost, photographed by Mary Woodbury

Inside the church were Jack, Christian (who moved on through a door where a bright light shown on the other side), Kate, Claire, Aaron, Charlie, Sayid, Shannon, Boone, Rose, Bernard, Juliet, Sawyer, Desmond, Penny, Sun, Jin, Miles, Hurley, Libby, and so on. It was clear these people had died, though as Christian had said, "Everyone dies sometime, kiddo," meaning they had not all died at the same time; but this \when" at the church was after their deaths, in a place set apart from time as we know it.

Since the flash sideways wasn't real, we can assume that people like Hurley, Ben, Rose, Bernard, and Desmond died on the island, or possibly back home if they found a way off, after the finale. Jack's death simply marked this bittersweet end. On the island, the reality of what happened means that Juliet had already died as had Jin, Sun, Charlotte, Daniel, Charlie, Alex, Danielle, Michael, Ilana, Shannon, Boone, Widmore, Zoe, Ana Lucia, Mr. Eko, Yemi, other Others, Dharma, and Kahana people, including any shipwrecked scientists and researchers and redshirts along the way. I think Michael wasn't at the church because he was still on the island doing whispers (had died). I don't really know! It was a shame that Walt wasn't at the final reunion either. He had such a good relationship with John Locke while on the island.

Note from later: It was good to see Walt offered a job on the island in the epilogue.

We can assume that Kate, Claire, Charlie, Aaron, Sayid, Lapidus, Miles, Richard, and Penny lived their lives in the off-island world, but we really aren't treated to the knowledge of those lives, because what matters in the end is this group of people reunites and remembers their redemptive period on the island, which is what "matters most". It is also significant that when they meet after death, they are not older, just the same age (including baby Aaron) that they were when they remembered their connections. I thought this a moving experience.
I questioned to myself about why Ben did not join the others in the church. People have said that maybe he wasn't ready to let go, or that he hadn't fully reconnected his alternative timeline (with Alex and Danielle), but remember that that timeline wasn't real. Remember also that the church reunion happened later in time, but there's that strange time dilemma wherein there is a process of dying and some stage at which when you go, others you love are around you--these many years of difference have no meaning. Unless Ben was mortal, he would've died too and been in this group. He would have already let go. I don't buy the fact the island experiences weren't the most memorable of his life. Why wasn't he ready?

It was clear to me that Ben, who loved the island, and who was Hurley's "protector 2", had to go back to, or stay on, the island after Hurley died. We don't know why Hurley would have died, but that doesn't matter. I think it's important to know that the island lives on with its protector. And Ben, whose heart is with the island always, is the new immortal protector who will keep that role as long as he can. This is my theory anyway. Just because Lost never went down the path of excavating all the details of corporate interest in the island, such as Paik, Hanslo, and Widmore industries (surely, there were others in these  industries who would take over and know of the island--saying something about corporate interests having possibly too much power), it would seem that the island would need to have eternal protection from corruption. It never was completely destroyed. It would have been possible for Ben to take part in this constructed reality that Desmond worked at in order to form these reunited connections. Why would he do that? To say good bye to his friends? To check in on Danielle and Alex? All of the above? Who knows: he can make his own rules now.

P.S. Nobody else agrees on this theory. They say Ben wasn't ready to join the others in death because he had too many things to work out., like with Alex and Danielle possibly, but I still think he could've already done that like everyone else who had lived full lives after Jack died. It just seems he was immortal at this point, a very long-term island protector or something. But that's what Ben always wanted. He loved the island! I could be wrong, and probably am. Maybe I'm just hopeful the island is eternal and is protected by someone like Ben who has redeemed himself.

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