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Lost, Community, and Narrative

2010 May 27

Lost-Last-Supper-1It’s been a busy week around here and while I originally told myself I wouldn’t do this, I feel like writing something about the Lost finale since it’s all I’ve been thinking about this past week. Let me say upfront, that I fall into the “I loved the finale” camp. Even now, I have a hard time thinking about it without getting choked up by the final scene in the church. Sure, there were a lot of mysteries left unresolved, but the finale moved us beyond the need to master and understand the Lost universe. To leave no loose ends would have turned Lost into a formula to be packaged instead of the story about life and community that it was. But then again, I’m a Christian; my day to day life is about following a path of unresolved mysteries written about in book full of loose ends. I think my life would feel hollow if everything I did or believed or if every person I met or event I attended made perfect rational sense or fit seamlessly into a narrative arc with a structured plotline. Lost subverted the standard trite entertainment storyline, and left those mysteries wide open, leaving us with a story that pushed the boundaries of what modern storytelling is even allowed to do.

Lost, a story about the redemptive power of community, forced the viewer to enter into the communal act of storytelling. Instead of consuming a product that told us what to think or enjoy, or even what questions we should be asking, Lost provided the space for the viewers to participate in the unfolding narrative. Our story intersected with the stories of the passengers of Oceanic flight 815; who we were, what we valued, what truths mattered to us simply became another thread in the developing story. The questions we had, the mysteries we debated were not thrust upon us by the writers of the show, but formed through the community brought together around the common center that was Lost. The finale gave us a glimpse of how important a community formed around a certain event can become, and invited us as viewers to continue to create meaning out of the never ending intersection of our own stories.

This isn’t what TV is supposed to be about; this isn’t what modern storytelling is even about. And it’s certainly not what the modern American individualist has been conditioned to be all about. But the way Lost captured our attention and the way it (especially the finale) connected us on a visceral level to the longing to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves demonstrated that perhaps “the way things are” is not how they are meant to be. “Live together or die alone” was a central theme to the series, utterly undercutting the messages most of us have been taught to believe our whole lives. Participating in community, understanding the world and even our whole lives as communal rather than individual acts, is unsettling and challenging to some, but spoke to the hearts of millions of viewers who were all wanting to be part of something more. Perhaps it is just that Lost was truly the first postmodern television series, but it took the pieces of what was expected of a TV drama, and handed them to the audience to hold in faith. That act of trust allowed us to then step outside the binds of convention and discover larger truths that held far more meaning than a momentary “a-ha” ever could have dreamt of.

In reflecting on these themes in the Lost finale, I was reminded of this paragraph from Colin Greene and Martin Robinson’s book Metavista: Bible, Church, and Mission in an Age of Imagination

The world we inhabit is a labyrinth of unfinished narratives, stories and plots. As we intentionally or accidentally bump into them and enter these often strange, perplexing and disquieting worlds, so we become implicated in their intertwining, overlapping, sometimes imploding and at other times rapidly expanding plots and subplots. As George Steiner contends, we may have to make a wager on transcendence, that there is in fact a hidden code, teleology, or design to these narratives that it is our task to decipher. But to do so necessitates that we construe the text, the story or the plot in a particular fashion. To refuse to do so as individuals and communities is to refuse to indwell the text and to become hearers only of the word and not doers (Jas. 1:24-25). In other words, what has taken place is a failure of constructive imagination.

Lost has changed the way television works. Sure, the old patterns of merely entertaining an audience and feeding them the nightly moral of the story will continue. But with this one show, we were invited to not just reflect on the nature of community but to enter into the communal act of creating our own meaning out of our intersecting threads. Our entire life experience – the books we’ve read, the films we’ve viewed, the philosophies we’ve debated, the religious paths we’ve trod – contributed to the construction of this particular narrative. We had to take that wager on transcendence and were rewarded with a mirror into our own souls. Storytelling must change in the postmodern world as our apparent interconnectedness is unavoidable. Lost was the herald of that change.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. May 28, 2010

    The mystery of the island was what drew me into the Lost story, and it’s what kept me coming back for 6 years. Aside from a couple interesting individuals like Ben and Locke, I didn’t care much about the characters. So I’m sure it’s understandable when I say that the last few episodes of the series, and particularly the finale, brought me to a point of removing Lost from my list of favourite TV shows from my Facebook page. It makes me question whether I should keep watching Fringe since, after both the Lost and Alias finales, I’m seriously questioning J.J. Abrams’ ability to end a series well.

  2. Mick Bradley permalink
    May 28, 2010

    I have very little to add, except to say “Wow”, and that I’m really thankful that you decided to go ahead and write this post. You nailed it.

  3. May 28, 2010

    Thanks so much for the great post. I have been a huge fan of the show and I, too, loved the finale. In fact, I am still beside myself over the boldness that the writers and producers exhibited by not sinking to making the series about something less than redemption, reconciliation and community.

  4. Colleen permalink
    May 28, 2010

    You put into words exactly what I have been thinking for the past week. This was & will always be one of my all time favorite shows. And, I too, am in the community of loving the finale. Thank you for a great post.

  5. May 29, 2010

    I have never watched this show yet yours is the second review I’ve read. The first was from a conservative evangelical who had a very different read on the finale. After his review I was no more inclined to watch Lost than to watch the New York Stock Exchange. After yours I am seriously tempted to rent each season and watch each episode. WOW

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