So maybe to a lot of people, Lost doesn’t matter. And I get that. Sadly, it’s the kind of show that if you miss out early on, there’s that sense that it’s going to take a major commitment to get caught up now. Fans of Lost are real Fans of Lost. There aren’t a lot of fence-sitters here. Lost fans don’t miss an episode. And those who aren’t fans must feel very much excluded. They’ve never been to Lost world. They’re outsiders. They’re disconnected from conversations and, today, a great deal of cultural hubbub.
So I am going to make an argument, perhaps to the wind, about why Lost matters. And you don’t have to be a Lost fan to buy my argument. I’m not asking anyone to become a fan at this last hour. But I will say it’s a remarkable show, and one that has shown what television, or any art form, can aspire to.
Over the past 6 years, many stars of Lost have appeared on talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live. And the nature of the interview invariably goes like this:
Jimmy: So, what’s in the hatch? Can you tell us?
Star: Shoot, you think I know?
Jimmy: What’s with that smoke monster, huh? What is that?
Star: Beats me!
To anyone watching from the outside, it seems that the premise of Lost is just to confuse people, to raise questions maddeningly, to string people along. Why would anyone, it seems logical to ask, want to invest in a show that is so frustrating, so ambiguous?
Why indeed. If that’s what the show was, why would anyone watch it? It’s a fair question. And I have an easy answer: The show is not about questions, or answers, or mysteries. The show is about people. It has complex and compelling characters, thrust into a mysterious land that raises all of the Big Questions. In these people we see ourselves, and we see our friends. We see zealots and atheists and comedians and demons.
The Lost producers held a live Q&A a couple of nights ago, simulcast to movie theaters nation wide. I was sitting in one of those theaters, surprised at how captivating the whole exchange proved to be. The producers described in detail their creative process, the writer’s room where episode details were hashed out, all while keeping an epic story arc in mind. But time and time again, the things that mattered most to the writers were the characters.
They took questions from the audience, and they gave very few answers. They refused to spell out things in detail, either because A) it was going to become clear in tonight’s final episode, or B) they didn’t want to define things that should remain undefined. (The handbook on how not to do this comes from Star Wars, Episode I. Remember midichlorians? Those are the microorganisms that live in someone’s blood that gives them The Force. George Lucas would have done well to let The Force remain The Force, instead of explaining it away biologically…)
But in the midst of the audience Q&A came a question that they said they had never been asked. A young man asked, “Why does the Island need people?”
The producers laughed for a bit, and said it was because they needed a TV show, and no one would watch a show about an uninhabited island. But then Damon Lindelof thought more about the real profundity of the question. (For those who don’t watch the show, The Island is practically another character on the show. It seems to have summoned our castaways to its shores through some mysterious power.) In the grand mythology of Lost, why does the Island need people?
Lindelof’s answer was perfect. “What’s the Garden of Eden without Adam and Eve in it?” he asked. It’s an empty garden, hardly worth writing about or telling about, except for the people who inhabited it.
And of course it begs the question, Why did God create at all? Isn’t God perfect in Himself? Why did He need people?
The irony of the whole exchange is that Lindelof himself is sitting in the position of God. He’s the guy who created and wrote the show. It’s not just a question about the Island or about God. It’s a question about why we create anything at all.
Two brothers, Rand and Robyn Miller, created another Island world a few years back when they created the video game Myst. These sons of a Methodist minister were interviewed by Wired magazine.
Rand said, “I guess the simple way is to say that we know how much work it took to create Myst, and how puny and unreal it is compared to the real world, and therefore how miraculous all of creation is. Matching our experience … it just makes us realize how great God is.”
Robyn grinned. He believed what Rand had said, and yet he believed something else, something not quite as pious yet also true: “And sometimes late at night, after I had done something really cool, I would look down on my creation and I would say, ‘It is good.'”
We create because God creates. And we create stories about people because God created people we tell stories about.
The mysteries of Lost are a MacGuffin. The heart of the show is the same as the heart of God: It’s about people. And in knowing and caring about people (whether real or fictional), we are exercising what it means to be created in the image of God.
That’s why Lost matters.