Note: I’m on vacation this week. While I’m gone, I’ve set up a week of discussion posts revisiting the Lost finale in time for the Lost series DVD set, out Aug. 24. In other words, this is a recording; you cannot press 0 to speak to a real live person.
Since we’re taking a second look at the Lost finale this week, we may as well begin at the ending. By which I mean, that ending: the revelation that everyone in the Flash Sideways world is already dead, and on the verge of going to—well, whatever comes next.
I still basically feel about the reveal the way I did when I first watched: a little syrupy in execution, but satisfying in effect. As I wrote back then:
To me, the closing of Lost was not telling me that I do or do not have an immortal soul; it was telling me what these characters lives meant. And that meaning, like all our lives’ meaning, derived from the interactions they had with, and the memories they shared with, other people.
You could take that literally, as in: this is a picture of what happens when you die. Or you could take it metaphorically, as in: this is a story using spiritual imagery to depict the lasting legacy of human contact. (I personally see it that way, in the same way that I believe that religious scriptures are not literally true and yet are some of our most powerful and important stories regardless. Your mileage may vary, as they say on the Internet.)
It was, in other words, like the symbols on the church windows indicated, a Unitarian ending. It could be explained through any or all of the spiritual traditions depicted there, or none. It could be a literal event, or Jack’s last dying memory, or the workings of some Jungian universal consciousness. (In the same way, as I’ve said, the golden water, and now the Giant Bathtub Drain, work for me; they’re no more outlandish root explanations than “giant pocket of electromagnetic energy.” One is “science,” one is “faith,” but both are ways of describing phenomena beyond our ken.) It was, to me, not about literal Heaven so much as memory: something you make together with the people you love, so you can find them when they’re gone.
The more I think about it, the more I think that it may actually be easier for me, as an atheist, to take the ending. That is, I believe religious/spiritual stories are never meant to be taken literally. (Many people who are religious believe the same thing.) So I don’t buy the idea that the ending somehow meant that nothing else that happened on the series mattered or had impact—any more than I think that no literature produced by a society that believes in an afterlife can be tragic. Many of the characters really did meet an awful end. Most of Oceanic 815’s passengers died early deaths. Locke was really murdered. Kate really flew home to live the rest of her life without Jack, who was only able to save a handful of his friends. All of this, as Jack said, mattered.
That’s how I took it, anyway. But the second time watching the finale, I paid more attention to one particular line, which in retrospect seems key: “This is the place that you all made together so that you could find one another.”
This might be the most important sentence of the finale. As I said in my night-of review, I don’t necessarily believe you have to understand this as Heaven, or even as a literal afterlife. (For me, as an atheist, it makes as much or more sense as a kind of mashed-up, literal representation of their collective dying thoughts and wishes. That light could be eternal life, or it could be the oblivion that comes after the peace of letting go.) You can see it that way, of course, but that’s not the most important thing, nor is it the thing that captures the spirit of the series here.
What matters is: whatever this place is, literal or metaphor, reality or hallucination, they all made it together. God didn’t make this place, Jacob didn’t make it, Jack didn’t make it–we’ve never read about it, not exactly, in any gospel or book of mythology. The characters created it collectively; it is the literally ultimate expression of communitarianism in a show that was always about community.
Call the ending hokey–and oh, it was, in places, with the slo-mo hugs and Christian going to the light–the idea that the characters end up in a mindspace they created collectively is fitting and, I’ll say it, beautiful.
But I’m told that not everyone feels quite the same way about it! So your take again—especially those of you who have rewatched it—was Lost’s big reunion heavenly or hellish?