The Culture Beat

April 26, 2010

St. Jack of the Lost Island?

Filed under: Faith Issues,Television,Uncategorized — Alex @ 11:23 pm

This week, there is no episode of Lost, so let’s take this moment to contemplate yet another way in which the singular series opens itself to interpretations resonant of a life of faith. Anyone who’s read much from discussion boards or blogs of the endlessly analyzed show knows that there are elements that plainly encourage ponderings of its religious and philosophical symbolism. Heck, every viewer knows of the faith (represented by John Locke) and science (represented by Dr. Jack Shepherd.) is one of the Lost‘s main oppositions. We’re not exactly sure what the faith is in, or toward except that Locke believed in the healing or redemptive power of the island (until he was murdered, that is) and that Jack was a thoroughgoing materialist.

But as the final season winds down, the poles have symbolically reversed. The smokey thing that has assumed Locke’s form rejects any belief in any special qualities of the island that has been his prison (“It’s just a damn island,” he declares as he strives to gain his escape. But Jack has also shifted his attitude profoundly. After spending most of four seasons striving to lead the castaways, then escape the island, he learns that he was wrong to leave and returns a different man, no longer sure of much of anything anymore, except that somehow, he was meant to be on the island. He allows others, like Sawyer last season, to take the lead until he became convinced that exploding Jughead, the nuclear warhead, would interact with the island’s strange electromagnetic power to somehow change everyone’s destiny and avoid years of pain.

Dr. Jack examining his reflection in the Sideways world.
But even that seemed uncertain as the new season began in February. The first episode began with Jack on Oceanic 815, as if nothing had happened to cause its crash. When he goes to the plane’s restroom though, he stares at his image in the mirror with a looks of confusion, as if something isn’t quite right. And so have others in what was soon known as the Sideways world of familiar characters who never crashed on the island, which alternates with the same characters continuing their captivity on the island. Which is real? Both? Neither?

Jack seems to have the most developed character arc as he now watches events transpire on the island and no longer tries to control them. When, in last week’s episode, after sensing that staying on the sailboat with the others on their way to Hydra island was repeating a mistake, he literally took a leap of faith and stepped off the boat to affirm that the island wasn’t finished with him and he must stay–even though he wound up back in the hands of the Fake Locke. (If you haven’t seen the series, then you must be totally confused by this and I recommend renting the first five seasons and the online sixth season eps before continuing.)

So to return to the applicability of the narrative to faith issues, I was reminded of a certain castaway while reading a passage from St. Augustine Confessions yesterday. See if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, Pinky.

Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: “We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One who made us.”

I don’t wish to overinterpret this, but I think of Jack when I read this. He has allowed his soul to stop striving to force things to happen. He knows he doesn’t know everything, in fact, he knows very little, but he does know that he’s on the island for a reason and needs to stay. This reminds me of the attitude of the writer of Psalm 131:2:

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

If EW’s Lost commentator Jeff Jensen is correct (go here and scroll until he gets to where he tells us what he thinks Lost is about) that the show is about illustrating the crises that religious faith addresses, then there will be all sort of applications one can make of such parts of the series that will not definitive as to what is really going on, do provide compelling images of the struggles that people experience while going through dark nights of the soul and wrestling with angels. Well, that’s my two cents of how this fascinating show speaks to my inner pilgrim. We’ll see if Jack’s journey pays off and his faith is rewarded.


1 Comment »

  1. Well said, Dr. Wainer!
    Like you, Island Jack puts me in mind of a scripture found in Psalm 46. “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Indeed, Jack has allowed his soul to stop striving and instead of trying to manipulate circumstances and become the castaway’s savior, he is aware of his own frailty. He is a broken man, and stronger for it.

    Comment by Stephanie Bennett — May 5, 2010 @ 8:24 pm | Reply

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