Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thoughts on the religious symbolism in LOST, Season 6

I finished LOST yesterday.

Yeah, I know it's pretty late after the fact. But I didn't watch the show until this summer, and season six was pretty much impossible to get ahold of. I finally signed up for Hulu Plus a month ago (not sure if I'm going to stick with it for very long, but I do love Hulu) and finally realized that this gave me access to season six (with the all-important captions). Since I'm still more or less confined to bed (yeah, I know, it really stinks), I was able to watch the whole season in just a couple of days.

(WARNING! Spoilers ahead! Do not read if you have not watched Season 6!!!)

And you know, it was weird. At first I felt very disoriented and found it very strange to jump back into the show, especially since I had already seen the finale. Then the emotional draw sucked me in and I found myself caring just as much as I ever had. Which, to be quite honest, I hadn't expected since I'd given LOST very little though in recent months.

What surprised me even more was the strong religious metaphor, allegory and symbolism in this season.

(But, honestly, considering what the main publicity photo was, should I be surprised?)

Watching this season made it very clear to me why Catholicism was highlighted so much in the earlier seasons. It used to bug me that all the Christians were Catholic, but Season Six relies so much on Catholic theology and imagery that it makes sense that they had to prepare viewers for it.

Why do I say this? Well, a few reasons.

(And I wish to post a disclaimer -- I am NOT Catholic, but I have many, many Catholic friends whom I've discussed Catholic theology with, I've read a lot on the subject, and I've attended Catholic Mass many times. I feel I do know what I'm talking about, but I apologize in advance if I've mixed up any facts.)

First off, Jacob and Jack passing on their authority by the sharing of a cup is blatently mirroring the Last Supper. The reason it feels Catholic to me, rather than just generally Christian, is that Protestants see the communion cup as a symbol, rather than having any real power. Catholics very literally believe it the body of Christ and having very real and important power in they daily life of following Christ. When Jacob and Jack pass on their authority, the water is pretty clearly the physical means of this passing. You could argue that it's a symbol, but I think it's more than that.

Secondly, Jacob's "job offer" to Richard Alpert uses suspiciously indicative imagery. He asked Richard to be his intermediary between himself and the residents of the island. Now while I wouldn't call Jacob "God," he does carry a lot of God allusions and in this particular instance, it sounds a LOT like Jesus calling Peter to be his rock. In the Catholic Church, the Pope is the intermediary between God and Man. The Pope himself is not without sin (just as Richard is not) but when he speaks from God (as when Richard speaks from Jacob) he is believed to speak infailably.

Thirdly is Hurley's visions of those who have passed. His dead friends regularly come back to talk with him and guide him. I see in this pretty strong parallels to the Catholic belief of the appearances and revelations of the Saints. This parallel grows even stronger when you consider that, in the end, Hurley is pretty much portrayed as the most blessed and pure of heart. He's clearly a man who communes with "angels" rather than "devils" to put it to extremes.

Finally and I think most poignantly are the "flash-sideways" which in the end are revealed to be an inbetween space. After death, yet before the "Losties" are ready to go on to eternal life. There is nothing like this in Protestant theology, but it shares some very interesting similarities with the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. The purpose of Purgatory is (very, very simply stated without dealing with mortal and venial sins) to purge away any sins that were not dealt with in life. It's a place of preparation and cleansing, so to speak. This is pretty clearly what the inbetween place is on LOST. Each character has to reach a point where they are ready to move on. They have to work through the darkness and sins still holding them back. Think I'm overreaching? Just look at Ben's conversations with Locke and Hurley at the end. He's not ready to go. He has some more things to work through. Considering that he has perhaps more sins on his soul than any other character (more or less, let's just keep this simple), this again backs up the purgatory parallel.

Does that mean LOST is a Catholic show? No. There are plenty of confusing bits as well. Jacob feels like a "God/Christ Figure" but takes responsibility for The Man in Black turning to evil. That's a huge theological muddle. Then there's the whole constant play between "dark" and "light" which evokes more of the eastern belief that good and evil need to be balanced. Which again, is hugely problematic in Christian theology. Finally of course is the "All Encompassing Church" which combined as many possible religions as it could into a building that was obviously a Christian Church. I doubt I'm the only person to find that particular hodge-podge offensive. Yet I also understand why they chose to write it that way. LOST is comprised of characters, viewers and writers of all religions and that was just the way it was going to play out.

But there are some bits they hit right on the head. The Man in Black/Smoke Monster/Evil Locke is pretty brilliantly written as the ultimate deceiver. He keeps one guessing as to his true motives right up until he plants the bomb on the sub. Which is of course what the Devil does. He deceives us into thinking that his ways are for our good, when ultimately all he wants is our destruction.

What about the light in the cave? Well, that's one of the most complicated and crazy bits of the show. The way I decided to look at it is that it isn't about there really being an actual force of magical goodness. It's more complicated than that. Different viewers can take away different meanings from it, but I see it as a Garden of Eden, with all that's in it, and I see Jacob as the angel guardian set over it to keep humans from returning. I'm not saying that's what it actually is, but what I personally have chosen to see it symbolizing.


Victoria Rose said...

Wow. I went ahead and read the post because I'm not intending to watch the 6th Season (I stopped watching after a few episodes of the 1st season).

I think you were right on with the Catholicism explanations. *applauds loudly*

So Locke was the bad guy all along? Interesting. I never liked the guy anyway.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Thanks Vicki! Nice to have some validification!

No, Locke wasn't evil. In season 5, the real John Locke dies and the Man in Black (the Smoke Monster) poses as him by stealing his shape. We don't find out the truth until the very end of the season.

Emily said...

I know that this is kind of late to be commenting, but I only just finished watching "Lost," so I couldn't read this post until now. I just wanted to add on to what you said about Ben not being ready to move on. He wasn't only character not in the church at the end - the ones I can think of off the top of my head are Ana Lucia and Mr. Eko. Eko wasn't in the sixth season at all, but when Ana is in the "flash-sideways," someone (I think it's Desmond) mentions that she isn't ready to go with them yet.