In the midst of television today, saturated with inconsistent programs, it’s comforting to discover from time to time a series such as Lost. It’s credited with having brought deep issues to the screen- the identity and fate of man, his responsibility facing free will, the sense of guilt, the possibility of redemption- and having a fairly explicit religious dimension, even if it was politically correct.
From 2004 to 2010, the Walt Disney production distributed by ABC caused millions of viewers from 200 countries to hold their breath in suspense throughout the series. It sparked many debates and articles and even more than a dozen books, written not only by television critics or fans of the series, but also by sociologists and philosophers.
Some of these studies have shown their disappointment with the high number of questions that the screenwriters have left open without a response. It certainly was not due to lack of time, since the actual series were much longer in respect to the original project. It was done so deliberately, as the producers themselves have explained in various interviews. Some critics have shown appreciation for the genius of the creative choices that attempted to make connections and references to a wide range of mythical, religious and anthropological themes.
Even the titles of the books published speak to the type and tone of reactions to this media phenomenon: The Myth of Lost, Lost and Philosophy, The Search of Meaning, The Gospel According to Lost, Lost ed i suoi segreti (Lost and its Secrets), La filosofia di Lost (The Philosophy of Lost), Pensare Lost: l'enigma della vita ed i segreti dell'isola (The Lost Mindset: the Enigma of Life and the Secrets of the Island), to name a few. There are even more articles in corresponding thematic and cultural magazines.
I think it’s fitting to add a personal reflection to this global phenomenon for various reasons. On one hand, the series still continues to be watched, be it through the internet, DVD, or the new digital television channels, which broadcast reruns of the series all throughout the world, with small but significant audience share. On the other hand, many of the issues brought to light touch on topics closely related to the family. Furthermore, Lost is one of the few quality television series directed at both young people and adults (however it is not recommended for children).
The attraction of this series has been attributed to its stylistic and narrative originality. For example, the common yet appropriate use of flashbacks of the castaways’ past lives, showing the mistakes they’ve made in life. Or the mesh of genres that made it a thriller-mystery with elements of drama and romance, along with instances of comedy and adventure. In addition to these stylistic qualities, it mustn’t go unnoticed that, unlike most internationally successful television series, this one does not overdue the sensual content, with the exception of a few isolated scenes starting from the third season. Furthermore, immorality, matrimonial infidelity, dishonesty, and selfishness were generally presented as evils, as realities that are harmful to the person and society.
The credit, of course, must be sought in the authors, above all in the creators and main screenwriters: Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. It’s not easy to maintain a high level of quality and narrative coherence when there is a contractual obligation to write 120 episodes that last almost an hour each. Furthermore, I think it is worthy of note that the authors themselves have recognized, without shame, the influence that their personal experiences had on their creative work- their Judeo-Christian religious convictions, their own family conflicts, etc. Their testimonies can be found in interviews collected by Carlo Dellonte and Giorgio Glaviano in Lost ed i suoi segreti (Lost and it’s secrets), Dino Audino Editore, Rome, 2007.
It is also quite interesting that one of the recurring interpretations, offered by Lost fans, is that the island, where the castaways have spent the last six years, is a metaphor for purgatory. It is there that their past faults reappear or are accentuated, and other no less distressing dangers arise. The island could equally be a metaphor for God himself, or for a deity compatible with the monotheistic religions, that helps the protagonists take advantage of their isolation to confront their own mistakes and guilt complexes, to abandon their excessive rationality or their radical individualism.
The authors did not want to speak out on these nor the many other speculations in search for meaning. They have stated that they would prefer each viewer to reflect on their own and draw their own beneficial conclusions. However one cannot deny that that the series has, to a certain degree, touched upon these issues and has done so in an engaging and effective way: through incorporating intense human stories, with very diverse and clearly defined characters. This last aspect, according to the authors, is critical to the success of tv series with such a long duration. It’s the easiest way to hook the viewers who tend to identify themselves with one of the characters, by relating to their defects and admiring their efforts to overcome themselves, making them out to be a kind of modern hero.
These scenes (above all in the flashbacks that tell the previous lives of the castaways) present the sad reality of today’s society: serious family arguments, dishonesty in work, insincere habits, greed, violence, selfishness, inferiority complexes, personality disturbances or the like.
Besides these wrongdoings, there are virtuous acts, which the viewer follows during the thousands of incidences that the castaways suffer on the island. They offer the viewer a few clues that allow them to make cause-effect associations regarding the events of the island: acts of generosity in sharing scarce resources, teamwork, trust in the others, acts of reconciliation, words of advice or encouragement, spontaneous manifestations of sincerity, and even putting one’s life on the line to save their companions.
In this sense I think that it is correctly highlighted that the series follows the classic narrative structure of mythology that has a clear philosophical dimension, because the root issue lies in the search for life’s meaning, on one’s view of the world. It is a task that becomes easier when one looks from the absolute geographical isolation, from an island populated by dangers that are seemingly superhuman, as Simone Regazzoni has interpreted in his book La filosofia di Lost (The Philosophy of Lost) Adriano Salani Editore, Milano 2009.
Regazzoni asserts that the ambiguity that the screenwriters purposefully left aside, without resolving some very important issues ( what are we doing here, why am I suffering these punishments, etc.) represents a more actual reflection of society today. Each main character sees his own situation, his own past life, his own future, from a different perspective. That plurality of perspectives draws the viewer to search for his own responses to the ultimate questions, each one being legitimate.
In my opinion, Regazzoni’s conclusions are excessively over relativistic. In reality, he tries to read the entire series through the existential and nihilistic approach of Jacques Derrida and other deconstructivist authors.
In spite of his forced interpretation, I appreciate his attempt to analyze the depth of the series through an anthropological standpoint. It is true that there are always the risks to exaggerate, to invent meanings that the authors never thought of, to simplify in a few pages themes that had been developed for many hours because of script “demands”, or to be criticized for excessive optimism in the search for positive values.
I believe that this is a good example to show how it is worth studying the content of some television programs because they are clear manifestations of the current way of thinking and being, at least of the creative minority of the Hollywood professionals who greatly influence the social reality.