When you’ve seen as many movies as I have, you begin to see that they all follow a certain pattern. This is true not just of movies, but of all great stories ranging from those found in classic mythology and literature to modern TV series and video games. Joseph Campbell called it the monomyth or hero’s journey. It’s basically a series of steps that the protagonist must go through during the course of his or her adventure. In addition to this, there are also a number of spiritual principles that often find their way into storytelling. By combining these principles with the monomyth, you can pretty much figure out where just about any story is headed. While this skill has proven to be incredibly annoying to my wife, it’s come in very handy for me. Not because I’ve continually annoyed her with my usually correct movie and TV show predictions, but because I’ve noticed that these storytelling rules apply to more than just fictitious stories. They also apply to real life.
Supposedly, nobody ever said life was fair. Well, I’m saying it right now. Maybe I’m a nobody so the adage still works but I’ve come to believe that life is absolutely fair. Yes, there are selfish jerks who seem to be rewarded while truly good, hardworking, selfless people seem to be punished. There are people who’ve lived like there’s no tomorrow that live long, healthy lives while people who ate healthy, exercised and did everything right have died young. There are innocent children who suffer with terminal illness while evil dictators enjoy the good life. So how is it that I can possibly believe that life is fair? Because most people only see life on a superficial level, but it’s time that we dig a little deeper.
The first time I was given advice about the importance of forgiveness was at the most unlikely of places: an advertising school I was attending in Atlanta. The school had brought in speaker Joey Reiman—a very successful advertising executive who ran his own agency. Almost immediately, I could tell this man had a lot of wisdom, but it was towards the end of his presentation when something he said really resonated with me.
Disney taught us that, “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” Unfortunately, if your dream is to have both of your parents live to see you succeed, you’re sheer out of luck. In fact, of Disney’s forty full-length animated features from 1937 until 2000, I know of only one where the protagonist’s parents remain alive for the entire film.* Then there’s the fact that just about every super-powered hero is an orphan. If this isn’t bad enough, one or both of the hero’s adoptive parents often dies too! Superman lost his adoptive dad, Spider-Man lost his uncle, and Luke Skywalker lost both his aunt and uncle. With the Amazing Spider-Man movie set for release this summer, and that movie actually exploring the mysterious back-story about Peter Parker’s real parents, I thought it would be a good time to delve into the topic of why so many of our heroes—both super and animated—are orphans, and what the message means for all of us.
Lost is dead. Long live Lost. And so it ends, in much the same way it began—with a close-up of Jack’s eye, staring straight up past the tall stalks of bamboo that circled the sky above. This time however, that eye would close, and with it, our six-season journey that took us right back to where we started—with questions about a mysterious show that seemed to parallel the mysteries of life. For some, the journey was far more compelling than the destination. For others, it was the perfect resolution and they can walk away feeling fulfilled. Whatever you thought about the conclusion, the one thing most viewers can agree on is that the show challenged us to think in ways we might not have otherwise. In short, Lost was a real trip. And what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Wanna know why the Man In Black is really trapped on the island? It’s not because he’s malevolence, evil, or darkness, and it’s not because Jacob wouldn’t let him leave. It’s because he hasn’t overcome his issues. And what are his issues? Up to now, all we know is that he seems to be terribly frightened of adolescent boys. Hopefully, we’ll get a better answer next week, but as ridiculous as this might sound, I actually think there may be something to it.
In Lost’s “The Last Recruit,” the Man In Black refers to John Locke as a “sucker” for believing in fate. As he points out, Locke pursued this belief until it got him killed so perhaps MIB has a point. Despite his compelling argument, Jack takes a leap of faith towards the exact same conclusion as his former nemesis. So does this make Jack—the last recruit himself—a sucker too? My short answer is yes, but, what if this isn’t necessarily a bad thing?
In Lost’s “Everybody Loves Hugo,” Richard complains that Jacob “never tells us what to do.” Richard’s frustration echoes clearly into our world. For most of us, Jacob, aka God, never seems to tell us what to do. He just sits back and lets us make our own mistakes, leading to countless horrors and suffering. For many, this is a major argument as to why there is no God. Yet, when watching Lost, we see that Jacob does in fact tell the Losties what to do—sometimes directly, sometimes through his lists or clues, and sometimes through messages that he passes on through his emissaries. But certainly this doesn’t happen in our world. Here, there are no ghosts of Michaels past, otherworldly whispers, or visits from dimension-hopping Desmonds to guide us on our journey through life. Or…is there?
In “Ab Aeterno,” Richard Alpert loses his faith after discovering that the plan he’s dedicated so much of his life to, may in fact, not exist. From the very same episode, some Lost fans began feeling the same. For six years, Lost viewers with an insatiable hunger for answers have anxiously waited to find out what the mysterious island actually is. At the writer’s strike a couple years ago, Carlton Cuse held up a picket sign that read: “Do You Want To Know What The Island Is??” Thousands of fans have dreamed up imaginative theories, all in an attempt to solve the show’s complex riddle. And now at last we have our answer! According to Jacob himself, the island is…A CORK!!! (crickets)
In “Recon,” James Ford learns a life-changing lesson from a TV show just as we are learning from Lost. The metaphor is clear: there are messages in the media that are meant to help guide us on our journey. All you have to do is let yourself see through to their true meaning in order to uncover the wisdom.