This is about gaps–not logical gaps, lacunae–but about questions the story creates and then doesn’t answer. Case in point: in LOST, who the heck are the Others? What do they want with children, you know, Walt? There are more of these gaps, and from having watched all the episodes consecutively in a short time, they stand out more. Now, this could be a blog about pondering who the Others are, picking out pieces of evidence and making hypothoses based upon that evidence. But that’s exactly the kind of thinking that I try to guard against on this blog. Rather, I want to take this opportunity to turn the analytical eye back on the LOST viewer. How do the Others play on LOST viewers?
For me, Seasons 1-3 drove me to ask the question: Who are the others? In many ways, the genre of Lost (a serialed, weekly thriller) demands that it has constant unanswered questions, most of which are answered as new questions are posed during Season transitions. It is a form used to a lesser extent by Dickens and Dostoyevsky, but still directed by market forces. The genre structure keeps you watching, like an addictive chemical that makes you crave for it nightly. But if such a driving question of the narrative is never answered, it is fair then to ask its function.
Narratives are primarily functional, somewhat rhetorical, and rarely ontological (concerned with the true nature of things, like Systematic Theology or Creedal statments). They lead the audience through doors that they choose, passing other doors by. The identity of the Others is one of those unopened doors, simply because the author, the narrative, enters into another door. Then why include them at all? The answer, I believe is functional, and a clue lies in the wisdom of Locke again:
LOCKE: He is one of them. To Rousseau, we’re all Others. I guess it’s all relative, huh? (One of Them, S2.14)
We are all others. The Others fuction as a backdrop, so we can see the shapes and true colors of the 815ers, and we (the viewers) can engage and reflect on the 815ers’ moral choices. We do this in real life, locating those we disagree with the most (GOP, Democrats, Muslims, etc.) and defining our own identities and morals against the backdrop of those ‘others.’ But in real life, those views are not always challenged. But narratives often help us to see the moral complexity in others–most of Literature has this purpose. In LOST, we encounter touching back stories of Juliet and Benjamin Linus. We wrestle with Benjamin Linus, his betrayal, his tyranny, his redemtion, his further betrayal, his further redemption, and in the end we are no longer left with the burning curiosity of who the Others are, nor why they needed children. That door is left closed.
As a Bible teacher, I’m often asked a question that shows me that when many people read the Bible, they are looking for ontological answers, rather than reading a functional narrative: “When did Jesus realize he was God?” (for other face-palming questions, look here.) Truth is, there’s little (read: nothing) of Jesus’ divinity in the first three Gospels, so… But in John, we are given four statements that equate Jesus (or the Word) with God (1.1; 5.18; 8.58; 10.30). However, in none of these statments does Jesus explicitly say that he is God. In fact, Jesus’ suggested divinity is one of those doors closed by John’s narrative. We glance at it as we pass it by, but we are more concerned with other things: Jesus’ farewell speech, his clash with Pilate, his call to feed his sheep. As responsible readers/viewers, we must let the narratives take us where it leads, asking good questions along the way, but letting them linger as they do in the narrative.
What other unanswered questions are in LOST? In what other ways to Christians skip the narrative to find theological answers?
Are you “one of them”?