Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Of Mice and Men

“Lost” is perhaps the best one-word characterization of ABC’s Lost (2005-2010); in varying ways, individuals on the program frequently find themselves physically displaced but also, possibly more significantly, spiritually or psychically fractured. Accordingly, although the healing properties first observed on the island manifest in the form of bodily restoration, the real power of the island lies in its ability to heal wounded souls. Although the effects of the island can be traced along a number of individual characters’ trajectories, John Locke evidences a number of incredibly intuitive arcs, if not the most immediately relatable.[1]

One of the episodes that delves into John’s past, “Deus Ex Machina,” presents Locke’s life prior to his arrival on the island and thusly invites the viewer to puzzle the relationship between the two depictions, particularly as the character explores the role of the potential powers inherent in choice and destiny.  Lost, however, is not a program that lends itself to overly simplistic representations or one-dimensional readings and, as a result, evidences additional meanings when examined through the lens of banal religion (Hjarvard 2008). The opening scene, for example, depicts the game Mousetrap and features Locke explaining the rules of the game to a curious child, including the phrase, “If you set it up just right.” While this bit of dialogue could easily be written off as innocuous, we can think about the relationship of Mousetrap to a larger religious context:  this particular game requires that players follow a precise sequence of predetermined rules and Locke’s statement is indicative of his belief that control and rigid structure are prerequisites for success. Supporting this idea, our reintroduction to Locke’s characters in the “previouslies” comes in the form of him shouting, “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” Locke, before the island, is a character who lashes out because he does not yet understand the bigger picture.[2]

Compare this incident of machine building with Locke’s attempts to construct a trebuchet that will break into a mysterious hatch. In some ways, although Locke has now professed a belief in the will of the island, his actions demonstrate a failure to understand that fate cannot be forced; had Locke actually internalized this message, he would most likely not have even attempted a trebuchet in the first place. Although Locke later fully embodies the Man of Faith, we see that he is still growing at this point in the series. Fittingly, the trebuchet not only collapses but also physically injures Locke—the island is taking back the mobility it had bestowed. However, rather than view this as a punitive gesture, we can understand that the island is instead arguably attempting to teach Locke a larger lesson that only beings to manifest at the end of the episode as he struggles to carry Boone back to camp despite his weakened legs:  our limitations can be overcome but we must be willing to exert effort.

[1] Along with Jack, Locke’s actions support the ongoing series conflict between Science and Faith. In “Deus Ex Machina” Jack demonstrates the dominance of Science through his diagnosis of Sawyer’s hyperopic vision (i.e., Science is one path to the truth) and the equation of phantom smells with a brain tumor, which builds upon Emily’s (Locke’s mother) schizophrenic condition and the notion that hallucinations and irrationality are negative qualities. Contrast this subplot with the validation of Locke’s dream and we begin to see the virtually invisible ways that the episode weaves together competing ideologies.

[2] Whether in the form of a mind-control ray, manipulation, enchantment, mesmerism, being a slave to fate, Haitian zombies, possession, or being bound to a wheelchair, we continuously encounter the same themes; the manifestations vary with each telling but they all partially speak to a latent fear of losing our free will and our personal sense of agency. This is, I feel, such an issue for us because we have developed in a society that ascribes to Individualism—there is, in fact, an “us” to lose.

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