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“Lost” in Thought…

By Daniel Peacock     November 11, 2006


13 of the 48 crash survivors from LOST.
© ABC

The TV series Lost is probably the single most ambitious attempt to create a puzzle program on television yet.  

Leaving aside the complexities of the riddles in the show itself, just in case anyone had not yet realized the game-playing subtext, during the hiatus between seasons Two and Three, the makers of the show (ABC TV) ran what they called The Lost Experience. This involved fans in a massive scavenger-hunt looking for clues and then using them to find websites with more information on the show. Part of the exercise was to find clips of videos that offered hidden insights into the show.  

In the “conspiracy” storyline of Lost, various “orientation” films are discovered, all adding clues as to the motives of the mysterious Dharma Initiative that seems to be the root of many of the big questions in the show. As with The X-Files in the 1990s, Lost has two parallel plotlines, one about the everyday lives of its characters, the other feeding us more information about the hidden “conspiracy” or central mystery of the island.  

The orientation films always mark a major advance of this plot, so The Lost Experience offered fans the chance to unearth one not yet seen in the show itself, one that revealed something of the meaning of “the Numbers”, a recurring theme. Once they had found parts of this film on various generic storage websites, fans had to assemble them into a single coherent film themselves without any further clues about what order they were meant to be in. Once they had got them into the right order, they could then find clues for more additional information, podcasts, fake radio interviews with some of the fictional characters, advance information, spoilers about the show and so forth.  

The original clues were hidden on the Internet, on the wrappers of special “Apollo” chocolate bars. This was a fictional product, featured only in the show but was specially marketed for The Lost Experience. Clues were even hidden in pieces of graffiti in places like Times Square in New York! Once one fan found a clue they communicated their find to all the others in the many Lost-related Internet chat rooms. There was no prize, other than the inside knowledge about the show that they would gain once they had assembled everything correctly. One of the films formed a fake video diary by a fictional investigative reporter on the trail of the mysterious corporation behind the “conspiracy” in Lost. 

Lost is a kind of Robinson Crusoe show. When I first saw the promotional posters for it, I dismissed it as “Supermodel Beach”. That was until I met with an artist and film-maker friend last summer, when Season One was starting its run in the UK on Channel 4. He was picking over a copy of GQ he had bought, featuring the stars of the new show which he had quite enjoyed, comparing it to Twin Peaks. He was intrigued by the fact that the castaways had been attacked by polar bears when they were supposed to be on a tropical island. 

“There are ten reasons in here why you have to see it,” he said, reading from the magazine, “and the first one is: ‘Because you have to have an opinion’.” 

“I haven’t bothered with it, but I already have an opinion,” I said, “based on nothing more than seeing the posters I’ll tell you it’s a retread of Gilligan’s Island. All the stock characters are there... the rich man, the glamorous model, the brave captain, the thief, the professor...”  

On one level, I was right, but the show’s popularity is based on the different ways its audience appreciates it. For most it is nothing more than an updated version of Gilligan’s Island - Will the castaways survive? Will they find love in the jungle? This 1960s castaway comedy was, effectively, a TV version of The Admirable Crichton and Lost also looks back to this classic model. There is some class-reversal going on, but this is only a minor element. For those in the know, there was just sufficient information tucked away in the double pilot-episode for them to guess that Lost was really intended to be science-fiction.  

There is an increasing weirdness factor. It is as though Gilligan and his daffy crew had washed up on the Island of Doctor Moreau. After spending the first season struggling against the elements in the jungle, survivalist John Locke finds the hidden entrance and enters an underground laboratory with all modern conveniences provided, albeit a little retro. A whole new level is opened up and this may not be merely a turn of phrase.  

Fans have begun to wonder if the structure of Lost is based on the various levels encountered by players of computer games. Many episodes of Lost contain hidden clues and anomalies that can sometimes only be seen at all in stop frame on a DVD or video recording. For example, in one scene, a castaway in the water is menaced by a passing shark. If you take the clip of the shark, which lasts less than one second, and click through it one frame at a time, then, and only then, can you see the logo of the mysterious Dharma Initiative tattooed on its tail.  

Lost is filled with this kind of detail. To gauge how many of these clues have already been spotted by fans and how much speculation they have generated, one need only look at some of the many websites created  (both officially and otherwise) to discuss the show, some of which can be found at the end of this article. Of course, there are masses more. Lost has generated more fan-comment and problem-solving activity than any for many years, far more than The X-Files. The material about it on the internet is so huge that it has created the need for an extension to the Wikipedia (the free Internet encyclopædia) devoted only to this show.  

Some of the fan stuff is scholarship of the highest order, but to what end? Some people seem to have more time on their hands than I can really believe possible. One of them has a site where he puts up hand-made transcripts of each episode for fellow fans to pick over. How is it going to end? 

The greatest puzzle in Lost is the question of what is really going on. The island has a multitude of mysteries waiting for the survivors and the writers of Lost have played games with literature, showing characters reading books that may have some symbolic value. When a copy of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman was seen, sales of this surreal Irish novel rocketed in the USA. Another volume on view was Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Both these stories take place after the death of their central characters, in some form of after-life, and in the early days many fans had drawn the conclusion that this was the state of the ‘Lostaways’, a suspicions fed by plentiful references to Purgatory in the show. However, the writers and producers of Lost (called “The Powers that Be” by fans) often intervene on fan websites to debunk speculation, and have done so on this precise point.  

The “Powers’” threw another red herring into the barrel by having a character find a manuscript in the wreckage. They then published this very same book as part of The Lost Experience, tempting readers with more clues. Bad Twin, the novel in question, contained more references to Purgatory. The name of its supposed author, Gary Troup, is itself an anagram of the word “Purgatory” but no resolution is forthcoming on this strand. When the Lostaways captured one of the hostile “Others”, Locke provided him some reading matter: The Brothers Karamazov. No random choice, this, as it is in this novel that Christ returns to Earth, but at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, and is sentenced to death once more by Torquemada. Is the experience of the Lostaways a trial? If so, Kafka has yet to make his presence felt, although, given the increasing similiarity their Pacific “prison” is starting to bear to that other 1960s island-based series, The Prisoner, it surely cannot be long before he does. 

This is not the only parallel to other islands being drawn. As noted, the Lostaways’ island resembles that of Dr. Moreau, but also the Pacific hideaway of Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's Mysterious Island. In this, American balloonists crash on an apparently deserted island and build a Robinson Crusoe-style community, but then discover they are being secretly observed by the technologically advanced Nemo, both underground and underwater. The film version of this novel also displays many visual similarities with the look of many Lost locations. Captain Nemo is also adept at modifying animals, as the Dharma Initiative has already demonstrated to sharp-eyed viewers. We hear a fleeting reference to a “sub” early in Season Three, so there may be more connections with Nemo yet to come. 

At the end of Season Two, another island metaphor appears. The pier where the “Others” congregate is marked “PALA FERRY”. Season Three has shown us one other island so far, but is it Pala? We do not know yet, but Pala was the paradise in Island by Aldous Huxley. Written as an retort to those who felt Brave New World too cynical, Huxley’s Pala was ruled by a cadre of hypnotists, who encouraged the population in Eastern esoteric practices to achieve enlightenment. Is this in store for the Lostaways? Are their many detailed memories real or manipulated by hypnotic suggestion?  

Since the creator of Lost, J.J. Abrams, previously worked on a spy-series called Alias in which false memories and induced amnesia were explored as themes on more than one occasion, this is quite likely. In Alias the secret agents regularly flew on the fictitious Oceanic Airlines, the self-same carrier that crashed the Lostaways on their island, so we know there is already a shared reality between the two shows.  

The new season has even brought hints of precognition, of seeing into the future, to add a new wrinkle. Desmond seems to know what is coming next, as though he is reading the script. Memories are starting to run in two directions now. 

So far no fans have paused to think of the connections with Peter Pan, but even these are present. Do not forget that Barrie also wrote Crichton. The Lostaways arrive in their Neverland, as does Wendy, by flying. What are the Lostaways themselves if not “Lost Boys” (and Lost Girls, of course!) although the “Others” collect lost children. The Lostaways are attacked by pirates (the “Others”), they find a 19th century pirate-style ship on the island (the “Black Rock’), and, although a lot more unearthly than a crocodile, there is a ticking, clanking monster for them to deal with.  

But it is the true Classics that may yet hold the key to all mythologies in this show. As with Gilligan’s attempts to leave his island, all boat trips are strictly one-way, and, returning to his starting point once more, the reluctant Dharma initiate Desmond Hume may be the most crucial character after all. Separated from his great love, Penelope Widmore, former soldier Desmond is trapped on the island, much as Odysseus, another former soldier, was marooned on islands on the long voyage home to his Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey.  

There are indications that the Dharma Initiative was created in answer to the Cold War, a long conflict like that in The Iliad, the exact predecessor to the Odyssey. On the island, the Lostaways battle the “Others” who, like the Trojans with Helen, kidnap their most beautiful woman and hold her captive.  

Aside from opening a dictionary of science-fiction and ticking off references to every island mentioned, the “Powers” have done their homework. They know their Homer. Doubtless, they will be brushing up their Shakespeare shortly, for a visit to Prospero’s kingdom, which was, after all, where Huxley found the title for his most famous work.  
 
 

Key Lost-related websites: 

http://www.thefuselage.com

http://www.longlostlist.com

http://www.lostisagame.com/

http://www.lostlinks.net/

http://lostpedia.com/wiki/Main_Page

http://www.thelostexperience.com 

Discussion on specific Lost-topics: 

On eye colour changes:

http://www.lostisagame.com/Opposites.htm 

List of significant mistakes:

http://www.lostisagame.com/Mistakes.HTM#M1 

Discussion on changes in the mural:

http://www.cs.iastate.edu/%7Eandorfc/iowa_mural.html 

On Jules Verne:

http://www.thefuselage.com/Threaded/showthread.php?t=2803&highlight=verne+mysterious+island 

On Huxley:

http:// lostpedia.com/wiki/Pala

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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michaelxaviermaelstrom 11/11/2006 2:11:46 PM
G'Damn Peacock, Before clicking on your Lost overview I was sitting in the bath contemplating existence in relation to butterscotch pudding and thought to myself, "Maelstrom, (because all insane megalomaniacs refer to themselves in the third person - Ed) Piss of Ed, where was I, Yes, butterscotch-tub-thinking "self, bet this twonk doesn't even mention The Prisoner and I'll 'ave to send a comment in elucidating yet another pedantic reviewer, of the references and influences on Lost" and you bloody well go and mention it, and numerous other sources in your stellar review. Now I'm not usually compelled to expound hyperbolically upon the musings of OTHER authors (being an insane megalomaniac and all - Ed) *pause* Ed, stand on the spot marked X and pull on this rope please. (oh I'm not falling for THAT again - Ed) Pity. ..but that was a bloody excellent 5 for 5 star overview Peacock 'mate. signed, Waiting for the Aliens and the Nephilim to appear on Lost. regards, michaelmaesltrom.
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