Defining the Threat: The End of EVERYTHING? Really?

As usual, the Lostaways are doing a terrible job of asking the right questions or insisting on specific answers. And those who evade the inquiries always have the same lines: “It doesn’t matter,” “No time to explain,” etc. I’d like to pin down what kind of threat we’re dealing with here. Someone should demand that Richard explain what he means by “everything being over” if the Smoke Monster were to pull off his escape plan (“Everybody Loves Hugo”). What degree of danger are we talking about?

Simulation of a black hole

What follows here is not so much a theory as an exploration of the “impending oblivion” motif. Imminent doom in the form of nothingness or meaninglessness preoccupies many fantasy novels, science fiction narratives and children’s works of fiction: A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline, The Neverending Story, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Donnie Darko. In Lost, the stakes seem to be equally high. If we are to believe Charles Widmore and/or Richard Alpert, the Smoke Monster’s escape from the island spells certain oblivion. So the question I would like to pose is this: how is “the end of existence” illustrated in other narratives? What might this mean for the final days of our island adventure?

In the 2001 film Donnie Darko, the threat of eternal nothingness takes the form of a black hole. If one interprets the film as a science fiction story, rather than a psychological thriller about a schizophrenic teen, the basic premise of the story is this: A Tangent Universe has been created and will collapse on itself in 28 days. According to the tenets of the fictional Philosophy of Time Travel (a device used by the screenwriter to establish the rules), the collapsed Tangent Universe will create a black hole, taking the Primary Universe with it. The author, Roberta Sparrow, suggests that “If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable…Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence.” Can this be what Charles Widmore means when he says that if the smoke monster gets off this island “everyone we know and love – would simply cease to be”? Or when Richard Alpert tells Miles that “if that thing gets off the island, it’s over,” and then clarifies by saying “everything” will be over. Is John Locke just the beginning of a black hole, a sort of nothingness that consumes all?

In the film, Donnie is the “Living Receiver” responsible for saving the primary universe by sacrificing himself. Like Desmond, he is a time-traveling hero. Donnie reads a poem in class one day inspired by what he is experiencing: “I will deliver the children back to their doorsteps. (I’ll) send the monsters back to the underground. I’ll send them back to a place where no one else can see them.” Donnie Darko is actually an interesting text to interpret the workings of Lost and I’m certainly not the first to notice the similarities between the film and the series. Others have drawn out the comparisons in much greater detail. Here is one of the more thorough readings: I like these Donnie Darko theories; after all, the last line of The Philosophy of Time Travel is telling: “We are told that these things occur for a reason.”

Frank the time-traveling bunny from Donnie Darko (suspect it inspired the Geronimo Jackson cover)

Frank the time-traversing bunny from Donnie Darko (think Geronimo Jackson album cover)

The Neverending Story, a German children’s novel, popularized in the 1980’s through its film adaptation, features a parallel universe, of sorts, to illustrate the power of hope, imagination and the creative power of the human spirit. There is a protagonist for each universe: Bastian in the real world and Atreyu in the fictional world, which is aptly named Fantasia or Fantastica. Bastian is portrayed in a realistic setting with a storyline and conflict of his own (his mother recently died; his father is in despair). But he becomes involved in the other universe when he reads about Atreyu’s adventures in a magic book titled The Neverending Story. The nemesis in the story is simply called “The Nothing” and its threat is no less than the obliteration of all Fantastica. It symbolizes a growing emptiness in the human heart. Atreyu is a young warrior charged with triumphing over The Nothing. Bastian enters the world of Fantastica to help Atreyu fight the war and returns with the “Water of Life,” a symbol of spiritual strength.  He is told that “There are just a few who go to Fantastica and come back…and they make both worlds well again.” The wise but curmudgeonly old book shop owner, Mr. Coreander, says to Bastian “you will show many others the way to Fantastica, and they will bring us the Water of Life.” By helping to ward off the Nothing, Bastian saves Fantastica and is able to traverse back to his own world, where he can continue fighting against the forces of meaninglessness and emptiness, first by curing his own father’s depression.

Face of the impending "Nothing" in the film adaptation of The Neverending Story

In A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle), an “official Lost book,” there looms a similar malevolent force, “The Black Thing,” described as a dark cloud. With their friend Calvin, Meg and Charles Wallace travel through space and time to rescue their father, a time-traveling scientist who has been captured by dark forces.  They find him on Camazotz, a mind-controlling planet where all of the inhabitants are hypnotized under the spell. The Black Thing’s effect is taking over the universe and already partially covers the earth. Meg, the heroine of the story, learns how to defeat it through love and human connection with her family.

In Neil Gaimen’s children’s novel, Coraline (2002), the “Other Mother’s” domain is surrounded by endless blank space. Again, we are dealing with parallel worlds, one that is realistic and ordinary, the other fantastic and dangerous.  Initially, Coraline finds the world beyond the fourteenth door of their family’s home perfect. The food is better and the parents (the Other parents) give her more attention. But she soon realizes that the Other home is ruled by dark forces and that the Other Mother has been capturing and imprisoning children for a long time. Coraline must save them. One day she is taking a walk out of doors in the Other universe and finds herself lost in what seems to be an empty canvas. “The world she was walking through was a pale nothingness, like a blank sheet of paper or an enormous empty white room. It had no smell, no taste, no texture.” “Nothing to find here,” the cat tells Coraline, “This is just the outside, the part of the place she hasn’t bothered to create.” Again, a lack of creative power is the problem and the villain is responsible for oppressing the innocent and destroying hope.

Desmond reading Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the death of imagination is a central concern and the repression of creativity is illustrated in the form of dark forces attempting to poison the “Sea of Stories.” Haroun’s father, a storyteller, has lost his gift of yarn-spinning and the father and son duo travel to Earth’s second moon to help reclaim his powers. Two societies live on this moon; one lives in complete light and the other in complete darkness. The dark side wants to poison the Sea of Stories and dampen the imaginative forces behind the power of storytellers.  But Haroun helps protect the magical waters: “…even though he was full of a sense of hopelessness and failure, the magic of the Ocean began to have an effect on Haroun.” Again, in this story the child saves the father and the family’s original world is restored.

Will a black hole be created if the smoke monster isn’t restrained? Is he the Nothing? Will dark blankness settle over the entire universe if he is released from the island? (If so, then, why?)Let’s not forget last week’s Wonka-inspired promo: “Not a speck of light is showing/So the danger must be growing”

The nothing, the smoke monster, a black hole, a gaping chasm swallowing up all of existence– they all represent our fear of complete emptiness or, at a more abstract level, the oblivion of imagination and the human spirit. As Jacob says in “Ab Aeterno,” “There’s many other names for it too: malevolence, evil, darkness. And here it is, swirling around in the bottle, unable to get out because if it did, it would spread. The cork is this island and it’s the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs.”


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