An Apocalyptic “Heart of Darkness”

Posted in Season 6 Lit with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2010 by SCS

This is an entry that I posted a couple of days ago but, in light of the new promo, I have something to add.  The promo’s music, Jim Morrison’s “The End,” is another nod to Apocalypse Now in which the song serves as a compelling backdrop for the film’s most significant scene (no spoilers here but if you want to view the scene, a very graphic one containing explicit language, mind you,  click to see a youtube clip)

Here are a couple of stanzas that are interesting when interpreted through a “Lost lens” and the lyrics in their entirety are provided at the bottom of this posting.

“This is the end, beautiful friend/This is the end, my only friend/The end of our elaborate plans/The end of everything that stands/The end

The killer awoke before dawn/He put his boots on/He took a face from the ancient gallery/And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived/And then he paid a visit to his brother/And then he walked on down the hall/And he came to a door/And he looked inside/Father?/Yes son/I want to kill you/Mother, I want to………….”

–Jim Morrison

And now begins my original “Apocalyptic Heart of Darkness” bit:

“The wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic

invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude–and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core” –Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Young Locke's prophetic rendering of the Smoke Monster

The corruptibility of the human soul is a central theme of both Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 movie, Apocalypse Now. The latter is a loose interpretation of Conrad’s novella but set in a very different time and place. Both stories prefigure Lost’s concern with the nature of evil and the tension between wilderness and civilization, isolation and community.

So is Lost an updated interpretation of Heart of Darkness emerging from yet another medium and genre, the television drama? Probably not. If we’ve learned anything about Lost’s vast array of literary and pop culture references it’s that, taken individually, they act like red herrings, leading us down narrow, winding trails to nowhere; yet they always provide a deeper understanding of the show’s themes and characters. Taken together they help to expand the meaning of the show, which is sometimes a great relief when meaning within the text seems a little thin.

But I find it particularly interesting that a recent promotional trailer featured the famous lines of Conrad’s novel, probably even more familiar to modern viewers as the dialogue from Apocalypse Now: “The horror, the horror.” In fact, the entire promo was centered around this and another line from Heart of Darkness. The short clip shows John Locke, the smoke monster, marching towards some of Widmore’s men with a menacing expression on his face while the words on the bottom of the screen read “His soul had gone mad. Being alone in the wilderness.” Here is the full passage from the novel: “But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had–for my sins, I suppose–to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. No eloquence would have been so withering to one’s belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it,–I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.”

Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

An excerpt of dialogue from the film Apocalypse Now shows an even more explicit study of the struggle between good and evil. Before General Corman sends Willard on his mission to find Colonel Kurtz, a man engaging in horrendous acts of violence against the native people, he warns him of the limits of the human spirit: ” There’s conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point….Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously he has gone insane.”

This is one way to look at evil—as insanity, beyond the pale of anything rational. Is this what the Smoke Monster embodies? Pure madness? For certain, we know Claire has been left in the wilderness and reached her breaking point. Sayid was pushed over the edge by his own actions and the inability to forgive himself. And Ben, the original bad guy, has always exhibited signs of mental instability. Perhaps the Smoke Monster’s plan works this way: the more “mad souls” that he recruits, the stronger he becomes. The apocalypse will come to pass one “infected” spirit at a time.

“The End” by Jim Morrison

(Featured in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now)

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of ev’rything that stands
The end

No safety or surprise
The end
I’ll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need of
some strangers hand
In a desperate land

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the king’s highway
Weird scenes inside the goldmine
Ride the highway West baby

Ride the snake
Ride the snake
To the lake
To the lake

The ancient lake baby
The snake is long
Seven miles
Ride the snake

He’s old
And his skin is cold
The west is the best
The west is the best
Get here and we’ll do the rest

The blue bus is calling us
The blue bus is calling us
Driver, where you taking us?

The killer awoke before dawn
He put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived
And then he paid a visit to his brother
And then he walked on down the hall
And he came to a door
And he looked inside
Father?
Yes son
I want to kill you
Mother, I want to………….

Come on, baby, take a chance with us
Come on, baby, take a chance with us
Come on, baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end

It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me

The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

Get ‘Lost’ for the Night

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 by SCS

A university-sponsored event, free and open to the public

Series Finale Re-watch and Discussion on May 26th

The series finale of the television series LOST has garnered much attention in the media, and for good reason. For years the show has been hailed as groundbreaking, criticized for redundancy and trite storytelling, and dismissed as too complicated in its plot. Not surprisingly, for seven years LOST has been a centerpiece for “watercooler” talk .

With the series “finale” at hand, we invite you to attend a discussion of the cultural and literary impact of LOST.  We also invite interested parties to present their readings of the significance of the show, with particular attention paid to the potential “reverberations” the show will have.

The “conversations” will take place on the University of North Florida campus in Jacksonville, FL on Wednesday, May 26, from 5:00 – 10:00 pm.

The order of events:

5:30 – 6:30, scholarship panel

6:30 – 7:00, refreshment break

7:00 – 9:00, the series finale

9:00 – 10:00, a group discussion

Help us as we say farewell to a show and greet a field of inquiry in popular culture studies.

Please RSVP to englishdept@unf.edu by Wednesday, May 19, if you plan to attend.

Please forward panel/presentation proposals to lhowell@unf.edu by Friday, May 14.

Defining the Threat: The End of EVERYTHING? Really?

Posted in Season 6 Lit with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2010 by SCS

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: http://www.losttv-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?p=2153769 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.”

Announcing: The Book Cover for Literary Lost

Posted in Literary Lost with tags , , , , on April 20, 2010 by SCS

As you may know, I’m working on a book that should be released this fall. It explores the literary side of Lost and examines the numerous book references, drawing from the entire series. I also discuss the relationship between viewers and readers, as well as the notion that “Lost is the most novelistic show ever to air on US television,” as Ivan Askwith has claimed.

The design team has finished the cover art, so here it is!

The Return of Dostoevsky: Episode 6.12

Posted in Season 6 Lit with tags , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2010 by SCS

“Leave us to ourselves, without our books, and at once we get into a muddle and lose our way–we don’t know whose side to be on or where to give our allegiance, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. We even find it difficult to be human beings with real flesh and blood of our own…” —Notes From Underground

In “Everybody Loves Hugo” Hurley is rummaging around Ilana’s camp when he glances down at a very sandy book. It is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short novel, Notes From Underground, in the original Russian. This is Dostoevsky’s second appearance in the series; his work first appears in “Maternity Leave” when Henry Gale (aka Ben) is held captive in a vault at the Swan station. Locke offers him some reading material in the form of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s last novel and greatest work. Ben, however, is unimpressed and wants to know if they have any Stephen King instead. Later, Ben draws a map to Henry Gale’s balloon on the back of this novel’s title page.

Notes From Underground, a much shorter work, is the story of an unnamed, self-isolated character who tortures himself by trying to identify and strive toward humanity’s highest virtues, but eventually realizes that, for all of his well-intentioned philosophizing, his ideas ring hollow and life seems empty. This early existentialist (or, more precisely, pre-existentialist) work proposes that the essence of humanity is not goodness or virtue or even personal interest; rather, it is free will that makes us human. The man from the underground declares, “One’s own free and unfettered volition, one’s own caprice, however wild, one’s own fancy, inflamed sometimes to the point of madness–that is the one best and greatest good…What a man needs is simply and solely independent volition, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead.”

If the writers understand its basic message, the inclusion of this novel hints at an existential reading of this season. Whatever happened, happened–yes. But the characters must exercise their “independent volition” and trust themselves rather than depending on an external force or a transcendent being. The great existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, asserts that there is no dark side, no cosmic force, no god, no fate. Man is “without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.” This notion is well illustrated in the scene when Hurley questions Jack. He wants to know why Jack trusts him, why he is still following along even though Hurley lied about Jacob’s intervention. Here, Jack challenges Hurley to trust himself and to forge his own way. Finally, neither of the men are holding out for an external savior, nor do they have a clear idea of a fated plan. Each has “no other aim than the one he sets himself.” They have what they need to face the inevitable forthcoming challenges: faith in themselves.

Notable Lines of Dialogue

On a separate note, I want to isolate a few key lines from last night’s episode. Some of them are recurring phrases (see previous entry) and some seem to resonate with greater meaning or notes of foreshadowing.

Michael: “It doesn’t matter”

“A lot of people are going to die”

Locke pointedly describes the island as a “godforsaken rock”

Hurley: “Dead people are more reliable than live people.”

Ben: “The island was done with her”

Desmond: “The island has it in for all of us”

“What is the point in being afraid?”

“The Rowers Keep on Rowing

Finally, I want to provide the lyrics to the chilling promo for next week’s episode here. This is “The Rowing Song” from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. These words seem to illustrate well the confusion surrounding the final season of Lost.

“There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing
Is it raining?
Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a-blowing??
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
Yes, the danger must be growing
‘Cause the rowers keep on rowing
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing!”

Previously Spoken on Lost: Recurring Dialogue

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost, Season 6 Lit with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2010 by SCS

“The journey is the thing, of course.  We could have been told six years ago the exact manner in which this epic would end.  But the journey is the thing.  We have found new ways of relating Lewis Carroll and Stephen King and Shakespeare and Greek and Egyptian myth into our way of looking at the world.”1

So said Pearson Moore last week in his incredibly enlightening analysis of “Ab Aeterno.” And in response to Moore’s bit of wisdom, I offer a brief literature lesson here as a device to examine “Happily Ever After.” Also featured are some speculations about the three Charlies (my “Charlie Trinity” theory) and a bit of commentary on true love and John Lennon.

When analyzing a work of literature, it’s always important to identify any recurring images, words or phrases. The repetition draws attention to a particular theme or character and deepens the meaning of a narrative by connecting different points in the story. The same holds true for any narrative, including the televisual kind.  But no one needs to tell this to a Lost fan. We all know that any given episode, especially in season 6, reveals ample evidence of the overarching themes of the show. “Happily Ever After” is unique in that it also  features a barrage of regularly spoken phrases.

Here are just some of them, in no particular order, with their corresponding themes in parentheses. Notice that the themes are packaged neatly within the phrases (or images–see below):

  • Desmond: “It’s always a choice” (free will)
  • Charlie: “Not Penny’s boat” (impending doom)
  • Eloise: “What happened, happened” (predetermination versus free will)
  • Desmond: “What (the bloody hell) do you know about sacrifice?” (sacrifice)
  • Driveshaft: “You all everybody” (collective conscious? Meaninglessness of modern man?)

Images and other themes….

  • Framed picture on Widmore’s wall: the scale (balance, dualism)
  • White rabbits (mystery, scientific innovation, the nature of time)
  • Dreams, visions—Charlie’s, Daniel’s (prophecy and fate)
  • Repetition of Names: The Charlie Trinity

Although we have seen duplicate names throughout the series (two Thomases, two Sarahs, two Emilys, etc.), none of them are as significant as the Three Charlies. The presence of this trinity has a great bearing on the shape of Desmond’s life, whether in one universe or the other. The most famous trinity known to modern Western civilization is, of course, the holy Trinity, but certainly the term can apply to any three-fold entity or triad of significance.  This particular grouping of three, in respect to Desmond, certainly can be compared to the sacred version: Charles Widmore is “the father,” Charlie Hume is “the son” and Charlie Pace, the Holy Spirit.  Charles is very much like an Old Testament god and father, committing questionable acts of violence and aggression for the “greater good,” especially towards Desmond. Charlie Hume represents the child as savior (of Desmond) and love in its purest form, and Charlie Pace acts as a guiding spirit, relaying important messages in mysterious, and even cryptic, ways. Recall, too, his ghostly (or angelic?) visitation to Hurley.  In the original time line Charlie saves Desmond and connects him to Penny, as bearer of her message. In the so-called ‘alternate time line,’ Charlie tries to save Desmond by telling him about “the truth,” which apparently is “spectacular consciousness-altering love” (indeed, love across the universes) and providing revelation through sudden, violent chaos, a la Flannery O’Connor style.  Again, he steers Desmond toward Penny by acknowledging that she’s out there for him to find. This metaphysical family is a web that at once supports Desmond and also frustrates him. Desmond is not at all “free of attachments” as sideways Widmore suggests, but very much bound to this triad of Charlies. Think about this: after leaving little Charlie behind in the original time line, Desmond travels to the parallel universe only to be charged with babysitting another Charlie.

  • Romantic Love

Lastly the theme of “true love” should be addressed. I suppose it is possible that “consciousness-altering love” might turn out to be the savior after all. If ever there were “soul mates” we can find them here. The idea that Desmond falls in love with Penny in a completely different universe, before ever meeting her, is extraordinary. Although this kind of love is even less likely than John Locke rising from the dead, I can’t help but hear John Lennon singing “Limitless undying love/ which shines around me like a million suns/ It calls me on and on across the universe.” So here is a sentimental tribute to Penny and Des, courtesy of the Beatles.

Images of broken light which
dance before me like a million eyes
That call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Essentially, nothing can change Desmond’s world; he will always find Penny, no matter the universe. Personally, I don’t think the theme of romantic love (or any mushy stuff) blends well with cool narrative devices like the manipulation of the space-time continuum. But considering there is a trinity of star-crossed couples in this episode—Daniel and Charlotte, Charlie and Claire, Desmond and Penny—it is certainly significant to the shape of the plot.

Sources:

1. Pearson Moore’s “Cultural Inversions”

http://www.sl-lost.com/2010/03/27/siempre-juntos-part-ii-cultural-inversions-in-lost-609-by-pearson-moore/

Self as Savior

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost, Theories with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by SCS

Hello readers! Please check out my latest commentary, “Self as Savior: A Theory,” on DocArzt:

Self as Savior: A Theory

It’s not a response to this week’s episode, which I found rather bland after “Ab Aeterno,” but a loose prediction of how things will shake down as the series comes to a close. Please leave comments there (docarzt) or here. Thanks for reading.