You're at Starbucks, minding your own business, when a young woman next to you in line breaches all social etiquette by popping the zeitgeist's most terrifying chit chat question, "Have you seen Lost? What do you think it's all about?"
You fumble your change. But don't panic. We'll coach you through this.
Your linemate's curiosity is understandable. Everyone seems to be asking everyone else what he or she thinks of Lost. Not since Twin Peaks 16 years ago has a TV series caught so much metaphysical buzz.
Packed full of Biblical allegories, otherworldly visions, conversions and baptisms, Lost is a spiritual puzzle that no one seems to be able to piece together.
That is until now!
As you pick up your drink look the truth seeker in the eye and state confidently, "Part Dr. Moreau, part purgatory."
Sensing clarity in a confused world, she squints her eyes and asks, "Why part Dr. Moreau?"
As you stir three Equals into your non-fat mocha latte, you explain that Lost is eerily similar to H.G. Wells' milestone novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. The first film adaptation of Wells' masterpiece was the Island of Lost Souls, the 1933 classic that starred Charles Laughton in his first US role. People love details so lay'em on!
"There are many similarities between The Island of Doctor Moreau and the current Lost," you continue as you raise your coffee, speaking into the cup. "Both feature shipwrecked souls on a tropical island who desperately try to make sense of bizarre laboratory experiments. Both possess populations of "others" who not only predate the recently marooned but who also seem to possess answers to the island's mysteries, having survived the experimentation."
Then state glibly, latte foam extending your grin, "Its not as though Hollywood would shy away from such a remake, there are already two from 1977 and 1996."
"But why purgatory?" your interlocutor questions.
Glancing across the espresso machine you notice the over caffeinated barista ridiculing a subordinate, an appropriate backdrop to your next comment. "Catholics believe that purgatory, the final phase of redemption, purifies the soul of the temporal effects of the sins we commit in this world. It prepares the soul for its entrance into heaven."
"Ouch!" The barista didn't only scold his employee. He scalded his hand on the steamer. His employee tries to help. Concern replaces ridicule.
You point to the barista, "Suffering, even anguish, always accompanies redemption. Lost is all about suffering that leads to redemption that leads to spiritual fulfillment. What's amazing is that the creators of Lost have been able to present these stories of spiritual cleansing in such a way that Hollywood, of all places, would heap award after award on them. I mean the L.A. Times, tinsel town's own rag, called it the best drama ever. Ever!"
"Who would have thought purgatory would be so entertaining?" You need a laugh line at this point in the conversation. But then you get serious.
"Didn't you love the 23rd Psalm episode? That new Eko character is amazing. When he is a boy warlords storm his Nigerian village for recruits. They put a gun into his brother's hand and tell him to shoot an old man. His brother refuses. So Eko grabs the gun and shoots the old man to save his brother. The warlords take Eko, leaving only his cross, which his brother later wears."
"When we next see Eko he is a grown man and the leader of the warlords. They're trying to smuggle heroin out of Nigeria. The only planes allowed to fly are those affiliated with the Christian missions, so he forces his brother, now a priest, to help him fly the heroin out. On the tarmac, as they ready for takeoff, the military arrive, having been alerted by Eko's brother. After a fierce exchange of words and bullets, Eko is left behind and his brother ends up dead on the plane, soon to crash into the storyline of Lost. Eko finds his way to the island and discovers the crash site. As Eko clutches his brother's decaying body he weeps, finally releasing the rage built up since he killed the old man to save his brother's life. Eko takes his cross from his brother's neck, the one he gave to him years before, and puts it around his own. Then he stands and declares that he is now a pr
The two of you just stand there, drinks in hand. The full impact of the story takes time to set in. You both discover again why Lost has captured the imagination of so many people.
Maybe this is why Lost is so popular. It starts with a proven sci-fi set-up. And then it builds on that foundation with one character after another coming to terms with their spiritual anguish. And it does this with respect for the torment that people go through in their lives. There is nothing silly or superficial about Lost.
Lost accomplishes the Herculean task in modern America of moving its audience from chit chat, bickering and Starbucks grand non-fat 3 Equal mocha latte's to questions of ultimate meaning and our responsibility not only to ourselves, but to others, to right and wrong, and to God.
This is why Lost is not called "Lost Souls." The producers realized that the souls marooned on the island are anything but lost. They are being redeemed.
Your new friend thanks you for your insights. You quietly thank the makers of Lost for a job well done.