I spent some time reading official and unofficial interpretations of the finale and there’s a lot of ambiguity and derailed interpretations that are starting to be shared by the majority. I cling with the interpretation I’ve given because it’s coherent with what we’ve been shown, while all other interpretations I’m reading have various crucial lapses of logic.
At the end the only way to find the “best” interpretation is to pick the one that is the least contradictory, and that’s what I was doing.
First there’s Jeff Jensen again, who followed one of those hyperlinks no one bothers to follow, and discovered something meaningful and that reinforces my theory that most of the mysteries in Lost have to be seen and interpreted in a symbolic way, and not literally as many are wont to do.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Haroun is a self-aware fairy tale about a young hero (whose name means ”Aaron”) who has an adventure in a realm that happens to be the source of all stories.
Haroun fights a monstrous, shape-shifting Man In Black who seeks to destroy the ”sea of stories.” The villain is a crazed, control freak man of science/political tyrant who wants to put a cork in the wellspring of meaning itself and then spike the Sea of Story with a toxin of ”anti-story,” or meaninglessness.
Haroun saves the day, and for his trouble, the administrators who manage the fantastical realm give him a happy ending. Haroun is slightly troubled by this; he feels this ”happy ending” business is terribly contrived. Yet he accepts the gift anyway, and appreciates it more and more as the benefits roll in. Love. Hope. Forgiveness. Empowerment. Redemption. Reconciliation. Restoration. In the end (and this is just my interpretation), Haroun decides to worry less about the origin of this windfall — an inexplicable palette drop loaded with yummy, nourishing soul food — and instead decides to worry more about living a life worthy of these eternal values. The mechanism of the delivery may have been contrived, but the values themselves are truthful and real.
This works way too well to not be acceptable. It wraps completely what happened in the whole series, comparing mysteries and everything else as “devices” in order to enjoy a finality.
It only leaves to interpretation the Purgatory part, that is now the most controversial and the one whose interpretations I see as inconsistent. Including the one given by Jeff Jensen (I’ll continue to use Jeff Jensen as a template since he spells things out clearly and his interpretation is the one most widespread).
In particular the object of discord is the interpretation of what happens to Ben at the end.
The widespread interpretation I criticize:
We begin with Benjamin Linus. I was surprised and moved to learn that the bug-eyed devil got a ticket to the castaways’ afterlife rocket launch, that he was even considered a member of this spiritual clan. How very ”love thy enemy.”
Here I agree. These are the people that Ben got connected the most with. But accepting this, means that the second part is wrong. Which “ticket” to get is NOT a choice. This, and just this, is the clan he gets to be with. He doesn’t get another. In his life Ben connected with THESE people.
Ben chose to stay in the Sideways world instead of joining the castaways in their communal upload into the Source. He said he still had some things he needed to work out for himself. I’ve heard that some fans didn’t like the implications of Ben’s decision. If souls are allowed to kick around Purgatory for eternity and figure themselves out, then doesn’t the Sideways world effectively cheapen the Island story? If our redemption issues can be processed easily and painlessly in the cushy limbo of our own blue heaven, then what does it matter what manner of evil that we commit or suffering we endure in the world of matter?
Yes, you can stay and ”figure things out,” but this introspection doesn’t change who you are. Or rather, were. You don’t get to craft a flattering interpretation of yourself. You don’t get to accumulate more experience to improve your chances at heavenly election. You only get one life to live, and the opportunity that the Sideways world provides is the chance to puzzle together and come to grips with the person you became while you lived it.
The second paragraph shares the same explanation I’ve given: you don’t get a second chance in Purgatory. What matters is the “first” life and whatever you’ve experienced/learned there. Purgatory only represents consequence of your life, but you don’t get to fix mistakes and become a better person in Purgatory so that you can too aspire to paradise. What is done is done. Do we agree up to this point?
Agreeing with this means that the beginning of the first paragraph is WRONG. Ben doesn’t choose to stay in the Sideways world.
So everything lies in the interpretation of Ben’s statement: “I have some things that I still need to work out. I think I’ll stay here a while.”
People doing wishful thinking have straightly assumed that it means that Ben decides to stay out in the Purgatory and awaken Danielle and daughter or something like that, and it’s with them that he’ll do the afterlife rocket launch into bright light. I don’t swallow this interpretation because it contradicts every other premise.
First: Ben lost his chance to bond with other people. He wasn’t able to create real bonds in his life, if not maybe with Hurley in the island time span we don’t get to see. Danielle and her daughter represent missed opportunities.
Second: the Purgatory is a construct. It is fake wishland. It’s just a preparatory set-up so that the “soul cluster” can meet and move on together. Its function is merely of “acceptance”. Letting go what you thought was meaningful. Its function is merely revelatory and transitory. Meaning that Ben can’t go out and get a second chance because Danielle and her daughter are also fake constructs. Wishful thinking. They are furniture. In the same way the plane not crashing was solely a symbolic event they decided to put at the basis of their Purgatory construct. In the same way Jack’s son was also wishful thinking and furniture. In Purgatory you don’t craft a better life for yourself or get to fix your mistakes. Purgatory is made to reveal and accept what you’ve been and just that.
This is again reinforced by the fact that every slightly meaningful role is taken by someone who appeared in the show. We get to see a cameo of basically every character because this sideways reality was effectively built by those who end up in the church, with everyone else being merely a construct:
The Sideways world is a manifestation of the castaway soul cluster’s collective yearning. They wanted a world where they never crashed on The Island. They wanted a world where The Island had no sway over their lives. Ergo, their purgatory paradise reflects that yearning.
I have also seen The Island as a symbol for a world with objective meaning. Truth is ”out there;” it can be sought and found, even if it ultimately requires individual interpretation. The destroyed Island in Sidewaysabad is a symbol for subjective, meaning-challenged world where the only things that are truly real — the Island-world souls of the castaways — are literally submerged and lost in the murky depths of their Sideways avatars.
This still doesn’t explain what Ben says and why he decides to not join everyone else in the church.
My interpretation of his words and intent: Ben is outside, sitting alone and looking miserable. He is exactly like Scrooge in the Dickens’ Christmas tale. He gets to see people happy and understands how miserable he was. Ben wasn’t able to connect enough with Danielle or his daughter to be there with them. He lost his chance and now he’s alone.
It’s fairly silly to expect him to go out and awaken them. First because it’s too late to bond with them now, secondly because everything out there isn’t real. And trying to awaken Danielle is like trying to awaken furniture. Ben understands this. He will ultimately follow the others into the light (the last thing Hurely tells Ben is “I’ll see you”, nodding with his head toward the inside of the church), but he’ll still feel missing something.
He’s screwed and looks miserable. It’s a sad ending.
Also: this can be used as a parallel for another meaningful message the show tries to reveal. Remember the scene when Jack fills the plastic bottle with water to transfer the guardian role to Hurley (and plausibly grant him immortality and other undisclosed powers)? Well, the pragmatist in us would say that it couldn’t work. Because Jack didn’t say the magic words. In the exact same way the pragmatist in you pretends that Ben doesn’t share his companions’ destination in the bright light, simply because he’s sitting outside.
The point, and something that the show tried hard to prove, is that the “rules” can be made along the way. They are arbitrary customs so that we can make ourselves understood. They are conceits. They can be this and that, but it doesn’t matter in the end. If you cling to the rules you cling to the part that doesn’t matter. Magic words or not, in or out the church. A word represents meaning, but the meaning isn’t the word. Those are the same aspects of life that you are supposed to “let go”. Same for the hardcore explanations for every mystery: they aren’t the point. Clinging to strict rules is about clinging to the delusion of an imaginary world. Like Jack clinging to the idea that his son is “real”.