There’s a lot of things to notice about the Island in which the majority of the action on Lost transpires. You might notice the lush vegetation, the crystal blue water, and oh yeah, you might notice a few ghosts, spirits, and apparitions as well. It’s sorta like Sandals meets "The Sixth Sense" that way. In this first entry in this week’s extended look at the Island, I want to examine more closely the various supernatural encounters on the Island, ranging from the metaphorical to the metaphysical, and try to tease out what these appearances tell us not only about the Island itself, but those who find themselves upon its shores.
I’m trying to look at the various strange occurrences from both perspectives because to me, it’s not clear which is the true source of them. On one hand, you could argue the Island’s singular role is producing physical representations of past memories of those who are on the Island. On the other, you could argue that passing through the electromagnetic anomaly surrounding the Island rewires the brains of those who pass through. In the former case, the Island is a sentient entity; the latter, it’s merely a backdrop to visions produced through pseudoscientific manipulation of the brain.
Now, the answer probably isn’t one or the other, which is most likely why Alvar Hanso and the DeGroots were so interested in the Island in the first place. I’ve long argued that the Island could be seen as the largest testing ground for "mind over matter" in the world, but what if what’s going on is in fact "mind into matter?" It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one, and gets to the heart of the status of the Island in the time since the arrival of the Dharma Initiative. Because while I think it would be foolish to argue the Island wasn’t unique before the arrival of Dharma, it’s unfair to simply assume the way the Island works now was always ever the same.
The history of the Island is, of course, sketchy. We have one ginormous four-toed statue leg, and a geological formation that suggests volcanic activity at some point in the distant past. And, well, that’s about it, until the arrival of the Black Rock in the latter half of the 19th century. We can infer, however, from what little we know that something about this Island drew people periodically into its hidden sphere. You can assign the reasons behind said "drawing" yourself: if you believe the Island to be fundamentally "alive," then you would argue that it’s picked and chosen its inhabitants over the years, making it sorta like a tropical co-op society. You can also assign the reasons to pure dumb luck: wrong ship at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We do know that the Hanso Foundation saw the Island as a unique place to conduct its experiments. What we don’t know is exactly what unique properties they sought to exploit, and more importantly, we don’t know what type of unique properties that they inadvertently created once there. In a sense, I would theorize that the Island as we know is a mutated version of the one that pre-dates the Dharma Initiative: one that had inherent magical properties that were altered/augmented by experiments done by the Dharma Initiative.
Thus, when one talks about the Island being "alive," one must inevitably talk about its birth. And by birth, I mean the inception of its consciousness, that moment in which a series of computers becomes Skynet, or that moment in which Lindsey Lohan realized she didn’t need a fake I.D. to get into clubs. To say the Island is 5 million, 6 million, 10 millions years old is to say when it was formed; but what I’m looking for is the moment in which it was borne.
Now, we’ve long seen characters that treat the Island itself as a conscious entity. John Locke’s long made a habit of assigning will and reasoning to the Island as a whole, much to the chagrin of Jack Shephard. Richard Alpert is a similar acolyte of the Island. Both treat the Island with deferential reverence, performing actions that will, in a sense, make the Island happy. If you trace a through line for their motivations, you can generally see them performing the will of the Island as they understand it. When they stray from the path, generally they are straying away from that motivation and doing things for those that do not have the Island’s best interest at heart.
Now, one need not believe that to see things one really shouldn’t. Jack sees his father. Kate sees a horse. Hurley sees Dave. Sawyer sees a boar. Sayid sees a cat. All things which are parts of their past impossibly confronting them on an island thousands of miles (if not more) from when they last saw them. So, it’s not merely a matter of the Island rewarding its loyal followers. In fact, Richard agrees to let Ben join what eventually become the Others specifically for his unique ability to see his long-dead mother on the Island. Is he recognizing someone with the same power as him, or one who possesses a gift no one else at the time had?
And that’s why I tend to think what we’re dealing with is not an "either/or" situation, in terms of the derivation of these fantastical visions. The whole symbiosis makes me think of a few lines in U2’s "Walk On":
And love is not the easy thing…
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind
It’s what these particular people bring to the Island that is important, and in many ways singular, which suggests that while the Island can potentially produce images and people long lost, it is not an omnipotent power. It needs those minds; it needs those people. The question remains, however: how long has it truly needed them? From the time of the four-toed statue, or much more recently?
In tomorrow’s entry, I’ll look at the arrival of the Dharma Initiative as a turning point in the history of the Island, in which a new epoch ushered in by a terrible incident changed not only those on the island, but the Island itself.
In the meantime, do you think the Island is truly "alive"? If so, is it actively producing the various apparitions/spirits on the Island, or is it merely a function of personal psychology interaction with unusual topography? Did the Dharma Initiative merely unleash the island’s potential or in fact alter it?
Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude.