I can’t help but feel sorry for the Man In Black (MIB) the character in the TV series LOST who’s worst crime was his desire to leave The Island. Yes, he killed a slew of characters, but he certainly wasn’t the only one to do so. In the series finale Jack Shepherd kills the Man In Black, who’s been posing as John Locke, by kicking him over a cliff [watch scene]. From the perspective of the storyline, the MIB’s death was necessary for Jack to save the Island, which was in danger of breaking apart. In the series commentary, the producers explain that the Man In Black was the epitome of evil, but was he really? There is absolutely no reflection upon this statement, whether it is truly justified or not. No one seems to be questioning it. Just take a look at Jack and Kate - Kate actually shoots Locke (the MIB) before Jack kicks him over the cliff - obviously they don’t feel an ounce of remorse.
I’m sure the producers even expected all those watching to cheer during the scene… to be participants in his sacrifice so to speak - what contemporary thinker Rene Girard calls a MECHANISM of UNANIMITY.
All I can say is, poor MIB, stranded on the Island his entire life. Even as a boy all he ever wanted was to leave and see the world beyond the sea. What’s so wrong with that?
A bit of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory laced with ample amounts of post-modern thought provides one way to read this: in any ENCLOSURE, take the SYMBOLIC ORDER for instance, or an ISLAND, anyone who wants to escape, to get free, is automatically a problem. Maybe the Man in Black, and his growing discontent with life on the Island, represents a threat to that order, one which has to be removed to re-stabilize things. Indeed “closure spells exclusion, exclusiveness; closure spills blood, doctrinal, confessional, theological, political, institutional blood, and eventually, it never fails, real blood.” (John Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 6) And for Rene Girard such bloodshed requires UNANIMITY.
Think about it - there’s nothing more enclosed than a remote island in the Pacific… wouldn’t we all want to get free? To be rescued by somebody? You tell me. Postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida identifies islands as “aporetical places: with no way out or any assured path, without itinerary or point of arrival, without an exterior map…“ Indeed, for Derrida the absence of any recognizable horizon, of any calculable way forward “conditions the future itself.“ (Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” Religion, 7). Thus we encounter what he describes as an abyss at the center of such experiences, how do we respond to this? These are risky places where the contradictions of our lives may be laid bare, where we’re given the opportunity to see our selves more honestly, to remember the traumatic events that have led us thus far. But for many this is a source of fear, of unbearable uncertainty and chaos. Rather than open themselves to the unknown, to uncertainty, to the future, and the anxiety this provokes they choose to fill it with something, to cover it over.
In the Season Six episode “Across The Sea” [watch episode] we finally learn the history of the ISLAND, and the reason for the MIB’s antagonism. The Man In Black has lived on the ISLAND his entire life, he was born there and has never been anywhere else. His twin brother was born first and was named Jacob, but the MIB’s birth was unexpected. As far as we can tell he was never given a name. Growing up to be curious and highly intelligent, he longs to know what lies beyond the sea. His twin brother Jacob is not nearly as gifted, in fact he’s quite content with life on the ISLAND, and never questions what lies beyond the horizon, but he IS jealous of his brother. When crisis erupts, Jacob, throws the MIB into the abyss, “the Source” at “the Heart of the Island.” He does this to protect the light emanating from it, which we’re told is the source of stability, not just for the ISLAND, but for the entire world. Thus the MIB is a victim of the ISLAND’s ENCLOSURE.
This action is duplicated thousands of years later when Jack, acting as a kind of savior figure, kills his rival Locke who desperately wants to leave the ISLAND. Jack has agreed to replace Jacob who’s been acting as the ISLAND’s protector all this time. Locke, on the other hand, has been possessed by the ghost of the Man in Black. As the rivalry between Jack and Locke intensifies, “the Source” at “the Heart of the Island” explodes in a volcanic eruption which threatens to destroy the ISLAND and everyone on it. We’re told that if the eruption is not contained, if the MIB is allowed to leave the ISLAND, uncontrolled violence will be unleashed upon the world… at least that’s what they’re afraid will happen. As long the survivors refuse to open themselves to the unforeseeable possibilities that life on the ISLAND, and the SELF-DISCLOSURE it provokes, offers them, the tensions that arise in such aporetical places will escalate, multiplying into all sorts of interpersonal conflict. Once the characters deny personal responsibility for their individual sources of aggression, resentment and anger, they will consciously or not, find another way to contain the violence before it explodes into uncontrolled chaos: in this case the MECHANISM of UNANIMITY, and the safety of ENCLOSURE. Indeed, the genius of LOST was the way the ISLAND exposed each survivor to the impossibility, to the personal deadlocks, which had gripped their individual lives. Crashing on the ISLAND offered each survivor a chance to face whatever life circumstances, the traumas that had brought them to that place - but that would require considerable courage and humility…
Unfortunately after three years on the ISLAND, and Six Seasons later, LOST’s writers opt for the easy way out. Obviously they have no idea how to carry the plot forward… how could they unless they exposed themselves to the uncertainty, to the loss of horizons, to the abyss at the center of ISLAND. So just like Jacob, they use Locke’s death to resolve the crisis, dissolving all the tensions that have accumulated amongst the survivors since they first crashed on the ISLAND. Like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, everyone is reunited in the final scene (in a church no less) - not one person bothers to shed a tear for the MIB. Of course not, they are completely at peace, literally basking in the light which has been restored, once the “the Source” of the eruption is plugged, and its fury quelled. They no longer have to deal with the anxiety, the loss of horizons, the abyss at the center of the ISLAND, the “aporetical place,” that gave rise to all the tensions in the first place. They no longer have to face their inner demons. But they have sacrificed whatever unexpected possibilities, the new ways of learning to live together, which the future may have offered. Instead they have projected all their tensions and anxiety onto the one person who wanted to leave - the MIB - and this UNANIMITY secures the ISLAND’s CLOSURE once again, at least for the time being.
I’m sure the writers expect us to view this as a miraculous event - salvific so to speak… but is it really? LOST fans are conflicted on this, and maybe they ought to be…
More on this in my upcoming post: the role of THE ONE in LOST and The Matrix. - Sue Wright