“Life begins on the other side of despair.” – Sartre
“The best way out of hell is through the other side.” – Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers
In the Rewatch Column for “Three Minutes” I briefly discussed Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” and its relevance to Lost. If you’d like to catch up on what was said you can do so by clicking over to Chud.com.
In talking about No Exit I barely scratched the surface of it in general, and more specifically, as it relates to Lost. I’d like to take the time to delve just a little deeper into Sartre’s play in this edition of Too Much Information.
I’ve read two separate accounts of No Exit’s origins. According to one account, Sartre originally titled his play “The Others.” I discussed the concepts of Others and ‘Othering’ in the Rewatch column for “One of Them,” which you can read right HERE.
According to a separate account, he originally published his play with the title “In Camera.” I’m unable to independently confirm that both these claims are true. But assuming that they are (and why not? I’m not an academic, just a curious fella) both of these titles have clear significance to Lost.
Here are some thematic ideas that emerge from Sartre’s play. Rather than spell out the links I see between it and Lost, I’m more interested in your opinion. Can you spot the way(s) in which these ideas may have come into play on Lost? I invite you to use the comments and let me know what you think.
In No Exit, the room in which the play’s three central characters (Garcin, Inez and Estelle) are confined contains no mirrors. Instead, the three characters act as mirrors for each other; literally, as when Inez offers to be Estelle’s mirror by describing her appearance for her, and figuratively, as each of them are reflected back to themselves by the opinions and the judgments of their companions. Within the play, each of the three characters is left with a decision they must make or have, perhaps, already made: to define themselves by how others see them, or to define themselves on their own terms.
Estelle becomes concerned that without mirrors she essentially ceases to exist. Without something (literal in this case, but certainly figurative overall) that reflects back to her who she ought to be she feels lost. Sartre’s belief that humanity is free to choose who it will be and how it will act. He also believed that this choice was a responsibility on the part of each person.
I've discussed mirrors and 'mirroring' quite a bit in the Rewatch Columns. How have you seen this phenomenon crop up on the show? Do you agree that the writers are 'mirroring' intentionally?
Sartre defined ‘bad faith’ in interesting terms. To act in ‘bad faith,’ one needs only to let another person define who you are. If you love to play music, but stop playing music because a newspaper has given you a bad review then you are acting in ‘bad faith’ – making the mistake of letting someone else’s idea of your self-worth stand in for your own.
Garcin asks Estelle to tell him whether or not he is a coward. Estelle replies that it is impossible for her to say whether or not he is a coward, and tells Garcin that he must decide for himself – something Garcin chooses not to do and professes himself to be incapable of doing so. By denying his own ability to choose how he will define himself, Garcin surrenders his free will to whomever is judging him. If Inez should decide that Garcin is a coward, a coward he will be. The mirror, for Garcin, becomes the reality. He is what is reflected back to him. There is no ‘Garcin,’ apart from the value that Others assign to him.
Sartre’s belief that humanity is free to choose who it will be and how it will act. He also believed that this choice was a responsibility on the part of each person. Failing this responsibility is ‘bad faith.’
Faith is a huge part of Lost's thematic preoccupations. But Sartre's idea of faith is very different from religious faith. In what ways have we seen both kinds of faith explored?
In No Exit the characters have no reason to lie to each other – they are dead and (one presumes) already judged, if they are judged at all. And yet, despite this, they continue to lie to one another and to themselves.
The castaways on Lost aren't 'really' dead, but their crash leaves them effectively dead to the world and capable of reinventing themselves (or not) among people who do not know them. Despite this, they continue to lie to one another and themselves.
The Past vs. The Present and Suffering
Garcin, like many of the castaways on the Island throughout the course of the show, remains fixated on the events of his past to the exclusion of what is happening to him in the present. He refuses to set aside what has already occurred in order to Rise Up and Converge with his fellow ‘prisoners.’
Suffering, Sartre believed, was essential to experience in order to affirm one’s own existence. Buddhism agrees with Sartre. Lost appears to agree as well. How has suffering helped to affirm the characters' existence?
I ask these questions, not because I'd like you to do my homework for me, but because I believe that Lost is inviting us to participate in asking these sorts of questions. I invite you to do so as well.
Catch up on Too Much Information!
Too Much Information 6: Gnarly Gnosticism & Mondo Manichaeism
Too Much Information 5: Mirrors & Delays Too Much Information 4: Gods and Musicians - How The Mythologizing of The Beatles Helps Us Understand the Reality of the Dharma Initiative Too Much Information 3: Loopholes and Prison-feet Too Much Information 2: Who is the MiB? Too Much Information: Stimulus/Response and Control Theory, or How I Learned To Start Behaving And Love Course Correction