A few notes:
The biggest question lingering around is “what is the island?” I think it’s a door. Or a house with a door. Or doors. (And anyone who knows my fondness for House of Leaves should see the significance I place on houses and doors.) It is a point of transition, a place people pass through before moving on to somewhere else. Similar to an airport terminal. Where people move on to isn’t really the relevant question. It isn’t itself purgatory, or limbo, but more like a contact point; a place where the walls between places become thin and there are, again, doors, and, importantly, where there is the choice of whether to move through the door or not, and when to do so. If we continue with the house metaphor, then we can think of the sidewise-universe (what my friend Cheryl calls, and so will I, “limbo”) where the characters find themselves is at most a room within the house.
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This is what I think the Source is, this room where people gather to wait before moving on. A metaphysical microcosm of the island itself. And to veer perilously close to the metaphysical myself, the energy seems to be something we could call “souls.” Neither I now anyone involved with the show has a doctorate in physics, but I’ve seen enough Ghostbusters and Ghost Hunters to understand the idea that one way of thinking of ghosts is as residual un-dispersed energy of some kind, and electromagnetic energy seems as good a variety of energy as any other. So we have souls (maybe not lost souls, but at least souls waiting for departure) inhabiting the island, showing up at random to others who aren’t dead yet. (Man in Black has the ability to appear in the form of dead people as well, so, frustratingly, it is never clear whether any ghost sighting actually authentic or just Man in Black’s manipulations.)
Where I think all this leads to is the conflict over who controls the island and what they turn the island into using that control. Jacob’s mother and Jacob himself both viewed the island as something itself in need of protecting, like something sacred that should never be allowed to change, something timeless. Jacob’s mother kills nearly all visitors to the island out of a paranoid xenophobia, thinking only the worst of other people. Jacob absorbs some of this lesson, but puts it to a test. He manipulates people into coming to the island so that they can, unknown to them, prove Jacob’s mother wrong. Jacob is very distant in this practice, rarely interacting with those he brings to the island and instead watching from afar, like a scientist standing over a rat maze. But his experiment is to discover peoples’ character broadly, not within any context narrowly defined by circumstances, so he keeps changing the rules and parameters of the test. Seeing what people do when they are continually denied the ability to understand the consequences of their actions apparently reveals something about the deep-character of an individual (I pretty much stole this idea from the premise to the movie Dark City, and how it looks for the human soul scientifically). While Jacob brings people to the island, he is fundamentally on his own, like his mother before him. His brother, instead of being a friend or a partner, is a rival, an adversary. The island is a place of combat, of winners and losers; a zero sum game. And the island is all this not because of something intrinsic to its nature, but because that is what whose who charged themselves with protecting it have themselves made it
All of this starts to change a little when Jack becomes guardian, as Jack has friends, has social connections, is part of a community, neither wondering about the capacity for groups of people to ever be good nor aloofly standing apart from those people. I’m not sure I can state what exactly Jack thinks he is defending, but it almost certainly is not limited to the sanctity of the island. It involves protecting his friends as well. Not testing them, nor trying to prove something, but protecting. This is why an easy to miss line from the final is, in my estimation, so crucial. When J
ack is passing the mantle to Hurley, Ben and Hurley have pulled Desmond out of the cave, and realize Jack is gone, Hurley asks what he should do, and Jack Ben responds with something like “Do what you do best, take care of people.” Not protect the island, not protect the light, but protect people. Help people, fix people, what have you.
And this, I think, is the genesis of the sidewise universe limbo. Instead of being a place to be protected, or a field upon which things are contested, with Hurley the island becomes a place of working together and helping one another. Hurley’s first choice is to forgive Ben (one of the sneakiest and most delightfully detestable villains ever) and ask him for help, to be his “#2.” He doesn’t kill Ben, or transform him into a personification of an oppositional philosophy, he includes Ben as a partner to help make something. This is about using the island to help and protect people, not using people to protect the island. And instead of all the ghosts wandering about the island, being moved around like pawns in the giant Jacob/Man in Black game of metaphysical backgammon, they come together to make a place where their lives can turn out better, where all the baggage that lead to their initial selection by Jacob can be worked out.
So what is the light? I think it is souls that have come together to make something. They’re all responsible for their own part of it, and they’re all there (even, I would argue, Michael and Walt, even though they don’t appear in the church. Maybe they aren’t ready to move on, maybe they already have, something). They all move in to the light, and become part of it, part of that light which comes from wherever that cave goes and which power everything to start with.
I’m sure there are plenty of holes in this, but I like this. Wraps things up in a way that makes me happy, mostly.