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The Curious Case of Lost's 'Language Switch'

Gregaus February 2, 2013 User blog:Gregaus
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Recently someone on a Lost fan-site complained that one of the show's best scenes was ruined because of the choice of language used - an extraordinary allegation considering its importance.


The scene in question is the epic one in 'The Candidate' where Sun and Jin die. Once Jack et al leave, the doomed couple switch between English and Korean.


JIN: (Resurfacing after another attempt at freeing Sun) Ahh...Uhhh

SUN: Jin. You have to go.

JIN: No. I can do this.

SUN: No. No, you can't. (crying) Please go.

JIN: (lovingly cupping Sun's face) I won't leave you. (Jin goes under attempting to free Sun as the water has now risen to neck level)

JIN: I'm gonna get you out of here.

SUN: (holds Jin's face imploringly) Go... Please! Go.

JIN: (helplessly looking around) 당신하고 같이 있을게. 다시는 떠나지 않을거야. (Subtitle: I won't leave you. I will never leave you again...) [in English] I love you, Sun. (they embrace and kiss)

SUN: (crying) I love you. (They embrace and kiss as water rises to their faces - the sub falls to the bottom of the ocean - completely immersed - the lifeless hands of Jin and Sun separate - Sun's body floats, her hair covering her face.)


This is one Lost's most heart-wrenching/beautiful scenes. Even collecting the images to use for this post had me tearing up. It left a big impression on me that's just as strong today as the first time I watched in horror as two of my favourite characters passed away in the most tragic of circumstances.

For this reason, I found it (to put it mildly) bemusing to hear that for some, the scene was a failure because of - get this - the language that was used. The people that had the issue believed that the whole thing should have been in Korean. While I understood why this would have been acceptable, I can not fathom how such an extraordinary scene could be 'ruined' (a very strong word) because of this.

I was accused by some of 'defending the indefensible' because of my dedication to Lost. The truth is my love for the show is the reason I am highly critical of it at times (note my thoughts on Stranger in a Strange Land and especially the character of Achara for which I will never forgive the writers for).

I clearly outlined the reasons why I thought they were right to script the scene (mostly) in English. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the producers were 100% correct to do it the way they did.

Those words (in the sub scene) to me had FAR more impact in English than they would have in any other language I do not speak. It's as simple as that. Do I understand that some people would see it differently? Yes of course. Do I think that in real life they would have spoken Korean? Quite possibly. Equally they could have said it all in English as well as that was the language they'd been speaking with the other Lostie's just seconds before. Lost is entirely fiction where sometimes, decisions like this come about because of lengthy discussions between writers and producers. I guarantee there would have been a heated debate about this in the writers room.

Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 6.29.16 PM
The scene did in fact feature some Korean so really, it's open to interpretation whether they actually said what they did in any one language. Just like there is a strum of a guitar in "Across The Sea" that signified the change from Latin to English (even though they weren't speaking English at all), similarly we could view this scene in exactly the same way.

There is a scene in Season 1 where Sun and Jin are in the caves and having a fight in Korean (shortly after he discovers she's bilingual and long before Jin learned any English). Sun, crying, instantly moves from speaking Korean to English saying "I was going to leave you, I was going to run away". Jin looks at her and till this day, we're not sure if this was a case of where the writers chose to switch to English for emotional impact (where really it was said in the characters native tongue), or whether she really did say those words in English in the context of the 'Lost universe'.

Sundoc
I love that they did this because sometimes personal interpretation is a powerful thing. The words she mouths in English are a major revelation. Jin ends up walking off and so begins yet another period of time where they don't speak. Did he understand what she said? We will never know. Does it matter? Either way, it's this kind of detail, this kind of writing, this kind of "choose your own adventure" style of narrative that keeps me glued to the TV each time I watch this show.

The "language-switch" technique on Lost was quite common. In the France flash-back episode with Sayid (where he gets taken prisoner by the husband of the woman he previously tortured), the scenes between the two men begin in Farsi and then at a pivotal moment switches to English which continues right through till the end. Viewers know they weren't speaking English at all, but the switch makes the 42 minutes of dialogue much easier to follow as there is no need for subtitles the whole time. Flash back scenes with Sayid in Iraq often did the exact same thing. They'd start in Farsi and then switch to English.

Index
Who's to say that the scene in the sub between Sun and Jin wasn't the same? It's totally open to interpretation; after all, Lost is not a 100% accurate documentary-style recreation of something that really happened. It's fiction, with viewers asked to fill many of the blanks themselves (see my previous posts on Lost’s “Descriptive vs Demonstrative” writing style). My interpretation of the final scene for example differs hugely from other people's. There is no "one right" (though admit I've seen many wrongs as well, but that's besides the point).

I believe that the issue of language in the sub-death scene is almost a moot point because we’re free to believe whatever we want. Personally, I do not care which language they actually spoke. What matters to me is the emotional resonance that I feel was enhanced considerably by the producers choice to script the majority of the scene in English - a choice that is equally plausible had it have happened in real life.

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