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I hope to be definitive, but I know that I will fail. Days have passed since the finale, and after much discussion, there are still some people who remain convinced that the whole show was not "real," that all Ocean 815 passengers died, and that everything that happened on the Island was part of "purgatory." This is simply a nonsensical idea, and because it is clearly not supported within the show nor by the show's writers, it should be abandoned. Of course, people read what they want into the show, which means that they don't come to contrarian conclusions for good reasons. So that makes me wonder why they want to believe that everyone died in the crash... Anyway...
- The fact that the consensus is, well, the consensus suggests that the writers conveyed something clearly to most viewers. Since the writers targeted a mass audience, the interpretations of the majority are more likely to be closer to what was intended than the interpretations of the minority.
- There is no evidence within the show to suggest that everyone died in the original plane crash. Apparently, many believers cite the montage of wreckage shots during the credits as their main support. However, this montage was not within the narrative. It was only included for nostalgic purposes. I've read that ABC has said as much. Additionally, if you look carefully at those images, you'll be able to see footprints in the sand and some things that were made by the survivors, in the background.
- Just before Jack dies in the forest, he passes by the shoe that we saw hanging on one of the stalks of bamboo since the beginning of the story. At the beginning, the shoe was in new condition. At the end, the shoe is old and weathered. Jack doesn't stop to notice the shoe. It's a throway detail that is meant to cue the audience to recognize that much time has passed since the beginning. What would be the point of such a juxtaposition (of throwaway details) if the events of the story were all in purgatory?
- The purgatory interpretation might work if the show firmly focused on the original Losties. If the dead crash victims were supposed to experience a spiritual journey on the Island (i.e., purgatory) before moving onto a greater afterlife existence, then there would be no reason for the large cast of supporting characters whose storylines make no sense if the Island were purgatory. In addition to the flight 815 people, there are the Others, the DHARMA Initiative, Desmond and Penny, Mother and Jacob, the Black Rock crew (all of whom died shortly after being shipwrecked, except for Richard), the science team, Widmore's two different teams, the Man in Black's people, and everyone who has come to or departed from the Island before 2004. Most of these people have nothing directly to do with the flight 815 survivors; the Losties just happen to encounter them. This point is exactly why the even more bizarre interpretation that everything in the show is Jack's near-death fever dream (or other version of this, the story being entirely Jack's spiritual journey) is invalid.
- Is the Island itself purgatory, or is purgatory a plane of existence that includes both the Island and the outside world where we see the characters in later seasons? However one might try to answer that, there is one fact that cannot be overlooked: Some people left the Island and never went back there. People like Eloise, Miles's mother, Charlotte's family, Penny, Aaron, Walt, and the many people who evacuated before the Incident. If going to the Island was supposed to represent going to purgatory for spiritual cleansing, then why don't those people go back to the Island to finish their journey? And as of The End, we are also supposed to believe that Desmond, Kate, Claire, Sawyer, Miles, Frank, and Richard left the Island and didn't return. What about that?
- If the Island were purgatory, then the DHARMA Initiative would be nonsensical. The people behind DI somehow found the Island and then went there to conduct research on its properties. Additionally, they apparently received new recruits and went to and from the Island via submarine at regularly scheduled times. How this would happen or work in purgatory is beyond me.
- Considering the above, why the Island would be purgatory, or a central part of purgatory is also beyond me. I can't imagine a single, simple and straightforward reason for why purgatory would take that particular form. Any reason that I can imagine is just too convoluted to take seriously. Here's an example of an aspect of the problem: Considering the many billions of people who have lived and died in the two millennia that the story seems to span, many of whom have experienced sad lives and similar problems to our main characters, why would so (relatively) few find themselves on the island? One might argue that purgatory might take the form of the Island because some people crash-landed there, but what about the people who didn't, who were recruited (by the Others, by Widmore, or by DI)? On the other hand, we are given a clear and straightforward explanation for the flash-sideways world.
- What about the 200-300 other passengers whom we all agree did die in the crash? Why are they not in the same Island purgatory?
- A purgatory-like existence would necessarily imply some correlation between the amount of time spent within it (and what one does in that time) and when one would be allowed or forced to leave it. People like Jacob, MIB, Richard, and maybe Mother have lived there for hundreds or thousands of years before "leaving" in one sense or another (i.e., physical departure or death), but some people died in a fairly short amount of time, such as Boone, who was a main character.
- Then there is the matter of children on the Island. What are children, almost all of whom have nothing to do with the flight 815 crash, doing in purgatory? We saw Ethan getting born on the Island. He only affects the Losties when he becomes an adult. Then he is killed on the Island. Why would that happen in purgatory? Charlotte and Miles were very young children when they were on the Island; they might've been born there. But while they were children, they moved off-Island and then returned to the Island as adults. Charlotte died on the Island, but Miles ultimately escaped. Again, why would that happen in purgatory? Ben Linus was originally an innocent child living with the DHARMA Initiative, but then he was corrupted and turned increasingly evil as he passed through adulthood, while on the Island. What was the point of that, if the Island were purgatory? What about Alex? She was also born on the Island and remained an innocent until her untimely death as a teenager at the hands of Keamy, who only killed her to get at Ben. Finally, there's Aaron and Ji-Yeon, who were exposed to the Island for so little time that they might as well not have been there at all. Where do they fit in the supposed purgatory?
- If the entire show were about dead people in purgatory, then the dramatic impact of everything that we see (yes, including the flash-sideways) would be muted. We couldn't really care about these characters' lives (and all of their trials, tribulations, and tragedies) if they weren't alive!
- Here's exactly what Christian said to Jack:
- J: You're real?
- C: I sure hope so! Yeah, I'm real. You're real. Everything that's ever happened to you is real. All those people in the church, they're all real too.
- J: They're all... They're all dead?
- C: Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some long after you.
- J: But why are they all here now?
- C: Well, there is no "now" here.
- J: Where are we, Dad?
- C: Well, this is a place that you... That you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That's why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.
- J: For what?
- C: To remember... And let go.
- If all of the post-crash events were in imaginary, then there would be no reason for the flash-sideways alternate reality. We saw in early seasons that the characters had various connections with each other before the crash, but none of them knew each other until after the crash. They couldn't have created a limbo world (the flash-sideways) if they didn't have their real lives to inspire them. In other words, the flash-sideways, and the reasons for its existence would be incoherent. Plus, what reason do we have to doubt Christian's word at the very end of the story? Sure, one could strain to find reasons to doubt it, but what reasons could be offered that wouldn't just be a symptom of overanalysis?
- As stated explicitly by the writers, and implied by the ulimate outcome of the story, the show is primarily about characters and relationships. That's why they left so many unresolved mythology issues at the end. So why would the characters need to be in purgatory the whole time in order for the writers to explore their most important themes? Let's use Occam's Razor here. The notion that all of the passengers died would severely undercut, if not completely contradict, those themes. In other words, individual spiritual journeys of souls on the way to perfection have nothing to do with people who learn to love and depend on each other through extraordinary circumstances. One of the most important phrases on the show was "live together, die alone." Jack personally espoused this philosophy; it was the title of an episode; and Juliet said it later during a key dramatic scene. And at the very end, we learned that even though these characters did indeed live together and die alone, their relationships were so important to them that they found a way to reconnect after death, which is pretty much what Christian said (above). The death of all flight 815 passengers at the time of the crash would've negated this entire notion. In other words, to insist such a nonsensical interpretation would negate the whole reason for why Abrams, Lindelof, and (eventually) Cuse created the show in the first place (i.e., the grand statement that they wanted to make about life in the real world), which would be the ultimate heresy in my mind.
Now, if anyone wants to offer a rebuttal to everything that I've said, then I welcome it!