“A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below.”
Thus are the opening words of Ambrose Bierce’s famous short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. The above image however, comes from the TV show LOST. Let me explain why I think this parallel between the two is the coolest thing about the Lost series finale.
Considered by Kurt Vonnegut to be the greatest piece of American short fiction ever written, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a story Bierce penned in 1890 (and probably best known today in its incarnation as a French made short film that appeared as an episode of the iconic sci-fi anthology series, The Twilight Zone) of a Confederate sympathizer about to be hanged on a bridge. As the condemned man falls, he feels himself drop into the river below where he is swept away by the current and he makes his escape. Hunted and pursued, he goes on the run, finally making it home. Then as his beautiful wife sees him again he runs to her open arms, only at the last second to feel the snap of his neck as the noose pulls taut.
He’s dead. His entire journey takes place seemingly in his mind during the split second of the hangman’s drop.
Lost’s first tip of the hat toward Ambrose Bierce came in season 2′s episode “The Long Con” when John Locke finds a copy of Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in the Swan hatch while searching for the missing pieces of the Dharma initiation film. Given Lost’s reputation for leaving Easter Eggs for its more hardcore fans, I felt it was highly unlikely the inclusion of this particular book was a random choice.
Then in Season 3, specifically the Season 3 ending episode “Through the Looking Glass (part 1)” – the entire series midpoint, no less. I remember seeing this scene for the first time and thinking to myself that Lost, once again, was playing the Ambrose Bierce card.
It is the moment where Jack,so distraught with regret about leaving the island, has decided to leap off a bridge to his own death. His new life, has spiraled out of control. Addicted to pills, having lost his ability to practice medicine and, of course, lost Kate, Jack has fallen through the fragile floor of despair because deep down inside he realizes, he’s not supposed to be here.
I’ve cropped the full screen image but doesn’t the way Jack is framed in the shot reminds you of… a gallows? To my eye the way his wardrobe appears in this shot, specifically the tight sleeves and chest of the shirt, even seems reminiscent of a fit more antique than modern. Add Jack’s crazy-mountain-man beard and there is something undeniably anachronistic about the composition of this shot. Against this obviously modern bridge, Jack looks like a man outside of his time.
A man who doesn’t belong in this time… get it?
Now let’s fast forward (or is it flash forward?) to the finale. In the last minutes of the series Jack stumbles back to the the bamboo forest where he awoke in the opening moments of Lost’s first episode. In the pilot Jack’s eyes open and he later discovers a mysterious wound in his side which, with the help of Kate, he stitches up on his own. Physician heal thyself, indeed! In the finale, Jack’s “wound” is the same fatal one he received in his final battle against the UnLockeness Smoke Monster cum Man in Black. Here he lays down and, knowing he succeeded in his mission, closes his eyes and dies.
One of the great conceits found in science fiction is the concept of ongoing battles of good vs evil that happen in a layer of the world not apparent or visible to the rest of us cogs in the machine. “The Matrix” of course being one good example, Will Smith’s “Men in Black” yet another, though mostly played for laughs. Given the pervasive theme of time travel throughout Lost from the very beginning, I have to come to only one conclusion.
Jack’s entire battle to find purpose in his life as well as save the world from oblivion happened in the blink of an eye.
And here’s exactly why I think that. The final clue came over the end credits. With only the sound of waves crashing on a beach we are left with shots of the plane wreckage from Oceanic 815 on the beach exactly the same way the series began.
Now, I’m not saying this means the island world never happened (though self delusion is another great conceit of sci-fi, the movie “Brazil” being a great example of that) but that it was real and happened within a time loop that was closed once Jack fulfilled his destiny.
Sure, if this was the intention of the producers they certainly soft-peddled it but Lost never publicly owned up to being a sci-fi show even though with time travel, smoke monsters and the Dharma initiative’s crazy experiments, the elements of sci-fi are certainly front and center. I think they never called themselves a sci-fi show in order to garner broader viewer appeal and the Easter Eggs were always there for those who knew the show’s true identity. This ending, though possibly lost in all that mawkish schmaltz, is the one part of the finale I think they did right. Unfortunately though, on this journey all the clues were laid out in such a way that if you blinked, you probably missed them.
Am I nuts? Comment below and let me know what you think about my Lost/Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge theory.
* In case you’ve never seen the Twilight Zone episode “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, I’ve linked to it here for your viewing pleasure.
* Thanks to my buddy Joe Augustine at August Creative Content because it was my discussion with him yesterday that inspired me to write this blog post.