Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Lostaholics Anonymous: John Locke

I'm getting more and more emails from people this week saying they've finally gotten a copy of my book (I can't believe how slow the mail is sometimes, yeesh!) And my first two reviews of the book are up at Amazon, and I was thrilled!! OMG, it's actually four! (I just went there to grab the link for y'all, and found two more! I'm not doing my authorly duty of checking the page every 42 minutes.) If there's anyone out there reading this who left one of them, thank you thank you!! And here's another plea from me that if you've bought the book through amazon, please post a review (if you liked it, obviously) and if you bought it from me, you can still post a review on Amazon if you've bought anything from them recently. Now I'm all giddy.

OK, but the giddiness must STOP because tonight we're going to tackle what might be my favourite topic on Lost: John Locke. Tonight rather than going through John Locke's life, I'm going to make this a more personal account of him. If you've read any of my books (all now available at Amazon at a reasonable price!) you'll know how much I love to write about this character. I could write an entire book on just him... In each of the books, when I got to the first Locke episode of the season, I'd write a mini-essay on my thoughts on Locke thus far and why that character was so important to me. If you want my full analysis of the character, his backstory, and what made him tick throughout the full series, check out my new book, pages 38-45, 214-221, and page 239. There you'll find everything from talking about his life to the long conflict between him and Jack that informed much of the series' direction. But I want to make this a more personal "what John Locke meant to me" entry. Because he meant a lot.

I remember back in season 1 when I was a casual fan of the show (no, really, I was once a person who just watched it once and turned the channel and never thought about discussing it... to quote Ben, "hhhhhwaaaat??") that even then, I assumed John Locke was the key. It wasn't Jack or Kate, but Locke. There was something mysterious about him. And besides, he'd seen into the eye of that island, and what he saw... was beautiful.

Many people talk about being impressed from the show right from the beginning of the pilot episode, and I remember at the end of that episode knowing I'd found a great new show to watch. But it was when I saw the end of "Walkabout" that I knew I was watching a tour de force show. This show wouldn't just be a favourite, but would become an obsession, and it was the idea that John Locke had experienced some sort of miracle -- a plot twist that is kept from us throughout that episode until the final scene -- that suddenly made him more important.

John Locke lived a sad life. He was a successful hunter on the island in season 1, and seemed to appear from out of nowhere all the time, offering sage advice and being the wizened Gandalf to everyone on the island. He told Jack that he needed to figure out how to lead before he could be a leader. He emerged from the jungle suddenly to talk to Kate and Sawyer and tell them the story of his sister dying when he was a kid. He was confident and brave and intelligent. But then he found the Hatch. And then Boone died. And Jack hated him. And then he looked into the eye of the island... and saw a monster.

His backstories right from season 1 onwards were always the cause of much anticipation and celebration. Walkabout was amazing. Deus Ex Machina was heartbreaking. Remember that scene where John is sitting in the car drinking the coffee and casing Cooper's house when Cooper gets into the car and tells him to go away? Cooper is cold and ruthless and has no heart, and he leaves the car, slams the door, and John sits there. For a moment he looks like he's fine. He takes a sip of his coffee. Purses his lips. Glances at the house. And then crumples and bursts into tears. It's an extraordinary moment, and if I wasn't already convinced Terry O'Quinn was one of the best actors going, that scene clinched it.

I always wanted to hug John. I wanted him to be OK. He seemed like the sort of kid who was bullied, whose parents didn't want him. That scene in "Cabin Fever" where Alpert leaves John behind and tells him he's wrong and the little boy looks after him, looking sad that he didn't get to go with the nice man, breaks my heart every time. He was just a kid. Or that scene earlier in that same episode of the little baby in the incubator looking out at his Mommy, who just turns and abandons him because she's a selfish, unstable brat.

Locke never gives up. And that's part of the reason why he was so wonderful and pathetic and sad and inspirational to us. In "Deus Ex Machina" when he sees his mother in the parking lot at the store and he gets knocked over by a car, then jumps up and begins running after her again, it was the perfect metaphor for who this guy is. He ALWAYS gets back up. His mom abandons him, he lives with a foster family. Alpert abandons him, he just keeps going. He finds his long-lost father and is abandoned and cheated by him, but he finds Helen and keeps going. Helen leaves him, he finds a commune and hangs out with them. They abandon him, he goes home and goes into a depression but pulls himself together long enough to try to convince Cooper to leave the woman he's conning. Cooper pushes him out a window, and it would seem that in that moment, he gives up everything. (Again, O'Quinn astonishes with that tremendous scene where he's trapped in the wheelchair for the first time.) But when Abaddon tells him to go on the walkabout, he pulls himself up, trains, and goes. And then the walkabout says no. He gathers his wits and gets back on a plane. It crashes. And then he gets up and walks. And for the first time, John REALLY, truly believes that the universe is on his side.

On the island he goes through one thing after another, and again, always bounces back. He never gives up, except one brief moment where he puts a gun to his head, but then he's stopped, and keeps going.

And that's why it's so heartbreaking, devastating, and shocking that after EVERYTHING this man has gone through, he's ultimately killed by Ben Linus before fulfilling his life's mission.

But, as I argue in my book, I believe that the Man in Black looks like Locke for a reason, and I outline it there. I don't believe his life was for nothing, because it was his belief, his faith, that drove Jack to become the person he did by the end of the season, and to save the island.

I adore John Locke, and the thought of him fills me with sadness and pain. I think I actually miss his character more than just about anyone, and yet he wasn't even there for the final season. But his life was incredible. When Smokey looks at Ben and says that Locke's final thought was, "I don't understand," he adds, "Isn't that just about the saddest thing you've ever heard?"

Yes. Yes it is.

34 comments:

Megan said...

Yep, I got the book in Yellowknife this week! I love it!

Amy Lynn said...

Nikki, that was so eloquent! You really nailed it with him and I thank you for it. John was the scene stealer so many times. I think most of the jaw dropping moments that stand out for me revolved around him. Terry did an amazing job with the character and although I have seen him for years as a great character actor, he will now forever be our John.

Angela said...

I agree, I found John to be the most compelling character and I eagerly awaited his episodes. I was devasted and blindsided when he died, damn that Ben for taking him away from us LOL Locke was always the main character for me, not Jack. I guess I found a truly wonderful quality within him, his unwavering faith/belief that made him never give up during his life in spite of some horrendous things that happened to him.
I cannot imagine any other actor playing the part of John Locke.

Dusk said...

Hi Nikki, late but dedicated reader 1st time commenter. Questions, sorry if I sound pushy how will you do this when we finish the bigger characters. I mean Libby or Charlotte won't generate that much talk, but meging a bunch of the secondary characters together might not seem like the best idea. Do Sun and Jin get seperate posts? What about Claire, as an orginal main character, you'd think she would get her own post, but she didn't get that much declopment. And are we allowed to speculate on what we like to think happened to people on the plane after Jack died?

Now to Locke:

Yes, I agree Locke's life was a tragic. I think his fundemental problem was his lack of personal interaction. Richard's rejection made him feel worthless as a boy and with the exception of Helen, and had no real friends in his life.

His social disablity was only enhanced when he got his physical one. e became bitter and so introverted he thought his miracles was meant to serve and object, and not try and help people.

He gave up on his chance at love to listen tohis fther that was clearly scum by then. He was shortsighed, and selfish, he didn't really listen to other people's opinions. He believed he was a hunter a ususally went off and did his own thing, which alienated him from people, and that is a big part of why he couldn't get the Oceanic 6 to come back.

Even when he split the group in Season 4, nobody came to Locke because they liked him. Danielle, Alex and Karl were scared of newcomers. Sawyer was caught in his self hate and didn't want to leave. Hurley even said directly he as listening to just Charlie, Claire was swayed after Hurley's words.

Many times on the island he showed disregard for the lives of others, this was perfectly ilistrated when he saw a vision of bloodied Boone but let the young man follow him blindly,jusrt as Locke blindly followed the island.

His lack of human connections also made him at least somewhat niave always too trusting, Ben turned that into a fatal flaw. I was almost screaming at the TV when he told Ben about Eloise. Locke needed leverage to deal with Ben. you'd think after everything Locke would know not to be so honest, but no.

Also it's likley Smokey made himself look "beautiful" the start of his con on Locke and later Ben.

Oh, and I'm not trying to rip on Locke, he was a great guy, I just think he could have made wiser choices. And did cause some of his own pain.

Dusk said...

Sorry for the typos, my brain thinks ahead of my fingers a lot. lol!

lostinyoureyes said...

Nikki, you're very welcome! My Amazon name is my initials spelled out. I know, clever. My writeup of Locke will require hard thinking and it's late. Tomorrow....

vw: pubmt. Settling your bar tab.

humanebean said...

Excellent post, Nik! John Locke, in my view, is one of the most compelling television characters, and among the most interesting characters in any medium of the last 20 years. The unique storytelling device employed on LOST allows us to view this classically tragic figure in a fascinating way. While we first see him as an enigmatic figure of strength and charisma, we only gradually come to understand that he struggles with deep insecurity and feelings of powerlessness in his pre-crash existence.

Seeing the Island through HIS eyes, then, expands our sense of it's power and mystery. Seeing his backstory through the lens of his Island experiences, conversely, gives us our clearest understanding of what lies at the heart of LOST's central theme; broken individuals, bereft of self-awareness and alienated form other people, marooned on an Island that holds out to them the possibilities of redemption, insight and connection.

John Locke the character is inseparable from the performance of Terry O'Quinn the actor. His is a brilliant and fully realized portrayal of a complex man; the fact that the unfolding events of Season 6 radically challenged our understanding of Locke's identity only served to underscore the profound sense of loss we felt at his brutal death in Season 5. All of the emotions we experienced then are a testament to the power of O'Quinn's realization ... and how we continued to respond to Locke's journey in Season 6 is proof of the inextricable link that LOST fans will always feel between John Locke and the true meaning of the series.

Gus Brunetti said...

I remember I didn't feel Locke's death so much in the ep where Ben kills him, specially because he had "ressurected" much more confident and happier.

When it was revealed that man was not Locke, I thought it was awesome. Finally we'd gotten to the ultimate game that had been played on the Island for so long.

And then, days later, it hit me: John had really died. And I burst into tears.

When, in the flash sideways, he remembers everything after the surgery, and more, he stands up, I cried the most, because I realized I'd missed him more than I thought.

And I miss him to this day.

Thank you for this entry, Nikki. I hope one day I can buy your books.

DavidB226Morris said...

First of all, I haven't read Season Six yet, but I'll get to that eventually.

To be perfectly honest, John Locke was the reason I really got into Lost. The revelation in Walkabout ranks probaby as one of the great twists of all time. Seriously, Rod Serling would probably tip his hat to Darlton for that one.

I have always felt that Locke was one of the great characters in TV history. I even said as much when I reviewed the show. (And when Entertainment Weekly ranked him as one of the 100 greatest characters of the last 20 years, right up there with Sydney Bristow, Buffy and Dexter Morgan, I'd say that's about right).

Most of the credit must go to that talent that is Terry O'Quinn He is such a wondrous actor, and this was particularly clear in Season 5, when he had us all believe that Locke had come from back when the dead. It was such a body blow when we found out he never left the coffin; honestly I spent the eight months between the last two seasons wishing it wasn't so. And all of that was because of O'Quinn.

Nikki has stated and restated the difficulty of Locke's journey, long before she did so here, so I won't repeat it here. I will say that it still bother me that all Locke's life, all he was was used by bigger forces. Off the island, Cooper overmaneuvered him. On the ialand, Ben manipulated him over and over. (And weren't all those scenes between O'Quinn and Emerson magnificent) And all that time, he thought he was being used as a force of good, and the Man In Black jsut played him like a piano, and finally mocked him for everything that was good about him.
All through his life, Locke believed in destiny, and it turns out his destny was just to be a pawn.

All through Lost, I kept feeling, John desereved better. People on the island all throguht he was crazy, no one ever seemed to have any conifdence in him, and the island, which he alone seemed to recognize as miraculous, kept using him over and over again. Did the island heal him? Did it reveal itself as Walt to him? (It couldn't have been the Man in Black; he only commanded the dead.) Was he really the chosen one, and if so, which part of the island chose him? A good of my frustration was we never got those questions answers.

All I know for certain is that he deserved a better fate than being strangled in a cheap hotel room and a better eulogy than the one Ben gave him. It's just sad that some things turn out this way.

I really am looking forward to this new series with Emerson and O'Quinn. These actors proved over and over again on Lost that they could do just about anything. Will the characters be as memorable as John locke and Ben Linus? Probably not. But if we've learned anything from the last six years, it's that these guys can do just about anything.

The Question Mark said...

From the get-go, John Locke was my absolute favourite character on the show, & he remained that way all the way till the end (although Richard Alpert did end up sharing that prestigious honor with John shortly after he was introduced).

Like Gus, watching Locke's death at the hands of Ben didn't really resonate with me, because a freshly rejuvenated, non-zombie Locke was currently traipsing around the Island without a worry in the world.
So I was all like, "It's cool." :)
But once MIB revealed his true identity, Locke's death hit me like a tidal wave. I couldn't believe it: possibly THE most crucial character on the entire show...was gone. Just like that.
So then I was all like, "I'm sad now." :(

Back in the early Jack-vs-Locke days, I ALWAYS rooted for Locke, even when I disagreed with some his methods (blowing up the sub, locking Kate up as a prisoner). I think everybody watching the show wanted Locke to succeed, and the more we saw of his heartbreaking flashbacks, the stronger that desire became.

I guess that Season 6 promo pic of "The LOST Supper" really hit the nail on the head. Locke was positioned in the seat of honor, the center of the table where Jesus Christ sat in Da Vinci's original painting. Since Locke was the only one who really understood the magic of the Island, and he tried to share it with his fellow castaways, everybody else was kind of his unwitting disciple. And it took Locke's death for Jack to shed his doubts and be all like, "Whoa...that guy was on to something."

I'm just glad that Locke FINALLY found some happiness in the sideways world. He was accepted, and free of his wheelchair, and he got to move on to a shiny, happy Nirvana.
And I bet you any money that when he got there, he went on a thousand walkabouts and played a hundred million games of Risk.

JOHN LOCKE
1956-2007
Riposi In Pace

Marebabe said...

As always, wonderful post, Nikki! Alas, I’m not able to spend whole evenings at my computer these days. (Heck, last night I didn’t even turn my computer on!) Gotta keep the broken leg elevated as much as possible. So, I don’t have a long, wordy thesis to contribute on John Locke. But when I started thinking about John, the phrase that kept repeating in my head over and over was… “We hunt!” I think that, if any viewers were not already intrigued by this character, the moment when John threw that knife into the seat next to Sawyer caused everyone to sit up and pay attention to whatever he had to say. This was not our first introduction to the character, but it sort of FELT like one. For myself, I was a huge fan of John Locke from that moment!

I will read with interest every bit of the discussion here. And I will be able to comment and contribute some during business days, as work allows. On a side note, since Nikki has approved, I would like to extend a Facebook friend request to my fellow Nik at Niters. My real name is Mary Evans, and my email is Marebabe1@aol.com. I hope to connect with many of you on Facebook!

Efthymia said...

John Locke has been since very early on one of the most beloved characters of LOST, and I want to apologise to all the people out there who think he was great for what I'm about to say, but oh, how I hated the guy! He angered me and frustrated me and usually had me in tantrums. He is one of my most hated fictional characters ever, actually.
I hated him because he was a religious fanatic: where "God" insert "island", and there you have it. Not only did he blindly believe, but he wanted others to believe just as blindly, and I think this is the reason why he was the one used -oh so easily- by the MIB. And everytime he said "It was the sacrifice the island demanded" about Boone's death, I just wanted to smash his head. Yes, what a great reaction to the death of a decent young man, who moreover was one of the few people to regard you with high esteem and respect in your entire life...
He believed he was special and he wanted others to treat him as such; he never gave reasons why he insisted that the island was special ("I was paralyzed for four years and now I can walk, what do you have to say to that?!") but wanted others to believe him just because he said so, he didn't want them contacting the freighter just because HE personally didn't want to leave, and again instead of explaining, he simply murdered a complete stranger (Naomi). The only reason the Others believed him to be special and their rightful leader is because he time-traveled to the past and told them so. When he went and asked the Oceanic 6 to go back, he blamed them for leaving (when he was the one to split the group in the first place and it was those who went with him that got slaughtered) and his reaction to their first -extremely reasonable- rejections was to try and kill himself! The whole hatch implosion happened because he took the DHARMA experiments personally, as if he were the centre of the universe. And the reason, in my opinion, that he was so easily manipulated by Ben is because he kept thinking that he (Locke) was actually smarter than him. I think a great character to juxtapose him with is Rose: she too was cured by the island, she therefore knew it was special and she wanted to stay, but she let everyone else be and make their own choices.
He did have a sad, sad life, and I did feel sorry for him, but up to a point. No matter what the series writers believe and want their message to be, I still believe in choices, and Locke kept making some very bad ones, having in the end some responsibility for the horrible thing happening to him. So it really annoyed me that they had Jack saying over and over again that Locke had been right all along: yes, he was right that the island was special, but HE was very, very wrong.
Of course, all the above mentioned don't mean that he wasn't great TV material, an extremely interesting character, and a very essential part of LOST. The show wouldn't have been the same without him, and Terry O'Quinn is a terrific actor.
Sorry for the rant. Once again, I REALLY hated the guy!

Teebore said...

Until Desmond came along, Locke was, hands down, my favorite character, and he's always remained a favorite.

Locke was the key to the island, the key to the good stuff. Locke wanted to explore the island, to learn its secrets. Basically, he wanted to do all the cool things that kept the narrative going forward, while Jack berated him for it. In those first few seasons, I always felt like we would have known more about what the island was about if Jack had just shut up and let Locke do his thing (which, of course, is where a lot of my Jack-ire comes from).

As tragic as Locke's death was, I absolutely love it (bear with me) because it makes one of television's most compelling characters even more compelling. Characters in narratives die all the time, even main characters, sometimes. But Locke didn't die a heroes death, going out in a blaze of glory, he didn't die in the service of a higher power, he didn't die after finally putting to rest his demons or learning his life had meaning. He died, confused, the unknowing pawn of a centuries old being.

As much as I cheered the seemingly-resurrected, confident Locke of season five, and as much as hearing his final thoughts uttered by the monster wearing his form was wrenching, from a narrative perspective I have tons of respect for the writers for keeping Locke's death what it was: a tragedy.

Yes, we know his soul eventually found peace, and his belief and utter faith in the importance of the island transformed Jack and helped him fulfill what Locke surely felt was his own destiny, but there was no happy ending for Locke as we really knew him, no miraculous resurrection. We know his death, ultimately, had meaning, but he didn't.

What a bold conclusion to the story of one of the show's most compelling characters. While I wish Locke had gotten in life what he so desperately wanted, from a narrative perspective, what happened was so much better.

Efthymia said...

John Locke has been since very early on one of the most beloved characters of LOST, and I want to apologise to all the people out there who think he was great for what I'm about to say, but oh, how I hated the guy! He angered me and frustrated me and usually had me in tantrums. He is one of my most hated fictional characters ever, actually.
I hated him because he was a religious fanatic: where "God" insert "island", and there you have it. Not only did he blindly believe, but he wanted others to believe just as blindly, and I think this is the reason why he was the one used -oh so easily- by the MIB. And everytime he said "It was the sacrifice the island demanded" about Boone's death, I just wanted to smash his head. Yes, what a great reaction to the death of a decent young man, who moreover was one of the few people to regard you with high esteem and respect in your entire life...
He believed he was special and he wanted others to treat him as such; he never gave reasons why he insisted that the island was special ("I was paralyzed for four years and now I can walk, what do you have to say to that?!") but wanted others to believe him just because he said so, he didn't want them contacting the freighter just because HE personally didn't want to leave, and again instead of explaining, he simply murdered a complete stranger (Naomi). The only reason the Others believed him to be special and their rightful leader is because he time-traveled to the past and told them so. When he went and asked the Oceanic 6 to go back, he blamed them for leaving (when he was the one to split the group in the first place and it was those who went with him that got slaughtered) and his reaction to their first -extremely reasonable- rejections was to try and kill himself! The whole hatch implosion happened because he took the DHARMA experiments personally, as if he were the centre of the universe. And the reason, in my opinion, that he was so easily manipulated by Ben is because he kept thinking that he (Locke) was actually smarter than him. I think a great character to juxtapose him with is Rose: she too was cured by the island, she therefore knew it was special and she wanted to stay, but she let everyone else be and make their own choices.

Efthymia said...

He did have a sad, sad life, and I did feel sorry for him, but up to a point. No matter what the series writers believe and want their message to be, I still believe in choices, and Locke kept making some very bad ones, having in the end some responsibility for the horrible thing happening to him. So it really annoyed me that they had Jack saying over and over again that Locke had been right all along: yes, he was right that the island was special, but HE was very, very wrong.
Of course, all the above mentioned don't mean that he wasn't great TV material, an extremely interesting character, and a very essential part of LOST. The show wouldn't have been the same without him, and Terry O'Quinn is a terrific actor.
Sorry for the rant and the double posting. Once again, I REALLY hated the guy!

humanebean said...

Well said, Teebore! I couldn't agree more. I hope that someday, we gain more insight towards Terry O'Quinn's take on Locke's evolution. I don't think we've yet heard how he felt upon learning that in Season 6, he would be going Up In Smokey.

Anonymous said...

How would anyone know if their death had meaning? Their dead.


wv: trables .... something you have trouble with

Teebore said...

@Anonymous: How would anyone know if their death had meaning? Their dead.

If they died knowing their death was a sacrifice that was saving someone they loved, or protecting something, etc.

For example, Jack died knowing his death had meaning because he died saving the island.

JenniferS said...

First of all, thanks to Teebore for summing up Locke so beautifully.

My first impression of John was during the pilot, when Kate looked at him and he gave her the orange-peel smile. That was where I first thought, "WHAT is this guy's deal?" and I pretty much thought that every time he did something bizarre. I was often frustrated with him, because he always believed anything he heard about the island and, worse, believed Ben even after he knew Ben was an incorrigible liar.

The beauty of Lost is in Locke's character, and how his life and death changed Jack and Ben, his two erstwhile adversaries. Locke, the island's greatest disciple, was also easiest to corrupt. Jack, who wanted nothing more than to leave the island, wasn't corrupted because he didn't believe. Ben was so corrupted he was almost irredeemable, yet somehow he was redeemed, mainly because he was so horrified at what he'd set in motion when he killed Locke. The scene at the end with Ben and Locke outside the church was brilliant.

Locke was Lost's best, most complicated character. He WAS the deus ex machina.

Anonymous said...

Jack may have died believing he saved the island , but he can't know the result for sure because he's dead.

Locke always thought he was special even though he died confused. I don't think he died thinking his life had no meaning whatsoever. Regardless, he and Jack ended up in the same place "in the end".

I thought the whole point of the sideways world was that they all were "awakened" to the fact that their lives had meaning to each other. So even if Locke died thinking his life had no meaning, he found out it did in the end and to me that was what was most important. Isn't a belief in an afterlife what keeps most people going?

Teebore said...

@JenniferS: He WAS the deus ex machina.

I LOVE that idea! And thanks.

@Anonymous: Jack may have died believing he saved the island , but he can't know the result for sure because he's dead.

Right, but Jack died in a place of contentment and peace, believing (whether true or not) that he died saving the island.

Whereas Locke died in a place of confusion. The later, to me, is far more tragic than the former.

I thought the whole point of the sideways world was that they all were "awakened" to the fact that their lives had meaning to each other.

Right. I was just speaking more from a narrative perspective, about Locke up to the moment of his death. Yes, in the next life he found peace and acceptance and meaning, but his previous life ended tragically.

lostinyoureyes said...

I have a slightly different take, not an opposition, just a different perspective, on the prevailing thought here of whether Locke would have been much of a character at all if it weren't for O'Quinn' portrayal. Do not eat me yet! He was brilliant. It's just that I always had the feeling that Locke, the character, was the most fully realized, the most tangible in the writers' minds. They wanted to write a story that explored the idea of faith. Locke's struggle was an excellent vehicle for this.

Having faith is, essentially insane. You cannot see or test that which you have confident faith in, and rational (sane) people will laugh at your gullibility. Locke, as Ben liked to tell him, never had a longterm plan. He just put one foot in front of the other, always trusting that in due time he would be told what to do next.

I believe, though I do not know for sure, that the writers knew exactly who this character was before they even started writing. O'Quinn's interpretation was wonderful, but I don't believe the writers were dependent on him, or his acting, in order to flesh out the character of John Locke. It's like Hamlet: certain actors are known for being great Hamlets, but the character himself was already set centuries before.

Compared to the other characters we've discussed here, well, the character of Jack Shephard wasn't even a glint in the writers' eyes until shortly before production. Kate, well if Evie hadn't gotten her visa, there wouldn't have been a Kate. They would have done something else. Sawyer? Dependent on Holloway's southern-boy persona.

I often wonder if Lost had a been a book series, a la Harry Potter, and never a TV show or movie, how would we have imagined the characters? Locke is the character that most would have held its own. Yet, O'Quinn: those liquid blue eyes, that ever-calm demeanor, that constant little smile: these were his special contributions. He did a great job.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'll have to give it up and agree, since you're referring to Locke's previous and next lives as separate entities. I'm viewing his "life" as a continuum which eventually led to enlightenment.

I think the real tragedy would have been if there was no "afterlife" and he did reach the end of the line ignorant of his true meaningfulness.

Of course, if there was no afterlife he wouldn't be aware of it. He'd just be dead.

Fred said...

While the take of many of the blog entries follow Nikki’s purpose of what Locke means personally, I have chosen at this late juncture an alternative purpose. What I am interested in is what makes him such an autonomous character, in other words, John Locke from a psychological perspective. I hope this gets under the skin of the character and goes some way in explaining why we love this character, why he appears so heroic to us, and why he is so vulnerable.

In the essay, “Chain of Events: Regimes of Evaluation and Lost’s Construction of the Televisual Character,” Roberta Pearson defines character as based on televisual codes, with this starting point it is reasonable to claim viewers construct characters using the perceptual resources deployed daily in everyday life: “…viewers conceive of characters not as bundles of televisual codes but as fictional persons whose identities are defined by similar properties to those of actual persons.” Between the televisual code and the round character of John Locke, viewers’ cognitive resources operate to fill in from what is given any continuity gaps, and to reassess any suppositions of character (Jason Mittell provides just such an account of how viewers reassess earlier impressions of Locke during “Walkabout” with the final scene of him seated in a wheel chair). LOST’s narrative is constructed to surprise as it reveals small facts of character, and, therefore, relates these pieces of information in a non-linear manner so that in “learning” about a character as John Locke we naturally gravitate towards seeing him as an autonomous character (we must not forget our own emotional state orients us with regards to biases concerning the character).

If Locke, therefore, is to be seen as an autonomous character, then it is equally possible to understand him in terms of psychology. This presupposes Locke’s character is stable over the course of the seasons, and in seeing his pre-island life we can see how his character was established. To do this, I’ll look at 3 aspects associated with Locke: (1) Michelangelo/David, (2) ego development and (3) games. I begin by quoting Locke’s speech to Boone at the Swan: Ludovico Buonarrati, Michelangelo's father. He was a wealthy man. He had no understanding of the divinity in his son, so he beat him. No child of his was going to use his hands for a living. So, Michelangelo learned not to use his hands. Years later a visiting prince came into Michelangelo's studio and found the master staring at a single 18 foot block of marble. Then he knew that the rumors were true -- that Michelangelo had come in everyday for the last four months, stared at the marble, and gone home for his supper. So the prince asked the obvious -- what are you doing? And Michelangelo turned around and looked at him, and whispered, sto lavorando, I'm working. Three years later that block of marble was the statue of David.

Fred said...

continued...

What is so important about this story that Locke gives it even with Michelangelo’s lines in Italian? In the story, we have the abusive father, who punishes his son so he might be “better” and make his life without using his hands. However, this doesn’t apply to Locke. He meets Cooper only when he is a fully-grown man, and for the most part gets along well with him; this part of the story better fits Jack. So why is the story important? Because of the two ideal figures the story encompasses David and Michelangelo. Given what we now know of John Locke’s childhood and teenage years, the figure of David is a powerful image of the ideal ego John would like to have been in his youth. For a teenager who is locked in his locker by the football team he emulates and wants to join, David is an example of perfect masculinity, while at the same time being a figure of controlled anger and judgment (see David’s face in close ups). As an example of perfect masculinity, David recalls pop images such as Tarzan and Superman—especially Tarzan, whom Locke would have emulated as a small boy with the desire to take up the knife from the collection of objects presented by Alpert. However, there is also the artist himself, who rejects his father for a life of genius/intellect. While young Locke had no father, the reality of the world about him did take his absent father’s place with an even harsher authoritative “NO!” to the boy’s desires. In going it against the reality of the world, Locke ego view had to defy his reality for an idealized fictional worldview: John’s claims of “destiny.”

In the frame of the world, John’s ego development suffered from infancy. As an orphan (or abandoned child), John went into foster care, and in such care he had no opportunity for identification and modeling of his self on adoring parents. John did engage in ego enhancing strategies, as through identification with being a hunter (probably with pop heroic figures such as Tarzan/Superman), later with the ideal of Michelangelo, and through games (more later). But all of these strategies depended on something or someone outside of him. When Alpert presented John the objects, John’s instincts selected the knife as a symbol of the ideal ego. When John was in high school, he tried out for football, and was rejected by the team. Later, he joined a commune and became their gun runner (John identifies himself as a hunter, but Eddie (the cop) says he isn’t—reality once more says NO! to John. Finally, when John meets Cooper, the two of them engage in hunting, finally John thinks he has achieved his ideal self. But, again, he is rejected. All of these instances reflect on a sort of masculinity that focuses on the development of identity through identification with (idealized) others. In coming to see Locke, we begin to understand that here is a key to his self that not only explains his actions but also in terms of a stable psychological factor which directs him in terms of what he is looking for, the purpose of his life.

Fred said...

conintued ...

Games are also ego enhancing strategies as they involve rules, competition and mirror issues in adolescent development. Success at games conveys an enhanced sense of self, while following rules and turn taking develops concentration and impulse control. Interestingly, Loren Eiseley, in The Firmament of Time, defines games as durational or evolutionary: football is durational and associated with an infantile ego, while baseball is evolutionary and associated with an adult ego. Football depends on a strong masculine power that orders the game from the sidelines in the figure of the coach, a sort of God figure. While baseball can only be managed and is free of time limits (in theory baseball can go endlessly in innings). Interestingly, Jack is more associated with baseball, while Locke is more associated with football. The island is arranged like a game, and John’s island time is spent in the game of exploring the island. Such a game could be endless, but when John is distracted by the Swan, a durational game with pushing the button every 108 minutes, his ego strength begins to decay. Thus, when John travels through time, he is once more in the opened game (evolutionary), that is until he brings it to a halt by turning the frozen wheel.

What is interesting is how few of the survivors or the Others ever really understood John Locke. Sawyer had some clarity of insight when he distinguishes MIB from John by saying how Locke was always fearful. Similarly, MIB’s description of John Locke to Ben hits the mark very closely. But as for the rest of the survivors, the answer is they never really saw John. Jack’s claim to Kate that they had a “Locke problem” is a reflection of Jack’s own Daddy issues, whereby he saw anyone who challenged him in terms of his own relationship with his father—this included Kate, Ben and Sawyer. Ben Linus saw in Locke merely a rival to his position, and after Locke told him of his dreaming Ben felt it was time to deal with Locke by shooting him at the Purge pit. Kate even saw him through her projection of Sam Austen onto Locke when she claimed he had never loved anyone (Locke said he had, confirming Kate’s misperception of Locke). Even Alpert did not clearly see Locke, until his conversation with Sawyer in the 1970s.

Fred said...

continued ...

In the end, off the island and rejected so often, Locke comes to the end of his rope, he has no more ego strength. Although he was knocked down time and again, only to get up, in the end, Locke loses his belief in his ideal ego. If he had never gone to the island, perhaps he would have lived a sad, unassuming life, but he would have lived it out despite his past. Even when he was pushed out the window by Cooper, John found strength in the ideal ego self, the ideal of the hunter on a walkabout suggested by Abaddon. Why then did he wish to commit suicide? It wasn’t reality that beat John down, but the island—the fact his quest to return with the Oceanic 6 failed led him to believe the island itself was not on his side. And, now, in the real world, he would have no means of returning to the island (after all Ben told him, once you turn the wheel there is no returning to the island). Locke had achieved his ideal, and now he knew that would never be possible again—it wasn’t failing to regroup the Oceanic 6, but what that symbolized, exile from the island.

Well, that’s my take on John Locke. Terry O’Quinn brought the character to life and the character became fused with the actor. I hope this goes some way in reimagining Locke, and in how other characters saw him (or mistook him). This may also go to explain why, as Efthymia says: Not only did he blindly believe, but he wanted others to believe just as blindly, or in answer to Teebore’s remarks: But Locke didn't die a heroes death, going out in a blaze of glory, he didn't die in the service of a higher power, he didn't die after finally putting to rest his demons or learning his life had meaning. He died, confused, the unknowing pawn of a centuries old being. As Humanbean notes, Seeing the Island through HIS eyes, then, expands our sense of it's power and mystery, which makes understanding Locke important to the understanding of the island and the show, itself.

LittleMo said...

Some of the nicest scenes are right at the beginning with Walt and Michael.
He teaches Walt backgammon
then spends much time carving a whistle to find Vincent but lets Michael return with him to increase his bonds with Walt.
So there was much good inside him at that time (and in those circumstance)

Nikki Stafford said...

Megan: Yellowknife! It's always exciting to see the books travelling to places far away from me. :)

Amy Lynn: Thank you very much!

Great comments, all of you. Efthymia, it took a lot of guts to post what you did, so thank you. While I didn't agree with all of it, it's a well made argument and I could see a lot of people feeling the same way. I remember in S3 being very irritated by John, yet he always seemed to win me over in some way.

Fred: Excellent analysis! And thank you for reminding me of the Michelangelo scene from S1. I'd forgotten about that.

And in a way, it's an interesting metaphor for John Locke. Efthymia says that she didn't like the fact that he was a blind follower, and I think that's one of the things that set him apart from Jack: In the end, Jack had faith, but his faith was the hard-fought kind. He'd resisted it, and had to really come over, and ended up having a stronger belief in the island than John had. John wavered many times, but Jack never wavered. He sat by that dynamite and recorked the island, and I'm not sure John could have done either of those things.

But it was John who led Jack to that faith. In a way, it was because of John that, similar to the way Michelangelo stared at that black slab for 3 years, so did Jack sit and ponder his own Daddy issues (like Michelangelo), and after three years, he had won that faith by coming to believe in John Locke and what he'd said. And, after three years, Jack died, went to the sideways world... and created his own David. But his masterpiece was in the form of his own son, a son who would help him finally come to terms with his own demons in much the same way Michelangelo's David got him past what his own father had said to him.

Probably not what the writers were intending when they first told the story, but I can see a parallel now that the series is over! :)

Fred said...

Nikki: I definitely like the connection you draw between Jack and David and the Michelangelo/David from earlier in the series. Whether the writers had this in mind or not, I'd say their unconscious was operating and included this parallel.

lostinyoureyes said...

Fred, thank you for the long and illuminating description of Locke's ego development, and Nikki for the follow up post. I admit I was disinterested in Locke's Michelangelo monologue, but now I'm beginning to understand it as part of a larger theme: that of reflection. There are reflections throughout, in mirrors, in water, in characters' self-reflection: this story of how Michelangelo stared at the stone for years without taking action fits with Sawyer's speech to Jack, about how Churchill, in the midst of the worst of the war, sat at night and simply read. I see an image of Rose sitting Buddhalike on the beach, and I see Locke's own calm face, with it's gentle smile. Finally, I see Jack sitting and staring out at the sea, with Jacob's approval. This is the first time we see Jack engaged in quiet reflection. He is usually physically acting, emotionally reacting, but never meditating. The very Buddhist idea presented here is that if we simply "let go" -- of our egos? -- that what we need to do will present itself.

Fred said...

lostinyour eyes, just think if the writers had had a plane load of Buddhists crash land on the island? Wouldn't that have deflated every dramatic element of the show?

Zen-Rose just waited and Bernard did arrive, although with some help from Ana Lucia et al.. But after Bernard's failed S.O.S., he acquiesced to Rose's desire to remain. And the two did, remaining "out of the loop." I wonder after Hurley took charge, he just let those two live their lives out in peace on the island? I suspect he did.

lostinyoureyes said...

Fred, now there's a picture in my mind of a group of Buddhist survivors on the beach, just sittin', chillin'. I do not know why I am laughing!


vw: daderedu. Yeah, there are daddy issues, but Dad can fix it.

Juanita's Journal said...

I liked John Locke, but he could be a bit too manipulative and controlling for my tastes. I disliked the way he forced his help on Charlie and Boone. Even though they needed it, neither man had asked Locke for his help. Instead, he forced his will upon them. And that is a no-no in my eyes.