Sunday, January 27, 2008


In the third season finale of the TV series “Lost,” one of the most touching and memorable images was that of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), the former drug addict and rock musician, making the sign of the cross as his final act before he died sacrificing himself for his friends. Catholic or Christian themes and imagery often work their way into this complex series – from Jack and Locke’s debates between reason and faith to Mr. Eko’s winding road back to his Catholic faith. In an era when Catholics in particular aren’t always presented in a positive light on TV, this respect for the faith stands out.

Thanks is owed to Carlton Cuse, a practicing Catholic who serves as “Lost’s” Executive Producer along with Damon Lindelof.

In an interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” Cuse said, “The issue of faith and reason is really central to the lives of all people who are religious and grappling with a desire to find meaning in their lives. It felt like some of those larger issues would be relevant to a show which sort of examines the nature of existence the way Lost does.”

Though he doesn’t have any interest in proselytizing, Cuse knows how to skillfully weave spiritual elements into the show’s stories and characters. He said, “I think it’s about not putting things upfront. If there are religious issues in the show, they’re buried in the background of a show that’s essentially sort of an action-adventure-drama. I think it’s all a question of proportionality and also not trying to hammer people over the head with it. In a lot of ways, I think people’s resistance to religion comes when they feel they’re getting hammered with it. I think religion becomes most meaningful in people’s lives when it’s told in the form of stories, where people can connect. I always judge a homily on how well a priest does at integrating whatever lessons of the week are in the gospel into stories. And those stories are the ones that I think really land for the parishioners much more so than some kind of didactic analysis of the readings or the gospel. I feel like that’s kind of our role as storytellers on the show - to try to take those themes which really are meaningful for people and put them in forms of good yarns and stories.”

Carlton Cuse grew up with divorced parents and found himself drawn to TV westerns – “I loved the basic family values that were embedded in shows like Gunsmoke or Bonanza…They always had sort of classic notions of family and responsibility and values and virtues.”

While Cuse was raised as a Catholic, his devotion to his faith grew deeper after he got married. He said, “My wife is from a sprawling Catholic family. She has seven brothers and sisters. And my mother-in-law has been an incredible source of inspiration to me. She is the matriarch of this incredible brood. I’ve been married for 20 years and my relationship with my faith is tied into my relationship with her family which has really become my family, that’s been a huge part of own personal faith journey.”

Because of that faith, it probably wasn’t a huge surprise to Carlton that some fans speculated that the Island on “Lost” was actually Purgatory. Both he and Lindelof have said that is definitely not the case though Cuse elaborates that “doesn’t mean the values that underlie the concept of purgatory aren’t present in the show.”

In fact, a core Christian concept is an ever-present part of all the stories and characters. Cuse explained, “Sin and redemption is a central theme of the show. Each of these characters in his or her own way is struggling with those issues that we all struggle with. We all have those issues inside of ourselves that we grapple with our entire lives. Sometimes we conquer them and sometimes we lose to them… None of us are perfect and I think what people might relate to…is that there’s a fantasy sense to the show which is that if you end up on this island you can sort of start over. And I think that even though these characters are deeply flawed, they are searching for redemption. We all recognize in them certain aspects of ourselves. None of us are perfect and I think that’s just the definition of who we are as humans. One of the great things we can all try to do in life is to recognize and identify and accept that in each other – that none of us come close to being perfect and that’s okay as long as I’m constantly working..You know, it’s never in the achieving, it’s all in the striving to try to better ourselves on those issues that trouble us in our lives."

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