Lost Exegesis (The Moth) — Part 1
The moth is the obvious symbol of this story, so let’s start there. Both moths and butterflies are of the same family, Lepidoptera. The species, like many insects, goes through several developmental stages, resulting in complete metamorphosis. After an egg is laid, a larva or caterpillar emerges, which will shed its skin several times as it grows. Eventually it enters a pupa or chrysalis stage, cocooned and stewing in its own juices, and dissolving almost utterly. The imago or adult creature emerges, with wings and antennae, ready to reproduce and begin the cycle anew.
Locke is right: butterflies, not moths, get all the attention. Mythologically, for example, the butterfly is symbolic of Psyche (“psyche” is also a word that means “breath” and “soul”), a beautiful mortal woman who becomes a goddess. In this myth, Psyche is taken by Eros into Paradise, with only one rule to abide: She dare not see his face. Unable to resist, she lights a flame at their bedside one night, and is so taken by the beauty of her lover that she spills a drop of hot oil on him. He wakens, sadly, and asks why? She answers, “I had to know.” Psyche awakens and Paradise is gone.
Disconsolate, Psyche makes for a great river to end her misery, but she hears Pan playing his flute, and takes his counsel. She makes for the temple of Venus and dedicates herself to the Goddess, for her only hope of ever seeing Eros again is to become a goddess herself. She is set to impossible tasks, which she impossibly completes – sorting seeds from pebbles, procuring golden fleece, and retrieving water from the source of the River Styx. Her final task is to acquire the beauty cream of the goddess of the Underworld, Persephone. She returns with the beauty cream, but keeps it for herself rather than turning it over to Venus. Psyche opens the cream, and one deadly vapor emerges, ending Psyche’s life. The gods decree that she has succeeded by claiming her own power, and Psyche becomes a goddess and weds Eros.
The journey here is one of ego-death. The divine pours through when the ego dies, when it has finally let go. As such, the family Lepidoptera makes for wonderfully apt symbolism. Of course, Charlie isn’t a butterfly, he’s a moth, so he’s not as pretty, but the journey is nonetheless the same.
Charlie’s Heroic Journey: The Call to Adventure
The Heroic Journey follows a basic structure – hearing the Call to Adventure, the Hero ventures off to the Special Place to secure a Boon for the Ordinary World, a return that requires the development of a kind of Mastery through which the Freedom to Live is earned. As much as is made of the structure, however, this is largely beside the point. The structure simply allows the myriad of each journey’s particular details to be read metaphorically as a spiritual process of ego-death – and, subsequently, to position the spiritual process of ego-death in the material conditions of our ordinary lives.
So let’s go through this “structre” (thank you, Jack, I really love this word) with respect to Charlie’s journey in this episode. We begin with the Call to Adventure, which was actually introduced in the previous episode: Charlie is called to music. For Charlie, that is the Special World. It’s where he’s his true self, and it’s through music that Charlie participates in divinity. But as Blaise Pascal once said, to play the angel is to play the beast, and for Charlie this is equally true – his music brings him, like a moth to the flame, perilously close to temptation.
This conundrum is presented to us in a lovely mirror-twin fashion – through the extraordinary events that take place on the Island, and through the Flashbacks of Charlie’s life in the Ordinary World. The episode opens on the Island, with an “opening eye” shot, but not of Charlie’s physical eye, no, it’s the “eye” of his guitar, indicating that this is the locus of his Identity. Charlie’s playing guitar, but he’s going through withdrawal, having given his heroin (hero-in) to Locke in the previous episode. He’s called by Locke out into the jungle, where he’s chased down by a boar. The boar is caught by Locke, who was using Charlie as bait. This scene is coupled with a Flashback where Charlie confesses his “sins” to a Catholic priest:
CHARLIE: You see, it’s, it’s my band, father, DriveShaft. We’ve been playing the clubs in Manchester. And, uh, we’ve been getting some heat, a following, you know, and, uh, the girls. There’s some real temptations that come with the territory, if you know what I mean.
PRIEST: Well, we all have our temptations, but giving in to them, that’s your choice. As we live our lives it’s really nothing but a series of choices, isn’t it?
After his confession, Charlie’s brother Liam appears and tells him that DriveShaft has just been signed to a record contract. “You’re gonna be a rock god,” Liam says. So in Ordinary World, the crux of Charlie’s situation lies in the simultaneous approach to divinity through the practice of music, and the dangerous “fire” attendant in that approach, which is why “the following” of all those temptations is called a “heat.” And on the Island, Charlie’s withdrawal begins with a terrible case of the sweats, as if he’s burning up. His addiction, meanwhile, is juxtaposed with the Boar, the beast of the primal id. As Locke points out, mirroring the priest, “having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct, is the only thing” that separates Charlie from the boar. Locke and the Priest end up serving as “mentors” to use the parlance of the Heroic Journey, pointing the way forward to the Special Place.
(And for those of you following the “Capitalist Pig” meme on Eruditorum Press, yes, the Boar is basically a symbol of consumption. That’s ultimately the root of capitalism.)
Heroic Journey: Mentors, Threshold Guardians, and The Belly of the Whale
So, Locke is the mentor for Charlie, who has now expressed Reluctance at crossing the threshold to his music and his divinity: he wants his drugs back. He is denied, and retreats to the Caves, which here represents the Belly of the Whale, where the hero gets that first taste of death and rebirth that allows them to traverse those Special lands. It’s here that all of Charlie’s buttons are pressed: struggling to play guitar, he offers to help with getting the Caves set up for habitation. But Charlie’s a mess – he spills a suitcase full of drugs, gets caught by Jack looking longingly as a bottle of Diazepam, is told to “go get some water,” and that right now they don’t “need” him. Here, Jack is functioning as a Threshold Guardian – Charlie’s been effectively told that he’s not ready for the journey. (It’s interesting that he’s told to get Water, a symbol of Faith as well as being a reflective surface.)
When he’s told that his guitar case is “in the way” Charlie confronts Jack. The way he speaks to Jack, it’s obvious that Charlie’s transferring his issues with his brother Liam:
CHARLIE: You just treat me like I’m some bloody child! Like I’m some useless joke!
JACK: What are you talking about?
CHARLIE: Charlie’s not good enough to do this, Charlie’s just in the way, put Charlie onto that.
JACK: Sit down. Let me take a look at you man.
CHARLIE: Oh, you’re going to look out for me, yeah? We’ll look out for each other, that’s how it is? I’m not interested!
JACK: Charlie, just calm down, alright. You’re not yourself.
CHARLIE: You don’t know me! I’m a bloody rock god!
This is interesting in several respects. First is how the Flashback is spliced into all this – while Charlie’s ego is taking a battering on the Island, in the Ordinary world he’s getting the opposite treatment. Liam is going on how about much Charlie is needed, and he’ll be “looking out” for him.
CHARLIE: It’s not about all that. I only care about the music.
LIAM: Yeah, your music. Your songs that got us signed. I’m just a clown with a pretty face that sings them. And you want to take away my chance to be somebody?
CHARLIE: Liam, it’s not about you. It’s — I love the band. It’s not who I am. Sometimes I just get lost in it.
LIAM: Won’t happen — because I’ll be there looking out for you. We’ll look out for each other. That’s what brothers do, right? Right?
Which, obviously, doesn’t happen. Hence Charlie’s reaction to Jack’s genuine efforts to be a caregiver. Now, as we’ve said before, the Flashbacks are presented as being somehow experienced by the focalized character on the Island. Again, this makes sense. On the Island, Charlie’s wanting to be respected, and he remembers a time when he was. But this eventually stirs up for him just how much this desperate need to be needed was not fulfilled.
The second interesting thing going on here, though, is how the Flashback is simultaneously “flowing” in the opposite direction of the Island story. On the Island, Charlie is getting closer to the Caves, to the “inner sanctum” in which his soul can flourish, and it’s Jack who is the genuinely concerned Threshold Guardian who really wants to bring him into the fold when he’s ready. In the Ordinary World, the Threshold Guardian is Liam, but Liam is leading Charlie away from a structure that greatly resembles the Caves – the Church, a symbol of spirituality.
Third, notice the use of the phrase “rock god.” Liam’s called Charlie a rock god twice now, and at the threshold of the Caves it’s the same phrase that Charlie uses to describe himself to Jack. Which is funny, because in Flashback we see Charlie say that that band is “not who I am” and that “I just get lost in it.” (Of course, to “get lost” in this context has a bifold meaning – the music isn’t just something that you lose yourself in, it’s also a way to “get” an understanding of LOST itself.) Anyways, when Charlie declares himself a “rock god” to his Threshold Guardian, he has a near-death experience as an earthquake nearly crushes him under a ton of falling rocks. Jack… is not so lucky.
Heroic Journey: Road of Trials, Temptation, and Atonement with the Father
This next phase of the Heroic Journey is called Initiation. In the Psyche myth, this is when she’s set with a series of impossible tasks. Charlie’s tasks aren’t impossible, but they’re still very difficult. He begins on the Road of Trials, which is represented by his run to the Beach to get help rescuing Jack from the cave-in, and to tell Kate in particular (as Hurley has already recognized that there’s a budding relationship between Kate and Jack). Charlie succeeds in getting help – Michael and several Losties head off to the Caves – but Charlie is not rewarded for his effort. He is rebuffed by Sawyer in particular:
CHARLIE: Hey, we have to tell Kate about Jack.
SAWYER: Sorry sport, you just missed her. Her and Mohammad headed into the woods about 10 minutes ago.
CHARLIE: Which way?
SAWYER: Don’t sweat it, amigo. I know which way they went.
CHARLIE: Yeah, but —
SAWYER: I’ll tell her. You just keep doing… whatever it is you do around here.
It’s that last line: Sawyer has basically just torn down Charlie’s ego again. But it’s interesting that Sawyer (beginning his own Heroic Journey next week) has simultaneously taken Charlie’s place in this trek. And this is a theme on the beach – we have the bit where Steve and Scott and mistaken for each other, and where Boone recruits his sister Shannon to take his place manning the fireworks and antenna for Sayid’s attempt to triangulate the Frenchwoman’s distress signal. Hell, Sawyer ends up taking Kate’s place in the triangulation fiasco! So it’s no surprise that this them of “replacement” is also the subject of Charlie’s next Flashback.
Charlie and Liam are in the middle of a rock concert, playing their hit song. Charlie steps up to the microphone to sing his piece, but Liam cuts in and steps on his lines. Afterwards, Charlie challenges him on this, but Liam blows him off with an admonition to “chill” (which is also a reversal of all the “heat” of the first half of the story).
The point of the Road of Trials, though, is that one must perform one’s duty without respect to ego. The motivation to help the world as a form of self-aggrandizement is not what the Heroic Journey is all about. Being a hero isn’t about “being a hero” – which is ironic, for we can’t be of true help to others when we’re compromised (in the moment) by our own wants and desires. Psyche is not praised for sorting seeds or collecting the golden fleece – she is only sent on more quests. So it is for Charlie. (Note, though, the Heroic Journey is a cycle. It’s not about losing one’s self entirely. For the ego is really like the Hydra monster, the head always comes back, and the successful hero returns to the Ordinary World with the Freedom to Live, to not be a hero.)
The denial of ego leads Charlie to return to Locke, begging once more for his drugs. This is the second time that Charlie asks for them. The first time, don’t forget, was after he was used as bait by Locke to catch a boar. This time, Locke is skinning the boar’s hide when Charlie approaches. That’s twice that the request for heroin has been juxtaposed with a boar, which reinforces our interpretation of the boar as the “beast” of the id that lies underneath the ego.
Locke doesn’t hand over the drugs. Instead he uses this opportunity to talk about the central metaphor, the Moth:
LOCKE: Come here. Let me show you something. What do you suppose is in that cocoon, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I don’t know, a butterfly, I guess?
LOCKE: No, it’s much more beautiful than that. That’s a moth cocoon. It’s ironic, butterflies get all the attention, but moths, they spin silk, they’re stronger, they’re faster.
CHARLIE: That’s wonderful, but–
LOCKE: You see this little hole? This moth’s just about to emerge. It’s in there right now, struggling. It’s digging its way through the thick hide of the cocoon. Now, I could help it, take my knife, gently widen the opening, and the moth would be free. But it would be too weak to survive. The struggle is nature’s way of strengthening it.
In Charlie’s next scene, he appears at the Caves, ready to dig through the thick hide of the rocks to help save Jack. Charlie has taken Locke’s words to heart – he’s ready, finally, to do the work, to struggle. This is, funnily enough, what the “Atonement With the Father” passage of the Heroic Journey is all about. It’s about accepting the wisdom handed down from above, particularly from an authority figure whom one has struggled. It is not necessarily about “daddy issues,” as indeed Charlie isn’t struggling against his dad, but with Locke, who has already been juxtaposed with the “father” priest at the beginning of the episode.
Heroic Journey: Apotheosis, The Boon, and The Return
We get two flashbacks as Charlie journeys into the “inner sanctum” of the Caves to rescue the “boon,” who in this case is Jack himself. Yes, a figure in the Heroic Journey can wear many masks – Jack was the Threshold Guardian earlier, but now he’s that which Charlie must bring back to heal the Ordinary World. Anyways, the juxtaposition of these Flashbacks effectively continues the juxtaposition of Jack and Liam that we saw earlier.
First, as Charlie crawls through the tunnel, he flashes back to the moment when he truly became lost. It’s another scene that’s in an “inner sanctum,” the dressing room backstage for their latest concert, a room filthy with lights and mirrors. We get yet another iteration of Charlie being told that he’s of no use to anyone, and after Liam storms out of the room, Charlie succumbs to his self pity and starts using heroin.
When we cut back to the Caves, Charlie’s still crawling through the tunnel, carrying only a flashlight and a bottle of water. And then… there’s another cave-in. Remember, Charlie is a “rock god,” and it seemingly doesn’t matter whether he’s being a “rock god” in the more soteriological sense of trying to save someone else or in the sense of a self-aggrandizing musician, his rock-godliness leads to earthquakes. This, then, is Charlie’s apotheosis, the moment where he comes face to face with his inner divinity.
He becomes trapped with Jack. Now, in both this scene and the one previous, Charlie is becoming like the person he’s interacting with – he mirrors Liam in the Ordinary World, becoming a heroin junkie, and he becomes like Jack in the Special Place, performing a “medical procedure” – helping to reset Jack’s dislocated shoulder. Charlie has become a hero, like Jack is a hero.
At this moment we cut to the final Flashback, where Charlie visits Liam in Australia. At this point, their positions relative to each other have become transposed. In the beginning, Liam was the drug addict begging a straight-laced Charlie to continue with the band, and now it’s all reversed. We see that their trajectories have headed in opposite directions – and even their relative success in dealing with each other has been reversed: Charlie fails to get Liam to stay in the music. Meanwhile, at the Caves, the beginning of the episode and the end of the story have become twinned as well, as Charlie likens the Caves to confessional booths. Everything has come full circle.
Now that the boon is secured and the transformation is complete, it’s really just a matter of The Return to the ordinary world. In the Campbellian structure, this is not easy. There may be reluctance to return, and typically help is needed from someone else. In this case, that help arrives in the form of an actual moth, which Charlie follows through a crack in the earth and out through the other side. This moment is portrayed with a very interesting image – Charlie’s hand emerging from under the earth, which is a symbol of Resurrection. Like in so many horror movies, with zombies or vampires crawling out of their graves, Charlie leads Jack out of death and into the light.
Back with the others, Hurley tells Charlie, “You rock!”
Now all that’s left for Charlie to do is demonstrate Mastery of the two worlds, so that he can have the Freedom to live. This happens in the final scene, where Charlie approaches Locke the third and final time to ask for his drugs. And for the third time, this is juxtaposed with the boar, which Locke is roasting over a fire. Charlie takes the bag of heroin, and tosses it into the flames. This is his moment of mastery – he is no longer controlled by his addiction. Now he is free to live his life according to his will, to his… choice.
Charlie watches an albino luna moth catch the fire’s warmth, lifting it up to the heavens.
LOST is an ascension story.
Dualism and Union of Opposites
Deep within this pattern, this X pattern of people taking each other’s places and traveling in parallel but opposite directions is a kind of duality that, because of the consequent convergence, entails a wedding of contrasting principles. This union of opposites informs so many of the details of The Moth, to such an extent that I am compelled to elucidate them.
Take the Caves. Would you be inclined to describe the Caves in contradictory terms? LOST, it seems, has that very inclination. Take, for example, how Sun describes the Caves, when told by Jin to “cover up” because her sundress is too revealing, versus how Walt does at the end of the episode:
SUN: It’s too hot.
WALT: This place is cool. Can we live here?
We get a similar juxtaposition when it comes to the groupies that follow Charlie’s band, as described in the confessional booth, and later on by Liam to a security guard backstage:
CHARLIE: We’ve been getting some heat, a following, you know, and, uh, the girls.
LIAM: She’s cool. Let her in.
So are the Caves too hot, or too cool? Are groupies hot, or cool? As it turns out, they are both. And this really extends to all kinds of dualisms that end up being present in The Moth. Escaping from the cave-in, versus reentering the space:
CHARLIE: I don’t know what happened. We were just talking and it — and it came down on us – it all happened so fast.
MICHAEL: Listen, man, go slow. Try not to nudge any of the rocks around you.
And regarding the tunnel itself, while not explicitly described in opposing terms, there’s nonetheless a juxtaposition of opposites:
MICHAEL: Okay, we can’t safely make that tunnel any bigger, but since Jack can’t get out, one of us is going to have to go in and un-pin him.
HURLEY: What, crawl through that?
BOONE: I think we need someone smaller.
But the most prevalent duality in The Moth, I think, has more to do with the nature of heroes and “gods,” which is the thread that runs through our character study. This duality is at the crux of ego, and has to do with “giving” and “taking.” Specifically, it’s the id-inflected ego that’s invested in what it receives, whereas it’s the hero-inflected ego that’s concerned with giving something to other people, if not to the world. Kate spells it out:
KATE: It must be exhausting.
SAWYER: What’s that?
KATE: Living like a parasite — always taking, never giving.
SAWYER: Well, you got me pegged, don’t you?
KATE: I get it now. You don’t want off this Island because there’s nothing for you to go back for. Nobody you miss. And no one misses you.
It’s an interesting passage, especially since it’s marked with an oft-repeated phrase: “go back,” a phrase that will come under increasing scrutiny throughout the Exegesis. For now, though, it’s enough to see following the convergence of “giving and taking” in a single sentence. Because there’s an awful lot of giving and taking in this episode:
JACK: Go take care of yourself, man. We don’t need you right now.
PRIEST: Well, we all have our temptations, but giving in to them, that’s your choice.
LOCKE: Now, I could help it, take my knife, gently widen the opening, and the moth would be free. But it would be too weak to survive.
CHARLIE: Now give me my bloody drugs.
LIAM: Yeah, your music. Your songs that got us signed. I’m just a clown with a pretty face that sings them. And you want to take away my chance to be somebody?
SAWYER: So, he’s a doctor, right? Yeah, the ladies dig the doctors. Hell, give me a couple of band aids, a bottle of peroxide, I could run this Island too.
JACK: I wouldn’t have taken you for a religious man.
CHARLIE: I used to be. Hey, you want to hear my confession?
I like this final exchange, as Charlie offers to give a confession without using the word “give.” But what this all highlights is that the morality of “giving” and “taking” has more to do with the direction than whether it’s “giving” or “taking.” Sawyer and Liam, for example, are both ultimately concerned with their egos, as we can see with Liam’s fear of something being taken away from him, and Sawyer’s desire to have something given to him. Locke can take his knife to help to free a moth, or Charlie can give in to his temptations; either path will result in a hot mess. Conversely, a kind of spirituality is implied whether Charlie is taken for a religious man or implies the giving of a confession.
So, let’s tie up this line of thought with what we’ve concerned ourselves with primarily in this section, namely the Heroic Journey. It’s in the chapter on Apotheosis that Campbrell really delves into the subject of dualism (emphasis mine):
“The pause on the threshold of Nirvana, the resolution to forego until the end of time (which never ends) immersion in the untroubled pool of eternity, represents a realization that the distinction between eternity and time is only apparent—made, perforce, by the rational mind, but dissolved in the perfect knowledge of the mind that has transcended the pairs of opposites. What is understood is that time and eternity are two aspects of the same experience-whole, two planes of the same nondual ineffable; i.e., the jewel of eternity is in the lotus of birth and death: om mani padme hum.”
After emphasizing the nature of many deities as partaking of the both the male and the female, Campbell goes to point out a number of opposites that are really two sides of the same coin:
— Void : World
— Eternity : Time
— Enemy : Friend
— Subject : Object
— Yang : Yin
and so on. To achieve divinity, one moves beyond the pairs of opposites, which also includes the pair of Good and Evil, insofar as these are typically presented as provincial and localized to particular culture systems as opposed to being rooted in empathy. But then, to step into divinity is to step beyond judgment, beyond even the categorization of the world in those terms.
That, I think, is the point of all the dualism in The Moth – a motivation to transcend the pairs of opposites.
Part 2 of the essay will be up next week, and all of the literary references to explore will be explored “through the looking glass” with respect to LOST — i.e., with plenty of spoilers. See you then!
February 23, 2016 @ 4:32 pm
Thanks for another great essay, Jane. I love all of those little, tiny parallels and callbacks throughout the show. It makes close study and repeated viewings so rewarding. In particular, the repeated use of “rock god” and how Charlie commands the rocks to fall is great, and great catch with Hurley’s “You rock!” compliment at the end.
February 14, 2018 @ 3:05 am
Do you want to know what I disliked about this episode? I disliked how Locke manipulated or coerced Charlie into giving up those drugs. I think Locke saw himself as some kind of savior, but all he did was delay Charlie’s decision to finally give up drugs.
After finding a stash of heroin in Season Two, Charlie proved that he had not been completely “cured” and decided to test himself and see if he could refrain from using again. And instead of appreciating what Charlie was trying to do, Locke angrily assumed that the younger man was back on drugs.
I was disgusted at Locke’s inability to see what Charlie was trying to do. And I cheered Charlie for finally making the effort to save himself, instead of allowing someone else to manipulate him into permanently giving up the drugs.