Monday, December 24, 2007

MI4: Ending LOST

In this LOST-less period and repeat-filled television schedule, I've been forced to look elsewhere for my filmed and scripted entertainment: movies. I'm not saying I haven't always been a movie fan. I have been. I always focused my energy more on television though. With the writers' strike sending everything to repeats, I've found myself at the theater a lot more often recently. Even more so, I've started watching already released movies I was either avoiding or never got around to watching.

One such movie is Mission Impossible 3. I had simply never gone out of my way to see it. In all honesty, I was partially affected by the negative word-of-mouth about the movie. The real driving force behind my desire to see the movie was that J.J. Abrams wrote and directed it. That desire overpowered my sloth today and, using my parents' on demand cable feature (a nifty invention indeed), my family watched MI:III. It was a lot better than I expected and granted me some insight into the inevitable end of LOST.

The movie had all the elements of an Abrams story. The picture was colored and filmed similar to the way the trailers for Cloverfield appear (even though Abrams is "only" the producer of that movie). Greg Grunberg has a cameo in an opening party sequence. The story, obviously, prominently features spy games and deception. There are even kick butt women. Maggie Q of Live Free or Die Hard fame stars as a member of Ethan Hunt's team. In the end scene of the movie, it is actually Hunt's wife (played by Michelle Monaghan, no relation to Dominic) who lays waste to the agency mole, impressing Hunt himself when he, um, wakes up.

The parallels to LOST were also undeniable. For instance, the reason Monaghan needs to kill the agency mole is: moments before Hunt died. Immediately following all her shooting, Monaghan immediately begins to give CPR to her husband, vigorously trying to bring him back to life. Remind you of a LOST scene? How about if I tell you the name of the episode? All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues. Ring a bell? Jack and Kate find Charlie hanging from a tree. Jack takes him down and starts administering CPR. Yup, the scene in MI3 was almost exactly the same. Someone I was watching with said something like, "Maybe he really is dead." I replied, "Don't worry, he'll come back." and added to myself in thought, "She'll start pounding on his chest in frustration in a minute." Sure enough, in a Jack like move, Monaghan started pounding on her husband's chest and he came back to life with a cough. The mirror image was ridiculous. I also suppose it's sort of ironic Monaghan was the person being saved in LOST and the person doing the saving in MI3. God, does it say something about me that I notice these things? Actually, I can answer that myself: of course it says something. How about telling me what it says then?

More important than parallel scenes, the plot design of the movie was similar to LOST. The movie began with a scene that was near the end. By the time we reached that scene, our perceptions of it changed. Events did not turn out how we expected. More importantly, the plot revolved around an item called the "Rabbit's Foot". There is speculation about what it is (which contains an end of days scenario). The villain is trying to retrieve. The heroes are trying to stop him from obtaining it. It is, essentially, the mystery that drives the audience. Seemingly, the villain knows what it is, but the heroes and the audience do not. Do you see where I'm going with this comparison? MI3's "Rabbit's Foot" is LOST's "Magic Box." We have the vague and mysterious name. We still have no explanation.

Abrams teases the reveal of the nature of the Rabbit's Foot all the way until the last scene. Back at headquarters, Hunt and his boss have a discussion. Hunt, finally, asks what the Rabbit's Foot is. His boss replies that he'll tell Hunt if he promises to remain in the employ of the agency. Hunt grins and walks away. The movie ends without the audience ever finding out what the Rabbit's Foot actually is. A few members of my family felt hard done by the movie, even declaring it as stupid that they never revealed the mystery. I immediately understood why Abrams wrote the movie the way he did and explained it to them. It doesn't matter what the Rabbit's Foot was. In action movies, there is always some doomsday device that the heroes need to track down. If you don't believe me, just watch a season of 24. What's important is that the device has a name and is important to the characters. It's almost as if Abrams was flaunting the writing technique in front of our faces. Maybe I understood what he did because I'm a writer. Maybe MI3 is a lesson in audience.

What's important about the island in LOST is not it's exact nature, not how it does what it does, but that it does what it does. It is the driving force behind the stories on LOST, the stories which are character based stories. The flashbacks, the hallucinations, the random animal appearances, all these occurrences are part of the powers of the island and they've all had a profound affect on the characters. Do we really need an explanation as to how these things are done? No. Rather, I think the answer we're looking for is why.

Like LOST, MI3 is at heart a character piece. It is the story of Hunt trying to fall in love and have a family in his ridiculous career path. In a way, it is a similar story to Journeyman. However, what makes the story worth watching, what makes me ultimately not care about what the "Rabbit's Foot" is that Hunt saves the world. You could even argue that without his new marriage, Hunt would have never saved the world because his wife became the target of the villain's personal vendetta thus adding a variable the villain did not account for in his diabolical plan. In other words, the why of MI3 is "To Save the World". Of course, LOST doesn't have that easy why.

The nice thing about writing a movie like MI3 is that the why is already written for you. In MI3, the why is always "To Save the World". In Die Hard, the why is always "To Stop a Bank Robbery". To stray away from those answers would simply be unfaithful to the source material (although, fans of the book I Am Legend would probably skewer me here). LOST, however, is a story that was written from scratch. There was no built in why. Right now, all we seem to have is a post-modern mosaic that ultimately will or will not stay true to its post-modern roots. Obviously, in MI3, Abrams strayed post-modern brand of storytelling with the ending, but utilized it with the whole notion of the Rabbit's Foot. Cloverfield seems to contain those elements as well (as it seems to be about random young adults reacting to the crisis shot in a similar style to The Blair Witch Project). I can only hope that at the end of LOST, we are given that ultimate why, rather than letting us decide it for ourselves. In other words, is Ben right, do they need to stay on the island? Is Jack right, do they need to go back? I don't think so. At least not all of them. But that's where post-modernism can lead to one why. We all have our role to play in the grand scheme. But what remains to be seen is what that grand scheme is.

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