February 16th, 2010
In Esquire Magazine’s fantastic feature on Roger Ebert’s struggles with cancer and the surgeries which have left him unable to speak, there are a myriad of passages which are emotional and poignant. However, the one that resonated with me most is the section where Chris Jones talks about Ebert’s dreams:
“In his dreams, his voice has never left. In his dreams, he can get out everything he didn’t get out during his waking hours: the thoughts that get trapped in paperless corners, the jokes he wanted to tell, the nuanced stories he can’t quite relate. In his dreams, he yells and chatters and whispers and exclaims. In his dreams, he’s never had cancer. In his dreams, he is whole.”
Ebert’s story is hugely powerful, and while a fictional character can’t possibly compare I feel his story offers valuable perspective on the narrative arc of John Locke. For Locke, the island was like a dream (but not actually a dream, at least we presume), a place where everything he was unable to accomplish confined to a wheelchair became possible. When John Locke woke up on that beach able to move his legs, it was his miracle, and he went forward in the rest of his life as a believer, someone who felt renewed faith towards whoever was responsible for his miraculous recovery. He was “whole” in a way that he had never experienced before, as if his kidney and his legs hadn’t been taken away by his spiteful father.
But John Locke was always scared: he was scared that it would all be taken away from him, desperate to solve the puzzles of the island so that this dream wouldn’t end. Locke became a believer not because he felt safe, but rather because he felt deathly afraid of what would happen if the dream ended, and the tension that defined his life before arriving on the island never truly left him even when he was able to move his legs.
“The Substitute” is about John Locke, who he was and who he might have been, but it is also about what John Locke was searching for. At the end of the day, he wasn’t searching for faith so much as he was searching for a purpose, and we learn in this episode that Locke was no more chosen than anyone else, which in some ways would have given the man a sense of peace before his tragic end.