Forget your Walking Deads, your Fringes and your Twin Peaks – when it comes to the sheer volume of passionately argued fan theories, Lost is the undisputed champion. During the six seasons that the show was on the air (running from 2004 to 2010), devotees of Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof's sci-fi drama thrashed out multiple explanations for Lost's multitude of mysteries (many of which, some might argue, were superior to the actual resolution).
With all six seasons currently available on demand, we've assembled 11 of the very best fan theories in increasing order of craziness.
1. The Island is Purgatory
The most popular theory at the time proposed that the Island was Purgatory / Limbo and all the characters from the plane crash were dead and awaiting judgement for their sins before they could go to Heaven or Hell, hence the weekly flashbacks for each character. Given the showrunners' repeated assertions that this theory was false, fans were understandably pretty annoyed when the series ended by suggesting… well, that they weren’t all that far off. But where does the polar bear come into it? Eh?
2. It's all a dream
Another popular theory was that everything that happened on the Island was a dream or a hallucination, usually attributed to a single character (the most popular candidates being Locke, Jack and Hurley), and all the other characters representing warring aspects of their personality. A similar theory held that the entire show was a mass delusion, caused by the plane going into a nosedive. The hallucination theory was seemingly backed up by the show's repeated references to An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a short story where it transpires that – spoiler alert! – the entire narrative is imagined by the narrator at the moment of his death.
3. They're all trapped in a time loop...trapped in a time loop...
When the show introduced the element of time-travel, the various fan theories went into overdrive, not least because people had long speculated that that's what all the button-pushing in the Swan Station (under the hatch) was about. There were several versions of the time loop theory, but key elements involved the Islanders repeating each event over and over again and the Smoke Monster functioning as a sort of reset device that eliminated temporal anomalies. Evidence for the theory included Richard never ageing and Locke regaining the ability to walk.
4. The whole thing is an elaborate game
One of the more outlandish theories proposed that the Islanders were the unwitting pawns in a game being played by two manipulative adversaries (Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore, Jacob and the Man in Black, God and the Devil – take your pick), with points being scored every time a character was taken off the board / killed, like in chess. It's actually not too far off the actual explanation, but a little on the nose…
5. Desmond and Penny have to get together in the end
In one of the show's best episodes (Season 4's The Constant), Desmond becomes unstuck in time and his consciousness drifts between Oxford in 1996 and the Island in 2004. The ending of the episode establishes that Desmond and Penny are destined to be together – she's his constant, the only thing that can anchor him in time – and fans became powerfully invested in the pair eventually reuniting, theorising that the show would end when they did so.
6. The Island is a magical wish-granting machine
The idea with this one is that the Island is capable of granting each character their heart's desire, whether that's Jack's wish to reconcile with his dead father, Locke regaining the ability to walk, Jin and Sun conceiving a child or Richard living forever. All the Island asks for in return is some sort of sacrifice that proves the castaways are worthy of their reward. Either that or it's a Faustian pact-type deal. One of those.
7. It's basically The Truman Show
Known as The Artificial Environment Theory in fan forums, this hypothesis suggests that the castaways are all the unwitting stars of an elaborate reality TV show, manipulated at every turn by producers, scriptwriters, stage hands and a special effects team (“Aaaand, cue the Smoke Monster!” etc.) There's an enjoyable level of meta to this one, because, of course, that's exactly what it is, with Abrams and Lindelof serving as the omniscient, God-like string-pullers. This theory lost some ground once the castaways actually left the Island, but it was fun while it lasted.
8. The Island is, wait for it...Atlantis
The LOST city of Atlantis, get it? No, wait, stay with us. According to legend, Atlantis was once home to advanced, magical technology before it mysteriously disappeared, which fits with all the Smoke Monster and time travel stuff. And that four-toed statue of a foot would certainly seem to suggest the involvement of an ancient civilisation somewhere along the line, right? A big clue was dropped when it was revealed that Richard Alpert was from the Canary Islands, the nearest rumoured location to Atlantis. So what happens if the Island sinks under the water at the end? Well, nothing, because it didn't happen, but WHAT IF IT HAD? That would make the BBC's Atlantis an unofficial follow-up and...okay, this is a terrible idea. Forget we said anything.
9. The Smoke Monster is a bit like the Sorting Hat
An early theory ran that the Dharma Initiative was involved in the determination of the passengers' destinies and that the Black Monster functioned as the Island equivalent of Hogwarts' Sorting Hat, analysing each character's personality and background and determining their fate accordingly, whether that meant rehabilitation (Locke walking again), enlightenment (Desmond realising he's meant to be with Penny) or death (Shannon, Ana Lucia, etc).
10. “Aaron” is a demon that has possessed Claire's baby
This particular piece of conjecture posits that the Dharma Initiative's experiments unwittingly created an ultra-powerful demonic presence (with psychic abilities, no less) that lures the passengers to the Island with the express purpose of possessing Claire's baby Aaron. This explains both Claire's rather sinister flashback (implying that the Island needs her baby) and the fact that the Others keep kidnapping her (and Aaron, once he's born), as they're the demon's disciples or something. It's a nice theory, but it doesn't really hold water, seeing as Aaron never actually did anything evil. OR DID HE?
11. The passengers are all clones, for some reason
Bear with us, because this one gets p-r-e-t-t-y bonkers. Another theory was that the passengers all died in the plane crash, but their brains were somehow salvaged and cryogenically frozen, just like Walt Disney (allegedly). Centuries later, the brains are implanted into genetically engineered clones, making the passengers de facto lab rats with the Island acting as their maze. The Others are effectively lab technicians, monitoring the subjects to see if they are fit to be released into the futuristic society that now exists in the wider world. It’s almost a shame this one didn’t turn out to be true…
Lost seasons 1-6 is now available to watch on demand. Find it in On Demand > Box Sets
Recommended for you