As LOST drew to a close on Sunday, having abandoned much of the physics and philosophy they hinted at along the way, I was left with one thought (ok, a lot of thoughts, but this isn't about LOST anyway): Has faith won out over science? After all, Battlestar Galactica took a very similar road of religious resolution that's still controversial among BSG fans.
I'm not as avid a sci-fi reader as I should be (researching this column has caused me to make a very long to-read / read again list), but I try to be an avid sci-fi watcher. With two television shows deciding to throw their storylines towards faith over reason, I began to wonder what our sci-fi legacy might be when all is said and done. After all, last year was a big one for sci-fi, with Star Trek, District 9, Avatar, and Moon making quite an impact on moviegoers. (Let's not forget the flops such as Surrogates or Terminator: Salvation; they're still emblematic of our place and time.) Only Avatar can really be said to have tackled faith in any recognizable way, and could potentially be lumped in with BSG and LOST, as a nature loving lifestyle and a reverence for the Tree of Souls triumphs over technology. But it's a stretch to classify Avatar as really participating in that debate. (Science does try to explain how the Na'vi and their "worship" works, though. So maybe it's not that big of a stretch.)
Arguably, the overarching theme was really the most basic one of sci-fi or "mainstream" fiction (what it means to be human, the indomitable nature of our spirit), but I also see a theme that LOST really ran with: What happened, happened. What's done is done. There is no do over. Even Star Trek, arguably the most cheery of the lot, resolutely went forward having destroyed Romulus and Vulcan, and stranded "our" Spock in a timeline not his own.
Our decade actually kicked off with a fascination with alternate timelines and what we could or couldn't change. Frequency now looks more and more like a precursor to LOST -- there's even a character named Jack Shepard, albeit a very bad one -- and Star Trek with the way timelines can split into all kinds of interesting and life altering ways. However, Donnie Darko does its best to crush that optimism. No matter what timeline or cut of the film you prefer, what's done is done. Donnie dies in every single one, a fate which will apparently close the Tangent Universe. What happened needed to happen. (A very simplistic analysis, but you get my drift.)
Depending on how strictly you define your sci-fi, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind also toyed with similar themes -- that no matter how desperately you try to change and erase your (romantic) past, you love who you love. You can't alter fate. It's at once hopeful and bitter, depending on what mood you're in at any time you watch it. Again, it's a similar mood to what LOST ran with, though without any religious overtones. The same can't quite be said of the dystopian Children of Men which practically smacks you in the face with religious symbolism. There's no science in Men -- again, like LOST, whatever caused the infertility is unknown -- and its resolution hinges on a modern day miracle. The largely unknown Primer, depending on your interpretation, took a relatively bleak view of attempting to change the future. The end suggests that all attempts to undo Abe and Aaron's discovery of time travel fail, and Aaron fully intends to use it in a far more damaging way.
Obviously, I'm cherry picking through the decade and its genre offerings, and focusing on those I believe may have had impacts on genre cinema and pop culture. I also gravitated towards stories of time travel. But what I'm struck by is that sci-fi cinema has largely steered clear of religious topics, thus assuring me that the debate of "faith versus reason" is still an ongoing one. I also suspect we're going to see a movie or two taking issue with the "happy" ending of LOST, and turning it into something far bleaker and more Donnie Darko-ish. But as I look through our decade, I can't help but be struck with how grim and final it all is, even when you stress it up in lens flares and afterlife reunions. What's done is done, what happened happened, and we all have to deal with it the best we can. It feels like our sci-fi renaissance may actually boil down to Cormac McCarthy's The Road -- just keep trudging along, each the other world's entire. Whether you're holding on for the coast, the return of Christopher Johnson, or reunion in the afterlife, there's certainly hope. But what's done is done. That message may be our generation's legacy on the genre -- not steampunk -- and one that's doubly depressing considering the dire news spilling out of our Gulf regions.
But perhaps I'm just in a grim mood while contemplating the decade. I'd actually like to toss this one out for discussion: What do you think our sci-fi legacy is going to be? With LOST and BSG having truly wrapped up the decade, what's your take on what we may or may not be trying to say?