Many of the most important lines on Lost are delivered to, or through, the character of Hurley. One example I've discussed previously is "you make your own luck," which we first heard from Martha Toomey and subsequently from Chee-, er, David Reyes. Another is Hurley's own admonishment that "Australia's the key to the whole game" of Risk. In this post, I explain why his warning may actually be an ironic reference to the Island.
For those unfamiliar, Risk is a game of global strategy and conquest. Players begin by placing armies in various countries, then compete to take over the world. The player who starts in "Australasia" has a natural advantage because that region is the most defensible. Here's an hilarious riff by comedian Eddie Izzard on how Hitler obviously never played Risk. About a minute in, Izzard summarizes why Australasia is so advantageous:
So the literal meaning of Hurley's statement seems clear. But what about the ironic significance I alluded to earlier? Later in the same episode (i.e., 4:9) Ben accuses Charles Widmore of changing the rules of the "game." That could mean many things, but the objective of the game of Risk suggests one highly plausible candidate: world domination. Perhaps the two are vying for control of the planet with "Australia" as the key.
I put "Australia" in quotes because I don't believe the writers were referring to the Land Down Under. It's tempting to think otherwise given the prevalence of Australia in flashbacks. But that's because most of the flashbacks over the first few seasons involved survivors of a flight from Sydney. As the cast has expanded, we've met many characters with no apparent connection at all to Australia, including Desmond, the Others, and Widmore's freighter crew.
In my opinion, the reference was to the Island itself, which is obviously a point of strategic importance to Ben and Widmore both. And what makes the Island the "key" to their "game"? Part of the answer may be its isolation in spacetime, which makes it more defensible like Australasia in Risk. But its real significance was summarized best by Locke, who explained: "It's not an island. It's a place where miracles happen."
Stated another way, the Island is a place where the infinitely improbable is entirely possible, even routine. It's a place where 72 passengers survive a catastrophic plane crash with mostly minor injuries, where terminal cancer and paralysis are cured, where time travel actually happens -- all against preposterously long odds. It's the kind of place one might very well analogize to a "magic box," where dreams become reality.
Ask yourself, why did Dharma pick the Island as the location for their experiments? The secure design of the stations and the the sonic fence around the barracks suggest they knew it was hostile. Bringing people by submarine had to be difficult. Why go to the trouble? Dharma realized the Island is ruled by the physics of the improbable. It's one of the few places they might actually succeed in altering the Valenzetti Equation's grim probability forecast.
If that sounds familiar, you may be a fan of Douglas Adams's works. One technological premise of his Hitchhiker's series is the infinite improbability drive, which exploits quantum mechanics to enable instantaneous travel across the universe. Its activation has all kinds of random and unpredictable side effects -- e.g., turning nuclear missiles into sperm whales and petunias. Now that we know the Island moves, maybe it's really one big infinite improbability drive!
The physics of improbability also resonates with the works of Stanislaw Lem. His novel Solaris, in which cosmonaut Kelvin investigates the fate of scientists studying a sentient planet that manifests their dreams, is a major inspiration for Lost. Another of Lem's short stories features the "improbability automatic," a gun that slays dragons of probability by making them less likely -- again with strange side effects. What was it the Blast Door Map said? "Here be dragons..."
Improbability physics is nonsense, but there's an interesting scientific parallel. General relativity and our everyday experience suggest that the universe is an orderly, predictable place. At the atomic level, however, quite the opposite is true. Quantum mechanics tells us that uncertainty rules the universe at very small scales. Here's a great explanation by physicist Brian Greene of this basic contradiction between general relativity and quantum mechanics:
Like Greene's Quantum Cafe, the Island seems to be a place where the laws of quantum mechanics are experienced even at macroscopic scales. As a result, "there's a chance that things we'd ordinarily think of as impossible can actually happen." The main example Greene discusses is walking through walls. Do you suppose it's just a coincidence that Hurley specifically mentioned (in episode 3:17) that the Flash can "vibrate through walls and stuff"?
That's what makes the Island a "place where miracles happen" and "the key to the whole game" of world domination. Let's just hope our Quantum Cafe doesn't also turn out to be the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!