When we see the little boy as a representation of Oliver, we’re introduced to a deeper narrative, one where the relationship between Topper, Aiden and Paul is an abstract representation of the internal spiritual and emotional struggles of Oliver and Joe as they culminate in Lost Without You.
Topper and Aiden represent a man split in two, an analogy for Oliver's inability to reconcile the trauma he suffered as a little boy and the man he is today. Just as Paul is unable to help Topper recover or reunite him with Sandy, Joe is unable to reconcile the pieces for Oliver. In both cases, Grace is required for reconciliation. Grace, of course, is represented by Sandy and Shane respectively, as they participate in the divine plot set in motion to do the miraculous work that sits at the core of Lost Without You.
If He's Oliver...
From this perspective, Topper and Aiden are really just two halves of Oliver---a man with seemingly insurmountable trauma suffered in the wake of a single, catastrophic event, which alienated him from the innocence, resilience and optimism he had as a child. Each are a physical piece representing Oliver’s internal spiritual and emotional conflict as we've experienced it throughout the course of the series, but particularly as Oliver has made moves towards initiating a relationship with Shane.
As we discussed in Hide & Seek, both Topper and Oliver were broken by the pain they experienced “outside,” at which point they resorted to hiding in both a physical and emotional sense. But each man clearly wants to break out of that emotional bondage. Topper exhibits this by continuing to reach out to Sandy, and Oliver does so by continuing to try and pursue Shane. Instinctively both seem to understand that what they need to be whole exists outside themselves, but there is some barrier preventing them from reconnecting with that piece of themselves.
A Papa In Pain
If there is one conclusion you can absolutely gather from Joe’s interactions with Oliver from Truth Be Told on, it’s that he is heartbroken over his failed marriage and his fractured relationship with his son. And just as Paul seems heartbroken over his brother, Topper, perhaps a shell of the man he used to know, so Joe is about the countenance of his son, whom Joe knows was once an adventurous, vibrant and outgoing child.
The truth of the matter is that little boy Joe once knew carried some very grown-up pain. Oliver, seemingly oblivious to it aside from “wanting to go to the forest without actually having to go to the forest” as a child, carried unhealed wounds into adulthood that were evident as he attempted to break through his emotional boundaries, constantly hitting a wall. Oliver's father could clearly see that and, knowing from where it came, attempted to help his son by taking him camping. In many ways, that camping trip decades before was the last time Joe really saw his little boy in his true form. It's a truth hinted at when Joe encounters Aiden for the first and only time in the film immediately after asking Oliver to hike.
Joe asked Oliver to go out with him several times, but it had to be Oliver's choice to take those steps towards healing, first by going to El Dorado Canyon, then by making the choice to "leave [the pain of his past]...on the mountain...go back and start over." The abstract, "unseen" method through which Oliver takes this first step is prayer, an analogy for the impact of which we can explore by taking a closer look at the last scene during which we encounter Topper, Aiden, Paul and Sandy.
Sandy and Topper's reunion is more than just the outcome of delivering his letter. It's also an illustration of what spiritually transpired when Oliver chose to pray on the mountain, and the nature of the healing that occurred.
When Aiden declares, "you better come out, Top," and takes Topper's hand, Aiden leads Topper towards the trauma---the outdoors---but also towards healing. Seeing that Sandy is outside waiting to see her best friend and be welcomed, Topper faces the "trauma" and reaches out for her. Outside of the Bike Repair shop for the first time during the film, together Topper and Aiden welcome Sandy as Paul looks on. Surrounded by love, Topper is no longer afraid of the outside.
Oliver's prayer allowed the two separated pieces of himself---the little boy and the man---to face and come through the trauma, where Grace, and the love behind it, was waiting for Oliver on the other side. Prayer was the only thing capable of reconciling the two broken pieces. We see evidence of Oliver's healing in the way he engages with his dad and Shane at the end of the film. It's significant that, like Topper and Aiden, Oliver also has that chance to interact with Sandy. It ties this narrative together in that both men needed to receive Grace to become whole once more.
Papa O'Toole also benefited from Grace in its many forms. The first was through Shane, who encouraged Oliver to engage in father/son bonding by "sending [him] to camp," eventually leading to healing in that relationship. He also encountered Sandy, who found him before his injury went septic. But perhaps his most powerful encounter was with Grace itself, seeing that in the end Joe was finally able to hear "Something" again. We don't know the exact impact of Paul's encounter with Sandy, but upon seeing her, Paul smiles for the first time all film. You also get a sense that he finally understands Sandy was the only thing capable of bringing his brother back to his old self, and there's hope that their relationship and family might be restored as well.
When we draw parallels between Oliver and Aiden, it opens up a larger narrative where Oliver's internal struggle to reconcile the pain of his past with the present becomes tangible in the relationship between Aiden and Topper. We also get a sense of Joe, and his struggle to help Oliver, through Paul's interactions with Topper, where both Joe and Paul's desire to help their loved ones is outweighed by their inability to truly do so, reliant upon "divine deliveries" instead. It's a story whose outcome is exposure to Grace in its many forms, ultimately resulting in reconciliation and hope for both families.
The Men In The Mirror: Norman | Oliver | Meet Grace