Cast Away (Ultimate Isolation Movie)

Since new movies are hard to come by these days with Covid-19 still reigning supreme, I have really enjoyed re-watching some of my all-time favorites including one of the topmost isolation-based films of all time – Cast Away. This is not the first tale ever told about tropical island strandings (e.g. Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies…), but it’s one of the best in my opinion, and was a box office powerhouse almost two decades ago.

Released in December 2000 and directed by Robert Zemckis this extraordinary saga of survival earned two Oscar nods including a nomination in the best actor category for Tom Hanks who remarkably carried 75% of the entire movie single-handedly. The story is solidly built on character Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a FedEx employee whose cargo plane goes down somewhere over the South Pacific with him as the sole survivor of the crash. After barely getting through the harrowing experience of the plane plunging into an unforgiving ocean Chuck aimlessly drifts in what is left of an inflatable life-raft that eventually washes up on a deserted island. For years Chuck is trapped on this humid uninhabited land-mass with nothing but time to ponder what he misses most in the world – his would-be fiancé Kelly Frears played by Helen Hunt; who’s role in the film is quite small compared with Hanks but nevertheless very fundamental in many of the moral messages this film imparts on its viewers.

On this point, this parable converges on what really matters in life and how easy it is to take for granted essential basic needs (access to food, water, heat, and shelter). This movie also reminds us that life is unpredictable and doesn’t always go as planned, but sometimes it’s those forks in the road that make the journey so interesting. Sails do come in from time to time so watch for them and remember those who risk nothing get nothing. The notion is you never know what the tide will bring, so be open-minded and don’t miss opportunities. This flick also delves into our most nefarious emotions including deep despair, utter loneliness, damning frustration, and unimaginable fear, not to mention clearly emphasizing the stark difference between merely existing and actually living. Humans are highly social creatures after all, so what happens to ‘the self’ if others are missing from the equation? At first glance the main meaning of this movie might seem fairly straightforward – leave someone alone long enough and they will slowly go crazy. The mind will split in two, and they will start talking to a volleyball as if it’s a person. By the way, there is a reason why ‘Wilson’ had to be a volleyball instead of a football, soccer ball, bowling ball, bouncy ball, baseball, cricket ball, golf ball… it’s because communication between humans is a ‘serve and return’ interaction. I love symbolism in movies. Okay, a tennis ball, pickleball, or ping-pong ball could have ‘served’ this iconography purpose too but what fun would that have been. Anyway, back to the point. If none of these above-mentioned aspects of the film are the primary take-away message what is? Like a sixth- sense, it’s a familiar concept but not always that simple to comprehend, so let’s break it down.

Adversity is something we all face in life and when that experience is extremely overwhelming and excruciatingly painful, we feel so lost – like being abandoned in solitude on a forsaken island. We keep looking out for a rescuer, but no one comes because no one can reach us. We are truly alone. This is when the realization hits that the self has to save the self. It’s the only way – and it starts with listening to that little ‘Wilson’ voice we all have in our head. It’s called intuition, and if you let it guide you it will truly be the best friend you ever have. So often we focus more on our five basic senses (touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing) and we ignore the most important one – our instinct. Roy T. Bennett said it best, “You will never follow your own inner voice until you clear up the doubts in your mind.” This movie does a stellar job metaphorically bringing to the forefront what goes on in the human brain. Yes, we all constantly talk to ourselves! But it’s what these exchanges produce via our actions that counts. Attending vs. Disregarding – pay attention, collect your thoughts and feelings, communicate your issues to yourself, process your insight, do the hard internal work, be self-reliant, and you might just find manageable solutions. Of course, having others to help us work through our problems is great too when available – but the self is always the final gatekeeper.

Much like this movie, Covid-19 is still making so many of us feel deeply isolated and displaced from our lives not to mention worrying about our health and shortages of our most basic needs; a gap The Owen Hart Foundation is trying to address. But as unpleasant as the last few months have been (especially for people like Tom Hanks and his wife Rita who contracted and recovered from Covid-19) it has also awakened feelings of gratitude and appreciation for our everyday blessings including all the wonderful people in our lives. That said, now that our world is slowly starting to re-open, let’s hope we can resume our fully-functioning yet now enhanced existence soon.

P.S. I really like going to tropical islands at Christmas to escape, not the other way around. Fingers crossed season greetings = slipping this seclusion. Amen!

Vanishing at break-time to my favorite inhabited beachy island in the South Pacific.

9 thoughts on “Cast Away (Ultimate Isolation Movie)

  1. This is one of my absolutely favorite movies and yes I’m sure some of us feel like we have been stuck on an island during these times. I’ve seen it so many times and as you bring up there is a lot symbolism. It’s hard to convey how much I love this movie. It does get hate because people portray it as boring as it’s “just a guy on a beach” but it is so much more than that!

    Poor Chuck, he’s a man that is always on top of things and in control, that’s not the case on the deserted island. The dialogue in this movie makes it for me and just shows how great Tom Hanks is. Whether he’s arguing about time with a volleyball or the conversation he has by the fire with his fellow fedex employee; the emotion in that scene is gripping.

    One gripe I do have is the relationship with Kelly. I just didn’t buy it. Chuck was only gone 4 years and she has already had 2 kids and married? I guess maybe it’d be unrealistic if chuck was on the island for 8 years or something; I don’t know. It’s a small gripe I have with an otherwise fantastic movie.

    Last thought, there’s something about that final scene where he’s at the cross roads and he’s looking at the way his new friend is heading is just awesome. And also the score of this movie is phenomenal.

    Great review and movie pick!

    P.S. there’s a funny Super Bowl commercial that spoofs the movie with the package containing numerous items that would’ve helped him get off haha!

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    1. Hi Christoper: Thank you so much for your comments. I agree with your gripe. After everything Chuck went through then to find out Kelly had moved on in a very significant way was such a blow. But I guess in order to make the story compelling where Kelly was really torn between leaving her new life for her old life they had to make it seem like she really built another life with someone that would be complicated to leave (BTW she only had child – a baby girl). I think it also speaks to the message that whatever we ‘plan’ for our lives rarely goes the way we think it will, and that we never know what corner our life will take unexpectedly. This is what makes life heartbreaking at times but interesting as well. Keep your comments coming Christopher and keep watching movies!! Thank you.

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      1. My fault, yes only one child. I think my mind meant her child was about 2, not 2 children. And yeah I agree it’s totally for plot purposes. It wouldn’t be as compelling if she just sat on her stoop for 4 years. Just for me I couldn’t relate to that part. Thanks!

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      2. That’s because you like happy endings and so do I. But maybe Chuck was meant to have an even happier ending and that’s why I loved how they ended the movie. His destiny was not with Kelly in the end but maybe with someone else. 🙂

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      3. Oh, I totally agree! And yes I do like happy endings. The lovely lady at the end could definitely be the one for chuck. I just hated the line from Kelly “you’re the love of my life” and she moved on so quickly. I’m sorry Kelly you don’t get to say that. 🙂

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  2. I enjoyed reading this as usual. I’ve not seen Castaway in years, but I did like it, although I found it too sad & depressing to watch again. There is a lot of it I don’t remember, but I do remember the Wilson volleyball. Your interpretation is quite interesting.

    I do like Gladiator, but I think Tom Hanks was more deserving to win an Oscar for Castaway over Russell Crowe, although he was great. I’m glad he & Rita Wilson were able to recover from the virus.

    My favourite recent film with the isolation theme would be The Hateful Eight, which really reignited my interest in Tarantino. One of my all time favourites is Hour of the Wolf by Ingmar Bergman, which is also set on an island. I also love The Shining & John Carpenter’s The Thing too.

    I know you don’t like horror movies, but if you’re after something different I’d suggest Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. Its not super intense like The Shining or The Thing, but more focused on atmosphere & mood.

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    1. Hi Brett: Good comments as always. I agree the toss up between Hanks and Crowe would have been tough RE: Oscars 2001 but I’m glad Crowe got the win in the end as Hanks already had a few under his belt. And Crowe is from down under like you so that’s gotta make you happy that a fellow Ozzie won. BTW thank you for your suggestions. Stephen King’s The Shining is an amazing isolation pic and Jack Nicholson is one of my all time fav actors. It’s a winner for sure. Thanks again for the comments Brett and keep watching movies!

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