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!