There are few movies that annoy me more than Cast Away (2000). It has nothing to do with Wilson, the volleyball that Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) talks to while stranded on a deserted island. That part is bad enough, but I can live with it. Besides, who among us have not conversed with the thin air? At least Chuck had a ball. While I do not want to give too much of my thoughts at this point of the review, I feel I can at least say here that my distaste has to do with my own selfishness and woundedness. Somebody who has had different life experiences than myself will view the film differently. Since it won a lot of awards, there seems to be among a select minority that do not like the film. At the same time, how exciting can a film about a guy and a volleyball alone for years in the middle of nowhere be?
Before he is Cast Away, Chuck is a system’s analyst for FedEx. He is sent to places like Russia in order to teach them how best to deliver packages for the worldwide delivery service. He is a busy person, but he assures his girlfriend Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt) that he will be home to Memphis, Tennessee, in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, while sitting down for dinner with her family, he is called back into work to fly to the other side of the globe, to Malaysia, to basically do what he had just done in Russia. She drives him to the airport and before he leaves, they exchange gifts. Hers to him is an antique watch that belonged her grandfather. Among those he intends to give her is a ring, to go along with a New Year’s Eve proposal, but he tells her not open it, saving it for his return. Given the title of the movie, I am sure you can guess what happens next. Chuck manages to survive the crash into the Pacific Ocean, and eventually washes up on the beach of an uninhabited island. He discovers this after some anxious explorations of his new environs. His pager is ruined, thus there is no way for him to be found electronically. What is the next task for anyone in such a situation? Find food. His early attempts at opening coconuts come with a great deal of trial and error, and the crabs that he consumes are not good eating, as he painfully comes to know. He also encounters a number of packages that are tumbling onto the same shoreline that he did, and he begins to collect them. One of these contains a rubber raft from the jet in which he attempts to leave the island, but he is forced to turned back when the breakers along the coral reef overturn the craft and he is injured by the jagged underwater growths. Hence, it seems like he is to be there for a long time. Next, he begins opening some of the other packages that have found their way onto the beach, and unboxes items that can be useful for survival, including stuff to help build a fire. Among these is the infamous volleyball, which he oh-so-originally names Wilson because that is the company that produces it. After injuring his hand building a fire, he angrily takes the ball in his bloodied palm and throws it, creating a discernible hand print on it. Part of his anger is over the fact that he had been speaking to a toy, but when he retrieves the ball, he slowly completes its transformation by adding a face and hair. In a sense, it signifies that he is adjusting to the circumstances, which also includes him performing rudimentary dental surgery on himself using an ice skate he found amongst the parcels. Four years go by, and he has become a lean, tanned survival machine. The last obstacle to conquer is the island itself, or at least getting off of it. Having kept track of the winds, and being aware of where he failed on the reef, he constructs a raft and uses some of the sturdy fiberglass walls that were a part of the wreckage for a sail. This allows him to catch the wind at the right moment he needs to make it through the difficult waves that defeated him last time. Having done so, he is now set adrift in the Pacific, hoping to steer unto shipping lanes and possible rescue. To his utter devastation, following living through a powerful storm, he awakens to find Wilson floating away. At the same moment, a ship comes into view, and he must leave his companion behind to be rescued. Okay, so, Chuck has survived quite the harrowing experience. He gets home to Memphis . . . only to find that Kelly has moved on and started a family of her own. Later that day, he takes a taxi to her home, and she shows him how they had looked for him for so long. She then gives him his old car, and he goes to leave. For a moment, she goes after him. They kiss, and she gets in the car. The moment passes, and they realize she has her own life, and he must live his. In explaining all this to his friend and co-worker Stan (Nick Searcy), he mentions that it is like he lost her all over again. We close with Chuck, a package in hand he saved from the island with angel wings on it, delivering it to a woman in the middle of nowhere Canada.
There is something to be said about Chuck’s dedication in Cast Away. This is something that is a key element to Faith. What is it that kept Chuck going while he was stranded on the island? Well, it was not Faith, but a kind of faith. And before you think about this further, I am not talking about Wilson. Instead, there is a photograph that he has of Kelly that he keeps inside the broken watch she gave him before he left. There are a few shots of him looking on at it in its resting spot in his cave. Perhaps best of all, his desire to get back to her is what saves him from committing suicide. There will be some of you who are already familiar with this film who will point out that no, it was the fact that the branch broke that he used to test the strength of the tree on which he strung the rope that he was to use to hang himself. When it gave way, he decided against it. I would submit to you that incident is one day in the course of four years spent alone. When you are faced with that kind of solitude (and mind you, I am surmising), you have to find something bigger than yourself to keep you going. This is what Catholic hermits have been doing for centuries. Granted, they choose to be alone rather than having it forced upon themselves, but it is a deeper union with God that they seek, a deeper Faith. Chuck sought reunion with Kelly, and it drove him to find a way off the island. The rewards of Faith are sure. This is a big reason as to why I dislike the film. The very thing that kept him going, that had him removing a tooth with an ice skate, building makeshift rafts, and letting himself go adrift in the Pacific was his belief that he would one day achieve his goal, or die trying. I get that he learned a bigger lesson along the way, but my heart breaks for the guy. Still, God never gives us anything we cannot handle. It would seem that He had a different course in mind for Chuck all along, and that is what we all must learn to accept no matter how hard it may be.
Aside from not liking how Cast Away ends, I also feel it lacks excitement. Thus, I ask again: how much action can you get out of a dude sitting by himself on a beach for four years? Given the way people talked about it, though it has died down somewhat since then, it is one of those movies that I guess one should see once, and then quickly forget. At least then you will get all the Wilson references. If this sort of thing does not interest you, then by all means, skip.