Released 2000. Director: Robert Zemeckis
TOM HANKS’ ONE-MAN SHOW IS THOUGHTFUL, PHILOSOPHICAL AND FOR THE MOST PART, WORDLESS. One man survives a plane crash and washes up on a deserted tropical island. One man in a civilization of his own. One man in eternal solitude. What keeps him going?
Before his ordeal, Hanks’ character Chuck Noland is a FedEx Systems Engineer whose time-regulated life is governed by a strict adherence to punctuality, living by the second with no time to waste. When he becomes Robinson Crusoe, life deals him a cruel irony and time is all he has in abundance. Chuck is now in a different world where he has to learn how to live. Even the smallest and simplest tasks like flicking a light switch in the modern world have become an impossibility.
This is when Cast Away goes all quiet and invites us to ponder the deep issues as Chuck learns to adapt to a world with only the sound of waves and without amenities or community.
Cast Away ventures beyond the conventional ‘man marooned on island’ scenario and goes much further. Robert Zemeckis’s direction is bold in the sense that it makes the movie an experiment in existentialism, and the audiences as witnesses and participants in the thought process.
Does an individual exist when there are no others around him to reflect on his being there? What keeps Chuck’s humanity intact in the long years of solitude? How does one cope with complete isolation? What is the meaning of Chuck’s life?
Chuck, or rather, a man with no need for a name anymore, learns to survive on his own, relying on his ingenuity to make the best use of available resources. But all that fire-making and coconut-cracking seem of secondary significance when compared with how he creates a companion for himself in the form of a volleyball in one of the washed-up FedEx packages.
The ball/companion becomes a projection of his own identity, a human construct that helps to keep his sanity intact, a reminder of his membership in a larger community. And then there’s the memory of his girlfriend, who becomes in time a deity enshrined, a reason to carry on living.
But the biggest surprise that creeps up is what happens after Chuck’s rescue and reintroduction into society. With incredible restraint, Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis avoid melodrama and cliché. The way Cast Away ends and cuts to black is compelling and thought-provoking.
The new Chuck Noland underscores the fundamental notion of the ever-solitary self in stark serenity. The open-endedness is a question mark. Where does Chuck go now? What is his direction in life? How does he cope with relationships, routine, a time-regulated life? What is the meaning of his life?