Film / Cast Away

Cast Away is a 2000 film directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by William Broyles Jr. and starring Tom Hanks.

Chuck Noland has everything: success in a high-pressure, high-paying job with FedEx, close friends, and a woman who loves him. The only thing he doesn't have enough of... is time. This changes when he is in a plane crash and, finding himself the sole survivor, washes up on an uninhabited tropical island where he has to figure out how to survive. Now Chuck has all the time he could ever want... and nothing else but his own wits and his two hands.

In many ways, it's like a modern day Robinson Crusoe. The film was a massive commercial and critical success, with Hanks being praised (and eventually nominated for the Best Actor Oscar) for his performance, which required him to undergo a drastic physical transformation and spend the majority of the film alone on screen.

This was Zemeckis's only live-action film made during the 2000s, the rest of which he spent making Motion Capture films before returning to live-action eleven years later with Flight.

This film contains examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Interestingly, Kelly was fully willing to drop her new husband for Chuck, and they were seconds away from running off together, only for Kelly to reconsider. It's an interesting bit of trivia that according to the commentary that the scene was the part of the movie that confused watchers between the ages of 14 and 20 in the test audience. They were either too accustomed to the idea of the protagonist getting the girl in the end or weren't yet emotionally ready to grasp the sheer complexity of adult relationships.
  • Accidental Adultery: Confusingly, Chuck's long-term partner Kelly says that she "always knew" he was alive, but marries a dentist after everyone pressures her to move on. She offers to divorce her new husband to get back together with Chuck, but just changes her mind about a minute later.
  • The Aloner
  • At the Crossroads: Chuck finds himself at a literal crossroads. Two possible paths to his future. It's all very symbolic.
  • Beard of Barbarism: Chuck has plenty of time to grow some pretty wild facial hair during his time on the island.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Chuck escapes the island and became a celebrity with an upcoming autobiography, but his lover Kelly is already married, and agreed to be Better as Friends. However, time till tell if either of them are happier about it and Chuck still feels alone.
  • Bloody Handprint: Wilson.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends at the same rural crossroads in Texas, near the ranch that the "winged package" came from.
  • Brick Joke: At the start of the movie the female welder sends a FedEx package to her husband in Moscow, who we see is cheating with a young Russian girl. At the end of the movie his name has been cut away from the sign above the entrance to her house.
  • California Doubling : The movie was filmed on one of the small uninhabited islands belonging to Fiji, even though the movie's island is supposed to lie somewhere south of the Cook islands (which are very close to Fiji).
  • Chekhov's Armoury: After a while, Chuck opens the Fed Ex boxes that washed ashore with him, and the contents appear to be comically useless for his situation: video tapes, a volleyball, ice-skates and such. He finds a use for all of them, especially the volleyball.
    • In an interesting case, the writers chose these items by drawing them from dozens of others out of a hat, then asking survival experts how they could be used.
    • Chuck's offhand comment early in the movie about needing to go to the dentist? Yes, that will be important later.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The female welder who sends one of the packages counts as well, as Chuck runs into her during the finale scene.
  • Chekhov's Hobby, a very subtle one: Right before the family diner scene, the audience briefly sees Chuck's sailing certification and sailing awards. No wonder then that he finds the right solution to overcome the powerful wave that prevented him from leaving the island and manages to do it when the weather conditions are optimal.
  • Clock King: Chuck Noland starts out as this, a Fed Ex "efficiency expert." Then he's marooned on an island where he literally has nothing but time to spare.
    Noland: Nicholai! Ticktockticktockticktock!
  • Companion Cube: Wilson the volleyball, whom Chuck talks to in order to keep from going insane due to loneliness.
    • Or possibly because he is beginning to go insane.
  • Deserted Island: 80% of the movie.
  • Destroy the Product Placement: This film features a Fed-Ex cargo plane crashing in the Pacific ocean. Notably, the Fed-Ex execs were freaked out at possible damage to the brand name, but the film's success ensured increased brand awareness in Europe and Asia.
  • Deus ex Machina: While Noland survives on the island - and ultimately gets off of it - by his own wits and creative scavenging skills, he's just short of dying at sea when a container ship passes close to his position. Massive as the ship was, by all rights it should never have spotted a lone man on a tiny raft, but it happened to have crewman on deck when it passed by...
  • Did Not Get the Girl: And it makes sense, too.
  • Driven to Suicide: It's gradually revealed that Chuck came very close to taking his own life. Good thing he did a "dry run" first with a dummy, or else he would've just broken his legs and died of exposure or dehydration.
    Chuck Noland: So... I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I-I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: By this time, Wilson is Chuck's BFF and has his own "hair," while Chuck's has gone almost completely blond from bleaching in the sun.
  • Fainting: After Chuck removes his own tooth. With an ice skate and a rock. Also, Kelly, when she hears the news of Chuck's survival and rescue over the phone.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Subverted, as Chuck doesn't find the photo of the dead pilot's family until after he washes up.
  • Flying Dutchman: Chuck is left without a place in the modern world after finally escaping from the island after five years of solitude.
    • That said, he'd obviously become a massive celebrity, and likely a bestselling autobiographical author and sought-after motivational speaker.
  • Foreshadowing: The movie starts off with the song "Return to Sender". At the end of the film, a package is returned there.
  • Gallows Humor: With a rotten tooth Chuck mentions to Wilson, a volleyball, that his dentist back home was named Dr. Spalding. The joke gets an Ironic Echo later, but when we hear the name again after the man who married Kelly identifies himself as an acquaintance of Spaulding, suffice to say, the joke is a lot less funny.
  • Genre Savvy: He's well aware that fictional portrayals of being on a desert island aren't realistic, and have left him unprepared.
    "Gotta love crab. In the nick of time too. I couldn't take much more of those coconuts. Coconut milk is a natural laxative. That's something Gilligan never told us."
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Averted. Even his relationship with Wilson is very sanely sold to the audience.
  • I Fell for Hours: Averted, from start to finish the crash sequence takes roughly two and a half minutes, a reasonable amount of time for stricken airline to drop from cruise altitude to sea level.
  • Impaled Palm: Chuck Noland does this to himself, which leads to the creation of Wilson.
  • Ironic Hell: A subtle example. As explained in the introduction, the first act of the film establishes that, as a dedicated Fed Ex employee, Chuck is completely obsessed with punctuality and time, though it's suggested that he actually enjoys this. After he's marooned on the island, he has nothing but time.
  • Irony: Plenty of this when Noland returns to the abundant world of civilization. His 'welcome back' dinner consists mostly of seafood. His Swiss Army knife is attached to the keys he left with Helen. And light and fire is now available at the click of a switch.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Chuck can't quite bring himself to come between Kelly and her new husband, although how happy this will actually make her in the long run is open to possibility.
  • Kilroy Was Here: See the page illustration above. Chuck leaves a message on a rock before sailing away, as a record for someone to find if he dies at sea.
  • Large Ham: Chuck - after living several years in the savage jungle everyone would become this.
    • Although it's averted to show the passage of time; after four years on the island Chuck is shown to exist like an animal, with no unnecessary speech or movement to waste energy. After a long period with no dialogue, he's eventually shown arguing with his Companion Cube.
  • Legally Dead: Chuck finds himself in this state after being stuck on the island for over four years.
  • Loners Are Freaks: What Chuck becomes, although he at least seems to regain his sanity once he makes it back to civilization.
  • MacGuffin: The one Fed Ex box that Chuck never opens, and ultimately delivers at the end. Zemeckis jokingly stated that inside was a waterproof solar-powered satellite phone.
    • Lampshaded in a Super Bowl commercial for FedEx that year which had his character delivering the package to find that indeed, it had the waterproof satellite phone, GPS unit, seeds, a complete tool set...
    • One deleted scene from the script actually has Chuck open the box. It holds... two cans of salsa verde.
      • ...and a rather touching note. Too bad about the Brick Joke.
      You said our life was a prison. Dull. Boring. Empty. I can't begin to tell you how much that hurt. I don't want to lose you. I'm enclosing some salsa, the verde you like. Use it on your sticky rice and think of home. Then come home— to me. We'll find the spice in our lives again. Together. I love you. Always. Bettina.
  • MacGyvering: How Chuck survives using various Fed Ex boxes full of apparently useless crap. Some notable examples include using the taffeta from a party dress to make a fishing net, weaving videotape together to make rope, and making an axe out of an ice skate attached to a stick.
  • Meaningful Name: The shortened form of Chuck Noland's name is C. Noland: See No Land.
  • Mr. Exposition: A different take on this trope; Wilson serves as a means by which Tom Hanks' character can explain things to the audience.
  • Ocean Madness: Spiritually fits.
  • Product Placement: The best kind of product placement - neither firm paid a dime, but the movie is one great big commercial for Fed Ex, and Wilson the volleyball is one for the company of the same name. The latter came about as the result of a Wilson ball washing up on shore in Real Life when the screenwriter was doing survival training as researching for the film.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: While Chuck is stranded on the desert island (the bulk of the movie), there is no background music at all.
    • Possible Fridge Brilliance, since it really hits home the fact that a deserted island is both much quieter and much noisier than your average city.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The coconuts. Don't worry - everyone seems to get that wrong. Interestingly, the film crew found them as nigh-impossible to open as Chuck did.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Chuck is startled to find out his friends held a funeral for him, including a casket, which prompts him to ask what was in it.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What was in the package Chuck never opened? (See MacGuffin above.)
  • Robinsonade: See Setting Update below.
  • Romantic Rain: The film has a bittersweet romantic Last Kiss in the rain. After Chuck's rescued from an uninhabited island and returns home, he learns that the love of his life Kelly married somebody else. He leaves, but she runs after him and smooches him in the rain.
  • Say My Name: "WIIILLLLLLSOOOOOONNNNNNN! I'm sorry, Wilson!" If you ever want to figure out how good an actor Tom Hanks is, forget those two Oscars he won. Only Tom Hanks can yell that line, believably, at a volleyball, and not make it sound stupid.
  • Scenery Porn: But totally necessary, so we the audience know just how alone and isolated Chuck Noland really is when he's on that island.
  • Setting Update: Cast Away is Robinson Crusoe IN THE MID-LATE 90S WITH A VOLLEYBALL AS FRIDAY!
  • Shown Their Work: The portrayal of the island as a vaguely primordial ecosystem (very little wildlife, only a few dominant species of plants) that can barely even support a small human population is fully in line with what such small Polynesian islands look like. It was shot on one of the more remote islands of Fiji (geographic border of Melanesia/Polynesia) and it shows.
  • Sole Survivor: Chuck.
  • Stood Up: Chuck gives his fiancée a ring right before his flight, and promises her that "I'll be right back". Naturally, he doesn't make it back so quickly, and she ends up marrying another man.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Chuck experiences this when he makes it back home.
  • Suddenly Shouting: "I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean, than to stay here and die on this shithole island, spending the rest of my life talking TO A GODDAMN VOLLEYBALL!!!!"
  • Surrogate Soliloquy: The writers even gave dialogue for Wilson's (imagined) half of the conversation.
  • Taught by Experience: A great demonstration here. A survivalist he wasn't, at first.
  • Time Skip: Four years later...
  • The Tooth Hurts: Chuck already has a bit of a toothache before he gets stranded on the island, but it only gets worse once he's there, forcing him to remove the rotten tooth. With an ice skate and a rock. Feel free to faint now.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Seriously. Don't watch the trailer until you've seen the film.
    • Even more frustatingly, Zemeckis openly admits to spoiling his films in trailers on purpose, saying that marketing shows that audiences want to know what EXACTLY what they're going to. Thus, most of the suspense of the film is sapped upon seeing said trailer.
  • The Unreveal: We never find out what's in the last FedEx box. Hell, we never even find out why he didn't open it. (See MacGuffin, above.)
    • One popular theory is that the wings on the package were a symbol of hope for Chuck. Seemingly corroborated when he paints the symbol on the makeshift sail.
    • Another is that he left one package unopened to keep himself grounded and not lose hope of ever making it back to civilization. "Isolated, in survival mode or not, I'm still a civilized human being. Someday I will deliver this package, dammit!"
  • Unstoppable Mailman: Even after being stranded on an island for years, he still delivers the last package. (Strictly speaking, he doesn't. Like the song said, he "Return[s it] to Sender".)