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Film / Cast Away

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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 an updated version of 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.

Cast Away provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film was released in December 2000, but begins in December 1995. Chuck is stranded on Christmas Day of that year, and we see a few more of his early days on the island until the film skips ahead to four years later, setting the rest of the film in present day (for 2000).
  • 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 husband to get back together with Chuck, but he doesn't think Kelly should.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Chuck realizes that he kept referring to the crew member Albert as "Alan" when he fishes out his corpse from the shore and checks the deceased man's wallet.
  • The Aloner: Chuck is the only human on that island during a four year stay.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Chuck, who spends his initial scenes being a hard-core Clock King dealing with the Moscow office's inefficiency like a Drill Sergeant Nasty, reveals himself to be an Elvis Presley fan when he hands Nicolai an Elvis CD as a reward for delivering Chuck's package. Sure enough, when he is off the clock, he is a much nicer guy.
  • Apologises a Lot: Chuck, upon returning to civilization, does this to Stan, his friend and co-worker, apologizing for not being there for Stan as his wife was dying of cancer. Despite, you know, being marooned on a deserted island at the time. He even apologizes to Kelly for not returning like he promised.
  • At the Crossroads: Chuck finds himself at a literal crossroads at the film's end, with two possible paths to his future. It's all very symbolic.
  • Arc Symbol: The winged symbol on the last FedEx box, for Chuck, symbolizing his unstoppable desire to survive and return home. It's cemented when he paints it on the sail of his makeshift raft.
  • Artistic License – History: In 1995, the year when the film begins, FedEx did not yet offer the express services to Eastern Europe shown in the film that would have warranted Chuck to be in Moscow chewing the ears of the the local hub's crew. The intra-European services started on 1996, but wouldn't have the coverage shown in the film until around 1999.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Near the end of the movie, it seems Chuck is about to ask Kelly why she married someone else. He isn't. Not right away, at least.
    Chuck: So, let me get one thing straight here... We have a football team, but they play in Nashville?
  • Bathos: If there's any question about why Tom Hanks deserved that Oscar nomination, name any other actor who could make the audience cry about the death of a fucking volleyball.
  • Beard of Barbarism: Chuck has plenty of time to grow some pretty wild facial hair during his time on the island and no razor to shave.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Chuck escapes the island and becomes a celebrity with an upcoming autobiography, but finds his fiancée Kelly is now married to someone else. They reluctantly agree that they're Better as Friends, however time will tell if either of them are happier about it and Chuck still feels alone. At the very least Chuck is now free to go wherever he pleases, and that he still has a full life waiting for him. Which is hinted by him being at a crossroads and able to go in any direction he wants.
  • Bloody Handprint: Wilson's face.
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends at the same rural crossroads in Texas, near the ranch that the "winged package" came from. What's more, "All Shook Up" is playing in the beginning, when the "winged package" is picked up by FedEx, and "Return To Sender" is playing at the end, when Chuck himself returns it.
  • Brick Joke:
    • At the start of the movie, Bettina Peterson, the art welder, sends a FedEx package to her husband Dick in Moscow, who we see is cheating with a Russian woman. One of the packages that Chuck opens on the island is revealed to contain divorce papers, hinting it may actually be hers. At the end of the movie, we also see that Dick's name has been removed from the sign above the entrance to Bettina's ranch.
    • Near the end of the movie, Chuck has a Wilson volleyball in his car.
    • Chuck finding out that Kelly married a dentist after being marooned on an island with a rotten tooth.
    • At the party to celebrate his return, Chuck notices there is plenty of seafood left over. Having an excess of seafood is clearly odd to him, and understandably doesn't want any of it.
  • Burying a Substitute: Chuck finds that a funeral had been held for him when he was presumed dead. All sorts of little items or mementos were put in the casket by his friends and family.
  • Chekhov's Armory: After a while, Chuck opens the FedEx boxes that washed ashore with him, and the contents appear to be comically useless for his situation: a bunch of video tapes, divorce papers, a volleyball, a pair of ice skates, and a party dress. Aside from the divorce papers, he finds a use for all of them.
    • 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.
    • The chunk of Porta potty that washes ashore on the island, which Chuck uses as the sail for his raft.
    • Chuck's offhand comment early in the movie about needing to go to the dentist.
  • 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 FedEx "efficiency expert". Then he's marooned on an island where he literally has nothing but time to spare.
    Chuck: Nicholai! Ticktockticktockticktock!
  • Companion Cube: One of the most famous examples in movie history: 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.
  • Crappy Holidays: The plane crash that strands Chuck occurs on Christmas Day.
  • Deserted Island: 80% of the movie.
  • Destroy the Product Placement:
  • Deus ex Machina: Zig-Zagged: Chuck is just short of dying at sea when a container ship passes close to his position. However, his plan was never more complicated than: "make it to the shipping lanes" so it can seem like the ship that rescued him is chance.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: And it makes sense, too. Chuck later laments the fact that he lost her twice, once because he thought he'd die on the island, and once later when she married another man.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Kelly tells Chuck that she knew he was alive... but she still married another man. This is one of the reasons Chuck doesn't elope with her, as she has a life and responsibilities towards her new family, and can't let her get away from them on his behest.
  • DIY Dentistry: Chuck starts having a toothache before he got stuck on the island. With no way to get actual medical treatment, he's forced to knock the tooth out using an ice skate and a big rock.
  • 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 a horribly prolonged death due to 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.
    • We also see Chuck giving up after losing Wilson by intentionally dropping his oars into the ocean to drift aimlessly. Thankfully, he drifts only a while longer.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: In an effort to put things into perspective, Chuck calculates the total area that the rescue ships would have to cover to maybe find him... and he's disheartened when the result is an area twice the size of Texas.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Near the end of his stay on the island, 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: Inverted, as Chuck doesn't find the photo of the dead pilot's family until after he washes up.
  • First-World Problems: After surviving on his own on an isolated island for years, when he is rescued there are a few moments where Chuck has to contemplate some of the luxuries of civilization. Cocktail shrimp being one of them.
  • Flying Dutchman: Chuck is left without a place in the modern world after finally escaping from the island after over four years of solitude. That said, he'd obviously become a massive celebrity, and likely a best-selling autobiographical author and sought-after motivational speaker.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The movie starts off with the song "All Shook Up" playing on the radio. At the end of the film, a package is returned there, with "Return To Sender" playing on Chuck's stereo.
    • During Chuck's phone call to Kelly from Moscow, he mentions having a toothache, which is further demonstrated during Christmas dinner. After he's stranded on the island, that toothache becomes significantly worse...
    • Kelly's new husband is worried for how much of a mess she is when she's trying to meet Chuck, and Chuck sees said husband guiding her back to the car after she attempts to go to Chuck. Later, it's confirmed why her husband was so reluctant of her meeting Chuck, as she almost elopes with him.
  • Gallows Humor: With a rotten tooth Chuck mentions to Wilson, a volleyball, that his dentist back home was named Dr. James Spaulding (similar to the brand name of basketballs). 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.
    Chuck: 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.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Played straight with some obvious day-for-night scenes on the island, but averted during the plane crash sequence where the screen goes completely black save for the odd lightning flash. Many theaters posted signs informing patrons that this was a deliberate stylistic choice and nothing was wrong with the film projectors.
  • 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 a stricken airliner to drop from cruise altitude to sea level.
  • Impaled Palm: Chuck Noland does this to himself, which leads to the creation of Wilson after he grabs the ball with his bloody hand and throws it in a fit of rage and pain.
  • Ironic Hell: A subtle example. As explained in the introduction, the first act of the film establishes that, as a dedicated FedEx 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 Chuck 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 Kelly. And light and fire is now available at the click of a switch.
    • Chuck's wife marries a dentist. He could have used one of those himself!
  • 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 Wilson.
    • Chuck gleefully hams it up the first time he gets a fire working, doing a victory dance and shouting, "Look what I have created! I! Have made FIRE!!"
  • Left Your Lifesaver Behind:
    • We see early on that Chuck has a Swiss Army Knife on his key ring, which he leaves behind on Memphis with Kelly because she forgot to take her own house keys when she left him at the airport.
    • In the middle of the chaos to escape the crashed airplane, the survival kit is torn off Chuck's life raft. Chuck has to make do through other means.
  • 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 FedEx 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 the contents of the FedEx boxes that washed up on the island, which appear to be full of useless crap. Some notable examples include him using the taffeta from the party dress to make a fishing net, using the videotapes as rope for his raft, and using the ice skates to cut and sharpen things, even fashioning an axe by attaching one of them to a stick. He also uses the skates' laces to hold together a makeshift bandage for his injured leg and keep his ramshackle tent propped up.
  • Meaningful Name: Overlapping with Punny Name. The shortened form of Chuck Noland's name is C. Noland: See No Land.
  • Morton's Fork: Once he returns to civilization, Chuck's chances with Kelly are equally awful. Either he elopes with her while making her abandon her family, or leaves her to her family and losing her forever. He chooses the latter, as he can't make Kelly do something so awful to herself and her family.
  • Mourning an Object: Despite the inherent comedic possibilities of a man mourning a volleyball he'd drawn a face on and added "hair" to, the "death" of "Wilson" is really not at all portrayed as a comedy trope.
  • Mr. Exposition: A different take on this trope; Wilson serves as a means by which Tom Hanks's character can explain things to the audience.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: Chuck is shown in his hotel room after being rescued, just clicking the light switch on and off.
  • "No. Just… No" Reaction: Chuck doesn't allow Kelly to elope with him, as she would be abandoning her husband and young daughter to be with him.
  • Noodle Incident: Chuck, at one point in his career, stole (sorry, "borrowed") a bicycle from a boy to complete his deliveries when his truck broke down. Later on it turns out the child was crippled as well.
  • Ocean Madness: Chuck spends 3 years in complete isolation from civilization, ending up having conversations with a volleyball who snarks at him. The loss of his sole "companion" breaks Chuck, giving up on hope and letting the waves just carry him on the remains of his raft.
  • Product Delivery Ordeal: The film semi-jokingly frames its Robinsonade as this. Tom Hanks is a FedEx executive who is the only survivor of a plane crash over the ocean, and washes up on a Deserted Island with a load of undelivered FedEx boxes. A few of these he raids for supplies, but one of them strikes him as special, and he holds onto it, unopened, out of a sense of professionalism. At the end of the movie, when he is rescued and brought back to civilization, he finally delivers the last box.
  • Product Placement: The best kind of product placement—neither firm paid a dime, but the movie is one great big commercial for FedEx, 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 deserted island (the bulk of the movie), there is no background music at all. It really helps relay how quiet and noisy isolation can be.
  • 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? According to the script, two bottles of salsa verde. They cut it from the final draft because they decided it didn't matter what it was, only what it represented.
  • Robbing the Dead: About a week after the crash, the pilot of the FedEx plane's corpse washes up on the island. Chuck takes his shoes and flashlight, but buries him and the rest of his belongings.
  • Robinsonade: It's a good modern example of Robinson Crusoe and provides the page image.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The ending has Chuck standing at a four-way crossroads, as though addressing that although his experience has left him virtually alone, his future is now sprawled out before him, and he has many paths to choose from.
  • 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.
    • "CHUUUCK!", says Kelly running in the rain, as the love of her life is about to leave again.
  • 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!
  • Shout-Out: The scene where Kelly shows Chuck her news scrapbook recalls a scene from Forrest Gump where Jenny shows Forrest hers.
  • 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. Only one body from the plane wreckage was ever found.
  • 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!!!!"
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Chuck is rescued and makes it back to civilization but his fiancée has remarried, he lost practically everything save for his career and a few friends, and he's suffered some pretty severe psychological damage. Kelly marrying someone else in the interim and both coming to a mutual acceptance about this is one that apparently confuses a lot of younger viewers, as the "Hollywood" expectation was for Kelly to discard her husband and family to pursue "true love" with Chuck, when that isn't how adult relationships generally work in the real world.
  • 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.
  • Tempting Fate: When bidding Kelly goodbye at the airport, Chuck tells her, "I'll be right back!" He isn't back until four years later.
  • Time Skip: Four years later...
  • The Tooth Hurts: Chuck already had a bit of a toothache before he got 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; Chuck certainly does.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Chuck sobs and whimpers right before his infected tooth removal.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Seriously. Don't watch the trailer until you've seen the film. Apparently the director prefers it that way.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Chuck's, for the whole span of the movie. He ends up so broken that he twitches for most of the latter 1/3 of the movie:
    • Involved in a plane crash in the dead of night;
    • Ends up in a deserted island;
    • Has to scavenge to survive with meager results;
    • Has to bury one of his colleagues, who washed up on shore later, after discovering he was a father of two;
    • Injures himself on the coral reef while trying to leave the island, and later, building a fire;
    • Tooth becomes so infected that he has to painfully improvise to take it out;
    • Stranded for four years, almost going mad from the isolation;
    • Improvises means to kill himself, but the branch he was gonna hang himself from snaps when he tested it;
    • When he finally makes it out of the island, after being hit by a storm, he loses the only "companion" he had;
    • He's rescued by a cargo ship, but upon arriving, learns that his beloved fiancee moved on and married another man. Realizes that he doesn't have it in him to break off her new family, in spite of her wanting him to.
  • Translation: "Yes": Implied: Tom Hanks gives this elaborate speech, including a prop that he mailed to himself five days earlier, knowing it would arrive in the middle of his speech, to impress people of the military precision of the operation, but he catches the translator extemporising with an anecdote, suggesting that nothing of his prepared speech has passed.
    • "What was that? What did you say to them?"
    • "I tell them what they expect."
  • Tropical Island Adventure: The movie is set on an uninhabited tropical island in the South Pacific, which Chuck tries to survive on after his plane crashes.
  • 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.
      • 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!"
    • Kelly tells Chuck that it was never determined what brought down the plane, save from some speculations.
  • 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".)
    • Inverted with the Moscow Fed-Ex office of the prologue, which is highly inefficient by the standards of a company that prides itself of having mail delivered quickly. Chuck is there to whip them into shape.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Kelly states that it was speculated that someone had mislabeled hazardous materials in the parcels aboard the plane, which either caught on fire or blew up due to pressure. This ended up bringing down the plane, killing everyone aboard except Chuck.
  • Wham Shot: When Kelly gets the call that Chuck is alive, she faints... and the camera follows her and stops on her new husband and daughter.
  • Wrong Turn at Albuquerque: Chuck winds up so far off the beaten path after the plane crash that not only does it take him five years to get home, but rescue efforts were searching for him hundreds of miles away from the island where he'd been living.


Video Example(s):



Tom Hanks loses his only friend Wilson, a volley ball full of straw. And the loss is gutting.

How well does it match the trope?

4.93 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / MourningAnObject

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