Sunday, 21 October 2012

Cast Away (2000)

Fig. 1

Roger Zemeckis's Cast Away (2000) is a drama film, staring Tom Hanks as the protagonist. The plot follows 'workaholic' Chuck Noland, a Fed Ex employee, who is left stranded on an uninhibited island after his plane crashed in the South Pacific Ocean. The audience follows him on a journey of survival and watches the many physical and emotional challenges he faces whilst in solidarity. Roger Ebert argues, "The movie's power and effect center on the island. Chuck, the time-and-motion man, finds himself in a world without clocks, schedules, or much of a future. There's something wonderfully pathetic about the way he shouts "Hello? Anybody?" at the sand and trees. Those are his last words for a time, as he tries to remember childhood lessons about firemaking and shelter construction. Then there's a four-year flash-forward and we see the formerly plump Chuck as a gaunt, skinny survivor. (Zemeckis shut down the movie while Hanks lost weight.) I find it fascinating when a movie just watches somebody doing something. Actual work is more interesting than most plots. Chuck splits coconuts, traps fish, builds fires, and makes use of the contents of several FedEx boxes that washed up with him (too bad nobody was mailing K-rations). And he paints a face on a volleyball and names it Wilson--a device which, not incidentally, gives him an excuse for talking out loud." (Ebert 2000) Ebert explains the plot of the film and how the use of inanimate objects assists in communicating the progress Chuck is making on the island. The fact the film was shut down for a year whilst Hanks lost the weight and grew his hair and beard just shows the dedication, as well as the lengths Zemeckis would go to in order to make the film as authentic as possible.  

Fig. 2

Although there are several comical elements throughout the film, Zemeckis never lets the audience forget the harsh reality the protagonist has been throttled into. A deserted island and no means of survival, Chuck has to learn the hard way how to remain alive in solidarity. During the film several packages float to shore after the crash, each are purposefully thought out and drive the narrative, as well as depict Chuck's objectives. For instance the idea of time is reflected by the pocket watch he was given by his partner at the start of the film and the fact it has a photograph of her inside shows what he is living for - that one day he will return to her. This object represents hope and an underlying determination not to give up. Empire Magazine observes, "If the film involes all sorts of Robinson Crusoe-styled cliches - the initial lack of hunting skills, the inability to generate fire - they are elevated by Hanks' ability to convince and Zemeckis' commitment to putting the character through the mill: stones rip into the soles of Noland's naked feet; the discovery of the aircraft's drowned pilot; and, most gut-wrenching of all, a DIY act of dentistry involving an ice skate that is already a strong contender for most squirm-inducing scene of the year." (Empire Magazine 2000) Empire Magazine discusses how Zemeckis takes what are the necessary survival clinches and turns them on their head with true grit and creditability to make a truer depiction of what the protagonist is faced with. Empire also praises Hanks' portrayal, as both actor and director give an entertaining, yet real idea of what island life is like. With an actor like Hanks it would be easy to go down the comical route for practically the whole film, but the director felt it was important to give the audience a darker truth.

Fig. 3
Another object that was used brilliantly within the film is Wilson the volleyball. 'Wilson's' role thoughout the film was to act as an insight into Chuck's internal thoughts, instead of using the less personal and 'easier' option of a voice over or narrator. Apparently in order for Chuck's dialogue to sound more natural with the inanimate object, lines were written for Wilson too - making the relationship between man and volleyball believable. Never would it have been believed that a volleyball could become a source of key human interaction to keep one man's sanity and to some a beloved character to many of the viewers. Hanks plays Chuck effortlessly and keeps the audience gripped throughout with his antics on the island, expressing all the emotions and complications a person would find themselves facing if in the same situation. George Perry observes, "With Tom Hanks as a notable exception, not many stars nowadays have the integrity or presence to carry a picture in the way of golden age greats such as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda or the one Hanks is most often compared with, James Stewart. "Cast Away" is a long film and for much of the time, Hanks is on screen by himself, his only dialogue addressed to an inanimate ball. A lesser performer would have made it an unendurable ordeal." (Perry 2001) Perry applauds Hanks acting and compares him to Hollywood's greatest from the golden age. As Hanks is on screen by himself for about ninety percent of time, it was vital to have an actor who could convey, as well as he did, the comical moments with the dark undertones of his solitary life on the island.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Zemeckis, Robert (2000) Cast Away Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on: 13/10/12)

Figure 2. Zemeckis, Robert (2000) 'Island life'. At: (Accessed on: 13/10/12)

Figure 3. Zemeckis, Robert (2000) Wilson. At: (Accessed on: 13/10/12)


Roger Ebert (2000) Cast Away. At: (Accessed on: 13/10/12)

Empire Magazine (2000) Cast Away. At: (Accessed on: 13/10/12)

BBC George Perry (2001) Cast Away. At: (Accessed on: 13/10/12)

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