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Cast Away Will Survive
A review of Cast Away
by J. D. Rummel

Cast Away would make a crappy in-flight movie, because the crash sequence will have audiences squirming in their seats from its white-knuckle realism. Indeed, those frames of film raise the bar for any future movie that will attempt to produce tension from a crash scene (I just watched the crash segment from 1973's Lost Horizon and was quietly amused by its camera waving and model usage).

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt

Rating: PG-13

Release: 12-22-2000

Time: 143 minutes

Buy Movie at Cast Away's plot is very simple. A successful systems engineer is marooned on an island when his plane crashes at sea. Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a systems engineer for Federal Express (nice use of a real company, I applaud that company's courage, as they could have come off looking like creeps), a driven man who lives by a rigorous concept of time. Nolan lives for making packages move on a tight schedule. As he leaves Christmas night for yet another area that can't move boxes adequately, he gives his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) a ring sized box and tells her with all confidence, "I'll be right back."

Nolan has his world torn down to the barest of essentials (food, water, shelter) as he is forced to survive on a deserted island. His is a real struggle. He isn't working through reward challenges with a million dollars at the end of thirty days; he would love to be voted off the island. Instead, he spends four hardscrabble years drinking rainwater collected off of leaves with a volleyball as his only companion.

Hanks is certainly on his way to yet another deserved Oscar nod as Noland. He is in almost every frame of film that features a human being and he holds onto us with a performance that is subtle and powerful. His quiet walk between madness and survival cunning is magnetic. We watch, ever grateful that it is Tom, our better half, on the island and not us.

Noland survives day by day at least partly by clinging to his love for Kelly. When flotsam washes up on his beach that he can turn to his advantage he struggles against the clock to beat the tidal calendar. Eventually he succeeds, breaking past the pounding surf that locks him in. While at sea he continues to cling to life, to choose life over death. (There is a touch of primal mysticism in Cast Away. Chuck is clearly befriended by whales but he is unaware of this)

When he arrives back in civilization he is clearly suffering from a kind of posttraumatic stress. He cannot sleep in a bed and no one grasps what he has been through. Tragically and logically Kelly has moved on and there is no place in her life for Chuck. Once again, he is cast away and must find a way to survive. The final third of the film is the kind of hard truth that commercial films avoid because it's too much like life outside the cineplex. The entire film builds to the final frame that assures us that Chuck will go on, but our time with him is at an end.

Cast Away is brilliant from beginning to the final scene. Persons who think the film breaks down when he reaches civilization are missing the filmmakers' point. The movie's essence is that surviving is the most important concept. Whether at sea or adrift in an ocean of grain fields, the key is always about being able to draw the next breath after the choices we make. The film underscores the belief that time is our post precious commodity. Noland's job stressed the value of time, but even he missed the point. He is punished for his choice of job over love and connection, but how many of us aren't guilty of the same bad judgements? How many of us have screwed up priorities?

If Cast Away entertains you, that's great. If it makes you revisit your choices about the use of your time--you just may survive.