Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

***contains plot spoilers***

Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is a man with excellent time-management.

Unfortunately, he hasn't realised that he's actually being held hostage by it.

For although he can slide his life and work around like a puzzle to find the different elements' optimum efficiency, he still winds-up having a five-minute Christmas Day in the car.

Yes, his understanding of chronological time is so absolute that it's blinded him to the kairological version.

So when an aeroplane crash deposits him as its sole survivor on a desert island, it might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

A very, very horrible disguise.

The personal journey that we get to go on with Noland is a thing of fascination, throughout which I was constantly asking myself "What would I do?" Now there's empathy with the lead character for you.

As the days turn into weeks, and Noland gradually gives-up hope of rescue, our hapless modern-day caveman is forced to learn to live again from scratch, and compromise some, but not all, of his convictions.

For example, bits of wreckage from the plane wash-up on the shore, including several of the courier packages that he was flying to deliver. Of course, he doesn't betray his profession by opening them. Also of course, presently he does. He has to, to survive.

And it's here that the film's sense of humour kicks in. One package contains a pile of VHS tapes. Another has a pair of ice skates. Still another, a volleyball. Yet with each package, our hopes are right up there for him, even though we know that the film's title has already doomed him to a fairly long stay.

Much was made in the film's original publicity about the production's year-long hiatus while Hanks slimmed-down before filming the later scenes, so inevitably I was looking to spot this subtle change.

When it actually happens, (after the "Four Years Later" caption), the transformation is absolutely stunning. As a result, the second half of the film looks as though it was shot several years before the first. Hanks looks like he used to in his earlier films!

But that dark four-year gap in the narrative is truly haunting. What on Earth can it have been like to go through such minimalist isolation? The few clues that we get don't paint a pleasant picture.

Our caveman is now having very long conversations, arguments really, with the volleyball, whose name is Wilson. Yes, sadly, Noland has gone quite mad. Or has he? Surely inventing someone to imagine conversations with would be a sensible, albeit dangerous, means of keeping oneself sane?

More plane wreckage washes up on the shore, after four years, meaning that Noland now actually has the materials to finally build a boat. But he needs rope. Wilson insists that there is rope at the top of the hill, and has to convince Noland to climb back up there again to retrieve it. They are both (listen to me) so familiar with the subject that it feels like there was a scene we missed up there. And indeed there was.

Giving-in and climbing the mountain again, Noland finds his rope still hanging over the edge from the top, and hauls the length back up.

At the other end, is a wooden effigy of a man, with the rope tied around his neck.

At some point in the last four years, in conjunction with a volleyball that he talks to, the poor guy has built an image of a man made out of wood and, for some reason, hung him.

What kind of darkness has he been through?

This film must be one of the all-time greats. The cast are excellent, and the script very well thought-through.

But the best triumph must surely be Robert Zemeckis' direction. With a running-time of 143 minutes, Zemeckis has all the time in the world to tell his story, and he takes all of it. The result is that we really get to live this story in detail, and feel like it actually has been four years. When Noland eventually does make it back to civilisation, we feel the recognition of characters who we haven’t seen for such a long time either. These encounters are dwelt upon too, enabling us to really experience them, rather than check them each off in a few pithy sentences.

I'd have liked to have seen his first return encounters with humans, and indeed some of his rehabilitation back into human company, but most of this movie is so strong that I can't argue with it.

The only point that really rankled with me was the scene in which Wilson falls-off the raft and floats away forever. Noland tries to swim after him, but eventually has to choose between saving his 'friend' and his own life, so he really has no choice but to swim back to his raft. As the boat takes him further and further away from the white volleyball bobbing up and down on the surface of the water, Noland keeps on screaming "Wilson! Wilson! I'm sorry!"

It's a very powerful scene, except that he's in a boat, and never once tries to paddle over to Wilson. Perhaps there's a subtext that, subconsciously hoping to be saved, he deliberately let Wilson and everything that he stood for go, but the hope of rescue is so slim that I can't buy that.

Cast Away. Watch this film. 10/10.


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