Hear Us Out

20 Years After Its Release, Cast Away Is More Relevant Than Ever

Robert Zemeckis' survival drama starring Tom Hanks has a lot to teach us about staying sane, staying healthy, and staying hopeful in forced isolation.

by | December 22, 2020 | Comments

In December of 2000, Robert Zemeckis’s survival film Cast Away asked movie audiences to ponder the unthinkable: What if a nightmare set of circumstances left you marooned on a desolate, uninhabited island, cut off from the world, each day reduced to a primitive struggle to maintain the basic necessities of life? Could you survive? Could you measure up to the resourcefulness displayed by stranded FedEx employee Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), who perseveres for four years until he makes it back to civilization?

Twenty years later, we’re living the unthinkable; the global pandemic, with its daily challenges of remaining safe from a deadly virus, has turned us into homebound versions of Noland, hunkered down, trying to survive, and restricted from intimate contact with friends and loved ones (though unlike Noland, we do have our smartphones, social media, and a number of streaming platforms on which to binge hundreds of TV shows).

With so many of us coping with enforced isolation, Cast Away feels even more resonant today than it did in 2000. In fact, the film has a lot to teach us about staying resilient amidst seemingly hopeless circumstances by living one day at a time, since, as Noland observes, “You never know what tomorrow may bring.”  To honor its 20th anniversary, we take a look at why Cast Away is the perfect film for today’s socially distanced times.

“I’ll be right back.”

When we first meet Noland, he’s in a Moscow warehouse, lecturing a group of FedEx employees on how to meet deadlines more efficiently. Called away on a sudden work emergency to Malaysia on Christmas night, Chuck slips his long-time girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) an engagement ring, kisses her goodbye, and promises that he’ll be “right back.”

Instead, in a terrifying sequence, his FedEx plane goes down in the Pacific, and Noland is the lone survivor. When his life raft bumps ashore on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere, he realizes his life has irrevocably changed.

In 2017, Hanks told THR Actors Roundtable “I wanted to examine the concept of four years of hopelessness, in which you have none of the requirements for living — food, water, shelter, fire and company… I was reading an article about FedEx, and I realized that 747s filled with packages fly across the Pacific three times a day. And I just thought, ‘What happens if that goes down?'”

“I. Made. Fire!”

There’s something profound about watching Noland, a man once ruled by clocks and deadlines, take the first step towards his own survival by making a fire – something he likely hasn’t had to do since boyhood. For anyone stuck at home and feeling sorry for themselves during the pandemic, it’s a poignant reminder of the film’s central theme of discovering what’s truly important in life. Hanks’s chest-thumps and primitive shouts are an inspiration to anyone looking to reconnect with their inner caveman.

As Hanks told ABC News in ‘06, “Once Chuck has figured out how to stay alive, his battle is no longer against the elements, it’s about desperation. It’s about… loneliness that is very different from being home on a Saturday night with nothing to do.”

“And just think – I used to avoid going to the dentist.”

Tom Hanks in Cast Away

(Photo by ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Those of us too afraid to visit a dentist’s office while the coronavirus rages might not want to duplicate Noland’s barbaric solution to DIY tooth extraction, using an unorthodox rock and ice-skate-blade combo with no numbing agent. The takeaway here: when you’re way out of your comfort zone, you’ve got to adapt, and quickly.

“I think we did it!”

Tom Hanks in Cast Away

(Photo by ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Noland escapes his captivity on a homemade raft with a jury-rigged “sail” fashioned from the detritus of a portable toilet that came in with the tide. A testament not only to his ingenuity and resourcefulness, but his will to survive at all costs.

“I’m sorry, Wilson!”

Noland didn’t have to just survive physically, he had to survive mentally as well.  That meant having a friend he could confide in – even if it was an inanimate object. Wilson the deflated volleyball, unfairly snubbed by the Oscars, helps Noland maintain his sanity amidst the endless monotony… another excellent parallel to our current predicament. The scene in which Noland loses Wilson after a storm is the most wrenching in the film.

“Who knows what the tide could bring?”

In this wonderfully written monologue, Noland looks back on his ordeal and reaffirms the inner strength and determination needed to keep going when all appears lost. It’s something to keep in mind in present times as a glimmer of hope – in the form of a vaccine – appears over the horizon.

Cast Away’s tale of a modern-day Robinson Crusoe struck a powerful nerve, grossing $429 million worldwide. In early March of 2020, Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, were the first major celebrities to contract COVID-19 while on location in Australia. Hanks’ grace, calm, and honesty soothed the world during a fraught time. Chuck Noland would have been proud.

Cast Away was released in theaters on December 22, 2000.

Thumbnail image by ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

blockbuster Watching Series kids emmy awards series technology NBC USA TNT Classic Film Vudu king kong kaiju Cartoon Network CBS Emmy Nominations 2020 2021 james bond First Look Bravo Amazon Prime Video crime thriller Chilling Adventures of Sabrina zombie Sci-Fi SundanceTV hollywood nature robots 45 festivals TV mockumentary screenings E3 slasher Sundance Now SXSW Image Comics TCM Arrowverse miniseries Broadway cartoon werewolf psycho Universal Sundance TV Hallmark Christmas movies HBO Exclusive Video free movies Martial Arts know your critic documentaries scary movies Tumblr Awards Tour doctor who Marvel Television FX Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Marvel Epix romantic comedy ID french Pacific Islander comiccon films Ellie Kemper A24 USA Network Television Academy Acorn TV Shondaland 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards richard e. Grant Drama The Academy critics new star wars movies Fox News X-Men binge debate BBC America E! psychological thriller Holidays Disney dogs American Society of Cinematographers See It Skip It TruTV Dark Horse Comics rt archives canceled TV shows 4/20 Hear Us Out LGBTQ Pop TV Rocketman indiana jones Trivia superhero spanish parents christmas movies Film New York Comic Con king arthur dramedy TCA Awards composers marvel cinematic universe Baby Yoda toy story 20th Century Fox ghosts cinemax 72 Emmy Awards Holiday reboot zero dark thirty tv talk The Walt Disney Company aapi Film Festival renewed TV shows GIFs ABC comic Winners all-time Paramount 2018 stop motion DC Universe TCA Winter 2020 Best and Worst Comedy Central Animation Spring TV Tubi Character Guide streaming discovery Polls and Games Spectrum Originals WarnerMedia Extras versus pirates of the caribbean docudrama Interview DC streaming service fast and furious ABC Family medical drama natural history festival Box Office RT21 National Geographic nfl Opinion what to watch deadpool telelvision The Walking Dead Women's History Month Disney Channel women MSNBC DirecTV lord of the rings Tomatazos superman Marvel Studios Marathons marvel comics Awards Apple TV+ Star Trek mcc Discovery Channel Heroines Peacock FXX GLAAD Amazon Studios Family unscripted Fall TV CBS All Access Crunchyroll Crackle Britbox Countdown Academy Awards Disney Plus Turner IFC Films political drama Mary Poppins Returns dragons Funimation Captain marvel singing competition young adult jurassic park PaleyFest Pet Sematary strong female leads action-comedy TLC TIFF Certified Fresh space toronto comedies Comic-Con@Home 2021 golden globe awards MTV Lifetime Christmas movies Nat Geo sequel dark Oscars 2019 93rd Oscars football royal family Hallmark popular diversity Black Mirror news Video Games FX on Hulu ViacomCBS Cannes Mary poppins Rock social media halloween tv YouTube Red Ghostbusters Sundance crime Superheroe Fantasy sequels period drama posters crime drama Food Network Paramount Network archives Mindy Kaling TCA 2017 adaptation joker Spike Warner Bros. Ovation Musicals aliens BBC children's TV classics Summer batman facebook television A&E boxing 2017 documentary basketball YouTube Premium CW Seed hist spanish language Nickelodeon Teen japanese 2016 Musical Binge Guide green book Turner Classic Movies Sneak Peek stoner Trophy Talk NBA new york breaking bad dceu satire 1990s wonder woman comics FOX 2015 hispanic Shudder Lionsgate harry potter book adaptation Mystery award winner zombies razzies italian WGN Freeform Showtime Schedule obituary die hard talk show Apple BAFTA movies thriller saw Pirates kong VOD RT History TV Land VH1 reviews Disney+ Disney Plus asian-american cults a nightmare on elm street rt labs ESPN TBS Pixar Rom-Com Wes Anderson Election History DC Comics Netflix Christmas movies prank twilight fresh Tokyo Olympics Sony Pictures PlayStation ABC Signature witnail book revenge biography Nominations heist movie President Quiz blaxploitation ratings Superheroes First Reviews gangster serial killer Endgame based on movie live action sports Music name the review TCA Alien canceled romance venice blockbusters 71st Emmy Awards cooking APB suspense Podcast BET MCU Logo vampires critic resources movie worst biopic Starz Thanksgiving YA monster movies legend HBO Go Masterpiece theme song Premiere Dates Lifetime Writers Guild of America YouTube rotten OWN comic books adenture Apple TV Plus travel IFC golden globes latino independent stand-up comedy dc black Red Carpet spain concert Legendary hidden camera game of thrones Toys video Creative Arts Emmys mission: impossible sag awards 007 historical drama TV movies Country Reality Competition game show japan Reality feel good politics El Rey Netflix comic book movies hispanic heritage month new zealand BBC One trailers justice league GoT anthology Emmys target San Diego Comic-Con transformers nbcuniversal Song of Ice and Fire docuseries Comics on TV casting Pride Month olympics AMC Brie Larson crossover Adult Swim Hulu Walt Disney Pictures Biopics Fox Searchlight Mary Tyler Moore 99% Black History Month franchise worst movies PBS directors foreign Esquire CMT Television Critics Association Calendar criterion Travel Channel spy thriller animated Cosplay universal monsters Super Bowl anime supernatural 73rd Emmy Awards Anna Paquin DGA Columbia Pictures 21st Century Fox cancelled HBO Max Winter TV screen actors guild Kids & Family Pop cancelled television mutant Disney streaming service Avengers 24 frames Photos boxoffice Lucasfilm Amazon Prime science fiction Horror quibi sitcom The Purge police drama Comedy true crime streaming movies CNN Tarantino finale spider-man Syfy jamie lee curtis scene in color The CW Infographic Chernobyl chucky Trailer Year in Review Valentine's Day OneApp SDCC high school Grammys TV renewals cars spinoff rotten movies we love The Arrangement laika scorecard Stephen King halloween VICE australia cats child's play adventure slashers Comic Book Mudbound Amazon Set visit Paramount Plus Star Wars NYCC disaster ITV rt labs critics edition cops best cancelled TV shows cancelled TV series war The Witch Elton John 90s indie teaser godzilla Action comic book movie remakes elevated horror video on demand international dexter rom-coms Christmas LGBT TV One BET Awards south america Rocky Western