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

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