Two Cents Crashes Tom Hanks’ Island Paradise in CAST AWAY

This week on Back to the Beach, the Cinapse team revisits a classic Robert Zemeckis tale of ingenuity, survival, and volleyballs

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

When Justin mentioned the idea of doing a “Back to the Beach” theme for Summer, I couldn’t help but suggest Robert Zemeckis’ one-Hanks-show Cast Away. I wanted to suggest a film not just with the most “beach” possible–even with Old briefly in the running–but one where the Beach has a central emotional impact on its characters. Cast Away has that in spades–telling the story of Tom Hanks’ FedEx engineer marooned on a lush, remote Pacific island for more than four years. It’s a remarkably stripped-down, back-to-basics film for a blockbuster director like Zemeckis, one whose sunny, sandy location forces its sole inhabitant to learn not just how to survive, but what’s worth living for.

Julian Singleton

I hadn’t seen Cast Away in twenty years before revisiting it for this series, and it’s safe to say that the cumulative time and distance made the whole film hit far harder than might’ve been possible as a teen. The pacing is just remarkable: how Zemeckis draws out the breakneck routine of Chuck’s FedEx logistics engineer, the breathless frenzy of the plane crash (one of Zemeckis’ two aviation crash all-timers)…and finally, how Zemeckis, Tom Hanks, and screenwriter William Broyles Jr. power through Chuck’s seemingly endless time on the island without making it feel like any less of the purgatory he’s going through. 

A man obsessed with time, a paradise by any other point of view becomes hell on Earth for a man whose whole life revolves around keeping on the go. I can’t help but imagine this verdant stretch of Pacific isolation proved a prison as much as an inspiration for both director and star. So much of what makes Tom Hanks a star to me is witnessing the impact he has on others; whether making them laugh or cry, it’s always so stunning seeing the Hanks effect take hold on people both in-scene and in-audience. Likewise, up to this point I’d associated Robert Zemeckis with jaw-dropping, big budget spectacle–and while Cast Away’s central crash and opening package globe-trotting allows those indulgences, much of the film is spent so far outside either man’s comfort zone. While we have the amazing volleyball straight man that is Wilson, so much of Cast Away forces Zemeckis to train his eye on a solitary Hanks–with both everything and nothing at the creatives’ disposal.

But like their central character, there’s few things as rewarding than being resourceful. By focusing on Chuck’s compulsive need to problem-solve his way out of going insane, Cast Away moves at such a tremendous clip, chock full of ingenious details (that cave solar calendar!) that reveal just as much about Chuck’s mental state as it does his tenacity for survival. Even more astonishing is when the two come in direct conflict with one another–as when Chuck must come face to face with one of his darkest failures if he truly wants to escape the island. 

When Chuck finally returns to civilization, he confronts how much time, his greatest obsession, cares little about him in return. With those he loves most having moved on despite appreciating his return, Chuck is once again adrift in a sea of possibility. What he draws from his time on the beach, as I feel both Zemeckis and Hanks must have in making this film, is that there’s as much joy and excitement as there is loss and uncertainty to be found in having all the time in the world to explore the unknown. Who knows what the tide could bring?

(@Gambit1138 on Xitter)

Frank Calvillo

Like Julian, I hadn’t seen Cast Away in quite a few years. If I’m being honest, the only time I ever saw the film (prior to this rewatch) was on its opening weekend. I remember the hoopla surrounding the movie as being positively deafening. Cast Away was to be yet another entry that would further director Robert Zemeckis’ standing as a modern-day cinematic showman, while the physical transformation undergone by star Tom Hanks was getting just as much buzz as the movie itself, it was bound to land him yet another Oscar nomination. The experience itself was a spectacular one, a monumental movie achievement that worked spectacularly on every level to such a degree, it instantly earned its place in popular culture. 

In the 24 years since I first saw Cast Away, I wasn’t totally sure what kind of movie I would be watching. Many of the film’s various moments had lingered in my memory over the years to the point that I felt I knew what to expect going into this rewatch. Needless to say, watching the movie at 18 years old reads differently from watching it at 42. Experiencing it this time around, I found myself struck by the level of humanity contained within it. It’s easy to think of Cast Away as some partial effects-driven cinematic feat that existed more as an event than a film about people. But the movie is actually a telling document about the human experience and an exploration of the core of a man’s soul. In accompanying Chuck through his journey, we are reminded of the value of human connection and find ourselves reintroduced to the array of emotions that comprise our very existence. Scenes such as seeing Chuck make the brave decision to leave his island, watching the mental anguish he experiences at seeing him lose his beloved Wilson, and the bittersweet reunion with Kelly (Helen Hunt), all show Cast Away’s ability to tap into the intimate poignancy at the heart of such a larger-than-life story. I realize some of this may sound a bit hokey, but amid Zemeckis’ tour-de-force achievement and Hanks’ wonderfully grounded performance, Cast Away reminds us of the beauty and importance within every step of the journey we are all destined to take.

(@frankfilmgeek on Xitter)

Justin Harlan

24 years ago this movie was released to extensive fan fare and extremely positive reviews. I never bothered watching, despite genuinely enjoying Tom Hanks in most of the films I’d seen him in because it just didn’t seem like it was for me. Fast forward to this week, where it was selected for our weekly film club and I finally pressed play.

I’m sad to report that I was correct. It is very much not really my thing. Yet, all of the things I expected to be done well, indeed were done very well! I’d even note that it likely deserved to win some of he many awards for which it was nominated, as the film is compelling and is quite the singular film. Despite its quality and its uniqueness, it simply isn’t for me… and I can’t even fully explain why.

I’m quite glad I was asked to watch it though, as it always felt like a large cinematic blindspot for me. Since I loved last week’s film – despite the often mediocre nature of the filmmaking and plot in that film – and am not a fan of this one – despite the breathtaking cinematography and a Tom Hanks acting clinic – the real take away here is that my opinions should simply not be trusted.

(@thepaintedman on Xitter)


Every week in July, we’ll be headed to the beach. Sometimes it’ll be fun, other times it’ll be a difficult journey, and yet other weeks it may end up deadly! Join us this month by reaching out to any of the team or emailing [email protected]!

July 15th – A Perfect Getaway
July 22nd – Evil Under the Sun
July 29th – Club Dread

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