Tom Hanks’ fantastic movie Cast Away has been described in a few different ways. A man vs nature movie, a desert island movie, one website even described it as an epic survival drama film. All do accurately describe the film, however I would describe it differently. For me Cast Away is a tragic love story. If you have not seen the movie you may want to stop reading because there are major spoilers ahead.
In the early part of Cast Away we meet Tom Hanks’ character Chuck and his long suffering girlfriend Kelly, played by Helen Hunt. Chuck’s ongoing job responsibilities have proven to be a hinderance to their relationship. During a large family gathering over Christmas dinner Chuck is notified of a job related problem overseas that has to be dealt with right away. Just before he boards a plane Chuck and Kelly exchange gifts. She gives him a pocket watch that includes his favorite photograph of her. One of his gifts to her is a gift wrapped box that is obviously a long overdue engagement ring. During her stunned silence he causally states that they will discuss it when he returns. As he walks to the plane he lightheartedly utters words that I am sure haunted them both, “I’ll be right back.” Little did they know that “right back” would be four years. The plane flies into an extreme storm and in a harrowing sequence crashes into the ocean. After floating in a life raft all night he winds up on an isolated island in the middle of nowhere. The island would become his home for the next four years.
I would say that a few things kept him alive on the island, his will to live, but more importantly his love for Kelly and his desire to return to her. The pocket watch, with her photo, survived the crash and it becomes his constant reminder of her. Her Christmas gift to him becomes a beacon of hope as he braves the four years on the island.
When he does eventually escape the island he returns home to a reality very different from the one that he left four years earlier. His brief reunion with Kelly is one of the most heartbreaking scenes that I have witnessed in a movie. He spent the whole of four years trying to return to her. Unbeknownst to him she spent years doing her part trying to track down his possible location. However, reality eventually set in and at the behest of everyone around her she moved on. They all believing that he was dead, although she was not of that mind. Deep down she believed that he was still alive, somewhere. She has since gotten married and started a family. They are in an impossible situation. Her almost fiance has returned from the dead and it is quite apparent that she still loves him. However, she is now married with a child and a new life. How can she walk away from her new life, her new family?
I am of the mind that after their brief reunion her current marriage was most likely damaged beyond repair. Even If this were the case any hope of a reunion with Chuck would be doomed as well. Kelly’s new family would be a constant reminder that she moved on. Anyway that you look at it would be a no win situation for all involved.
A tragic love story indeed, but not a story without a sense of hope and new beginnings. The movie’s open ended finale points to a new life for Chuck filled with hope and a fresh start, a clean slate. Hope is one of the things that kept him alive on the island. As the movie ends it is hope that appears too be working in Chuck as he prepares to start his new life.