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Chuck Noland has everything: a successful, high-paying job, a woman who loves him, and enough money to buy anything he wants. The only thing he doesn't have enough of... is time. This changes when he is in a plane crash and, finding himself the sole survivor, makes his way to an uninhabited island where he has to figure out how to survive. Now Chuck has all the time he could ever want... and nothing else but his own wits, his two hands, and a volleyball for companionship.
If anything, like a modern day Robinson Crusoe.
Tom Hanks tries to make a dramatic and emotional movie wherein 80% of its 2 1/2-hour length is him, alone, on a remote island, talking to a volleyball.
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Interestingly, Kelly was fully willing to drop her new husband for Chuck, but both Chuck and Kelly realize that being together would be impossible.
- It's an interesting bit of trivia that according to the commentary that the scene was the part of the movie that confused watchers between the ages of 14 and 20 in the test audience. They were either too accustomed to the idea of the protagonist getting the girl in the end or weren't yet emotionally ready to grasp the sheer complexity of adult relationships.
- The Aloner
- At the Crossroads: The ending. Two possible paths to his future. It's all very symbolic.
- Beard of Barbarism: Chuck has plenty of time to grow some pretty wild facial hair during his time on the island.
- Bloody Handprint: Wilson.
- Brick Joke: At the start of the movie the female welder sends a FedEx package to her husband in Moscow, who we see is cheating with a young Russian girl. At the end of the movie his name has been cut away from the sign above the entrance to her house.
- California Doubling: The movie was filmed on one of the small uninhabited islands belonging to Fiji, even though the movie's island is supposed to lie somewhere south of the Cook islands.
- Can You Hear Me Now?: Portrayed realistically here.
- Chekhov's Armoury: After a while, Chuck opens the Fed Ex boxes that washed ashore with him, and the contents appear to be comically useless for his situation: video tapes, a volleyball, ice-skates and such. He finds a use for all of them, especially the volleyball.
- In an interesting case, the writers chose these items by drawing them from dozens of others out of a hat, then asking survival experts how they could be used.
- Chekhov's Gunman: As mentioned under Gallows Humor, Chuck remembers his dentist was Dr. Spaulding. When he returns, he discovers Kelly has married Dr. Spaulding's colleague (Jerry Lovett) and started a family with him.
- Also qualifies as Chekhov's Gag as the audience assumes it's a throwaway line.
- Chekhov's Hobby: A very subtle one: Right before the family diner scene, the audience briefly sees Chuck's sailing certification and sailing awards. No wonder then that he finds the right solution to overcome the powerful wave that prevented him from leaving the island and manages to do it when the weather conditions are optimal.
- Climactic Music: There is no music until after Chuck escapes the island. The first musical cue is powerful.
- Companion Cube: Wilson the volleyball, whom Chuck talks to in order to keep from going insane due to loneliness.
- Or possibly because he is beginning to go insane.
- Deserted Island: 80% of the movie.
- Did Not Get the Girl: And it makes sense, too.
- Driven to Suicide: It's gradually revealed that Noland tried to hang himself. Planned, he planned to kill himself. Good thing he did a "dry run" first with a dummy, or else he would've just broken his legs and died of exposure or dehydration.
Chuck Noland: So... I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I - , I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to.
- Exact Time to Failure
- Expository Hairstyle Change: By this time, Wilson is Chuck's BFF.
- Fainting: After Chuck removes his own tooth. With an ice skate and a rock.
- Also, Kelly, when she hears the news of Chuck's survival and rescue over the phone.
- Fatal Family Photo: Subverted, as Chuck doesn't find the photo of the dead pilot's family until after he washes up.
- Flying Dutchman: Chuck is left without a place in the modern world after finally escaping from the island after five years of solitude.
- Gallows Humor: With a rotten tooth Chuck mentions to Wilson that his dentist back home was Dr. Spaulding.
- Genre Savvy: He's well aware that fictional portrayals of being on a desert island aren't realistic, and have left him unprepared.
"Gotta love crab. In the nick of time too. I couldn't take much more of those coconuts. Coconut milk is a natural laxative. That's something Gilligan never told us."
- Go Mad From the Isolation
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: At the beginning of the film, Chuck was setting up a Fed Ex office in Moscow, where they were still taking down pictures of Lenin and wowed by Snickers bars and Elvis Presley CDs.
- Hello: Chuck screams this at the top of his lungs when he first arrives on the island, trying to make contact with other people. There is no response.
- Hermit Guru: Not by choice, mind you.
- Hollywood Healing: After returning from the island, Chuck somehow loses all his scars, sunburns, freckles and imperfections accumulated over the four years of being exposed to the tropical island's climate. Skin just doesn't heal that quickly and thoroughly.
- In fairness, he's wearing more than a loincloth when he returns home, so most of it can't be seen anymore. And several weeks have past between his rescue and the following scene so it isn't unlikely he had a thorough spa treatment and not just lounging at home (in addition it was basically implied he was compensated by FedEx so he'll never have to work again).
- I Fell for Hours: That plane seems to be going down for a really long time...
- Irony: Plenty of this when Noland returns to the abundant world of civilization. His 'welcome back' dinner consists mostly of seafood. His Swiss Army knife is attached to the keys he left with Helen. And light and fire is now available at the click of a switch.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Chuck refuses to come between Kelly and her new husband.
- Large Ham: Chuck - after lived several years in the savage jungle everyone would become this.
- Legally Dead: Chuck finds himself in this state after being stuck on the island for five years.
- Loners Are Freaks: What Chuck becomes, although he at least seems to regain his sanity once he makes it back to civilization.
- MacGuffin: The one Fed Ex box that Chuck never opens, and ultimately delivers at the end.
- Zemeckis jokingly stated that inside was... a waterproof solar-powered satellite phone.
- Lampshaded in a Super Bowl commercial for FedEx that year which had his character delivering the package to find that indeed, it had the waterproof satellite phone, GPS unit, seeds, a complete tool set...
- One deleted scene from the script actually has Chuck open the box. It holds... two bottles of salsa verde.
- MacGyvering: How Chuck survives using various Fed Ex boxes full of apparently useless crap. Some notable examples include using the taffeta from a party dress to make a fishing net, weaving videotape together to make rope, and making an axe out of an ice skate attached to a stick.
- Meaningful Name: The shortened form of Chuck Noland's name is C. Noland: See No Land.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Averted, because there's no freaking wildlife except for the fish and crabs that Chuck catches for food.
- And maybe some sea birds, but we don't get to see any. The portrayal of the island as a vaguely primordial ecosystem (very little wildlife, only a few dominant species of plants) that can barely even support a small human population is fully in line with how such small Polynesian islands look like. It was shot on one of the more remote islands of Fiji (geographic border of Melanesia/Polynesia) and it shows...
- Mr. Exposition: A different take on this trope; Wilson serves as a means by which Tom Hanks' character can explain things to the audience.
- Music Video Syndrome: Rejected. While Tom Hanks's character is stranded on the desert island (the bulk of the movie), there is no background music at all.
- Possible Fridge Brilliance, since it really hits home the fact that a deserted island is both much quieter and much noisier than your average city.
- Ocean Madness: Spiritually fits.
- Product Placement: The movie is one great big commercial for Fed Ex, And Wilson the volleyball is one for the company of the same name. Neither firm paid a dime. The best kind of product placement.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: The coconuts. Don't worry - everyone seems to get that wrong. Interestingly, the film crew found them as nigh-impossible to open as Chuck did.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated
- Say My Name: "WIIILLLLLLSOOOOOONNNNNNN! I'm sorry, Wilson!" Yes, only Tom Hanks can yell that line, believably, at a volleyball, and not make it sound stupid.
- Scenery Porn: But totally necessary, so we the audience know just how alone and isolated Chuck Noland really is when he's on that island.
- Setting Update: Cast Away is Robinson Crusoe IN THE MID-LATE 90S WITH A VOLLEYBALL AS FRIDAY!
- Sole Survivor: Chuck.
- Stood Up: Type 5.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Chuck experiences this when he makes it back home.
- Surrogate Soliloquy: The writers even gave dialogue for Wilson's (imagined) half of the conversation.
- Taught By Experience: A great demonstration here. A survivalist he wasn't, at first.
- Time Skip: Four years later...
- The Tooth Hurts: Chuck already has a bit of a toothache before he gets stranded on the island, but it only gets worse once he's there, forcing him to remove the rotten tooth. With an ice skate and a rock. Feel free to faint now.
- Trailers Always Spoil: Seriously. Don't watch the trailer until you've seen the film.
- Even more frustratingly, Zemeckis openly admits to spoiling his films in trailers on purpose, saying that marketing shows that audiences want to know what EXACTLY what they're going to. Thus, most of the suspense of the film is sapped upon seeing said trailer.
- The Un-Reveal: We never find out what's in the last FedEx box. Hell, we never even find out why he didn't open it (see MacGuffin, above).
- One popular theory is that the wings on the package were a symbol of hope for Chuck.
- Another is that he left one package to keep himself grounded. "I'm still a civilized human being, isolated in survival mode or not. Someday I will deliver this package, dammit!"
- Unstoppable Mailman: Even after being stranded on an island for years, he still delivers the last package (strictly speaking, he doesn't. Like the song said, he "Return[s it] to Sender").