[This column was originally written on 12/27/00]
I recently spent two and a half hours stranded on a remote island with Tom Hanks. Which may sound a lot more unpleasant than it actually was. After all, if you're going to be stuck on an island with someone, who could be more pleasant than the actor who has been called by some the most decent guy in Hollywood?
The word "Oscar" has certainly been bandied about quite a bit in reference to the acting tour de force in Cast Away. While I don't think it's likely to win the prize for Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Actress, Tom Hanks certainly has a very good chance at picking up another statuette for Best Actor. And I, for one, think he deserves it. Acting is more often than not reacting to what other people say and do. Given that Hanks shares most of scenes with an unforthcoming volleyball (played excellently by newcomer Wilson Sporting Goods), it is impressive that he manages to convey successfully all the various facets of a man in his predicament: fear, hope, anger, acceptance, etc. Once again, Hanks has shown that he can handle almost any acting job from the early romantic comedies that first brought him to the attention of the public, to the roles he has carved for himself in the past few years.
Robert Zemeckis and William Broyles, Jr. do a good job of putting together Hanks's talent with a solid screenplay. The foreshadowing and symbolism are not blatantly obvious (especially at one point where you expect to see it, but don't). The four year gap is jarring in its rapidity, but necessary. The delicate handling of Chuck's return to civilization is handled exceptionally well in one scene where he converses with a friend (who I believe does no talking in the scene at all); the soliliquy here sheds light on one earlier mysterious scene, which I will not ruin though it is not a very well kept secret.
While it had its weak points: the very lack of any secondary characters (Helen Hunt does a good job in her very very limited role), the almost non-existent score by the very talented Alan Silvestri (the lack of music is a very succesful gimick but it annoys me because of my love for film scores), and a couple of places where the sound seemed out of synch with the picture (whether the fault of the theater or the sound effects editor, I'm not sure), the movie was good, by which I mean that I liked it. Even more than that, however, it was a movie that I continued thinking about even several hours after I left the theatre. If I was stuck on a desert island, would I have thought of all the things that Chuck did? I'm such a pathetic technophile that I probably wouldn't know how to make a fire if you gave me a lighter and some tinder.
I saw the film with my family, and afterwards we continued to debate various symbols and metaphors in the film, partially because the film demands it, partially because it's just the type of people that we are. There is so much jampacked into the movie's metaphorical level that one of my cousins evinced an interest in seeing it again (though not immediately) just to pick up on all the things that he had missed the first time through.
But maybe, just maybe, the movie continued to permeate my mind because I felt some affinity with Hanks's stranded alter ego. I too, have been cast away from society into an alien environment, where, to some extent, I need to reevaluate myself and learn how to do things all over again. The situation is not as severe for me as it is for Chuck, but at the same time it is a big jump: I've never left the country before, much less to live in another one for six months.
So maybe you won't get the same experience from Cast Away that I got; perhaps my impression of the movie has been blurred by the state of my life when I saw it. But good movies are like that: they're the ones that hit you when your defenses are down, and make you realize that even if films are just escapist fiction, they're always built on some fundamental element of the truth that is the character of humanity.