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

SDCC aliens Film Festival 72 Emmy Awards Dark Horse Comics reviews WarnerMedia venice true crime golden globes sequels 24 frames television slashers canceled elevated horror Lucasfilm remakes Epix Polls and Games crime Fox Searchlight Freeform Watching Series biography classics Disney Plus Fall TV X-Men cooking Cannes Heroines Sneak Peek Acorn TV Sundance TV Comics on TV Adult Swim rt archives japan Film obituary TruTV revenge Vudu Lionsgate 71st Emmy Awards VOD series cinemax Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Amazon book Ghostbusters lord of the rings joker anthology new star wars movies Superheroes video on demand discovery TNT 2021 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards El Rey universal monsters adventure 45 Spectrum Originals PlayStation Warner Bros. Disney book adaptation Amazon Studios Shudder adenture Classic Film sports blaxploitation psychological thriller reboot TV Land Marvel Studios Nominations Crackle godzilla SundanceTV toronto halloween tv Paramount golden globe awards kids dceu See It Skip It politics Chernobyl Tarantino Comic-Con@Home 2021 Crunchyroll laika prank Television Critics Association AMC Plus Sci-Fi Amazon Prime DGA PaleyFest First Reviews Thanksgiving History name the review MSNBC documentary political drama live event Sundance docuseries suspense green book Lifetime Christmas movies BBC One Lifetime Character Guide olympics sopranos fast and furious singing competition telelvision streaming unscripted Pacific Islander justice league serial killer women docudrama feel good Western Disney Channel VICE 20th Century Fox anime Fox News rom-coms new york New York Comic Con Podcast Hulu movies Box Office 2017 Writers Guild of America Black Mirror video new zealand USA AMC live action medical drama TBS Pirates 2015 Super Bowl Captain marvel Christmas Netflix young adult cults renewed TV shows 2018 Showtime A24 BBC independent documentaries IFC Films TV know your critic deadpool Avengers Musical australia Nat Geo Amazon Prime Video FOX Binge Guide heist movie black cancelled TV series mutant APB scary movies strong female leads south america HBO Go President spanish language royal family zero dark thirty franchise comic book movies streaming movies comic book movie Pride Month vampires worst movies Comic Book blockbuster comedies TCA SXSW Walt Disney Pictures slasher foreign king arthur indie The Academy zombie quibi Election E! MTV Comedy Rom-Com Universal Pictures Discovery Channel NYCC CW Seed festivals tv talk Paramount Plus Countdown festival The Arrangement YouTube Premium Mary Tyler Moore Teen sitcom IMDb TV Legendary Netflix Christmas movies Star Wars Country Image Comics doctor who sequel YA talk show diversity transformers romantic comedy a nightmare on elm street action-comedy Starz toy story Trophy Talk fresh Columbia Pictures basketball saw award winner space Turner GLAAD stoner E3 period drama Winter TV kong National Geographic Tumblr emmy awards 90s spain free movies Fantasy Family psycho TCA 2017 Opinion Disney streaming service historical drama crime thriller Infographic posters Marathons Sundance Now wonder woman Ovation casting Action Song of Ice and Fire ABC Family Rocky Emmy Nominations WGN mob sag awards critic resources DC streaming service NBC Alien adaptation Reality Competition rt labs 93rd Oscars boxing LGBT cars Tomatazos binge Red Carpet monster movies pirates of the caribbean Exclusive Video mission: impossible Certified Fresh debate zombies ViacomCBS archives comic books DC Comics parents news RT History BET king kong Kids & Family Hear Us Out Mary Poppins Returns Mystery PBS spy thriller 2016 technology mockumentary Food Network scary Bravo harry potter spinoff Rock batman Peacock Sony Pictures disaster james bond Calendar The Walking Dead romance Marvel Television stand-up comedy hollywood teaser VH1 Academy Awards Funimation travel superhero Television Academy American Society of Cinematographers TLC Arrowverse Quiz Music Mudbound gangster japanese french Grammys dc ITV Awards Esquire directors hist genre die hard Travel Channel TCM Apple TV Plus children's TV TCA Awards TV renewals 007 Extras CBS Horror best dramedy Wes Anderson halloween FX Instagram Live OWN rotten legend twilight Rocketman Apple Endgame Hallmark dexter BET Awards DirecTV comiccon Valentine's Day richard e. Grant crossover Pop TV facebook Stephen King satire Schedule nature Disney+ Disney Plus high school natural history Women's History Month marvel cinematic universe Shondaland The Witch Syfy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt razzies Pop ESPN RT21 HBO Max Toys spider-verse child's play IFC Pet Sematary Pixar Star Trek supernatural target ABC worst Mary poppins Trivia criterion werewolf dragons hispanic Hallmark Christmas movies all-time critics 99% Interview 21st Century Fox Apple TV+ ghosts versus cancelled television Video Games social media animated composers Set visit biopic concert superman GoT Spike Brie Larson NBA First Look Comedy Central finale LGBTQ The Walt Disney Company BBC America ABC Signature TV One films ratings Black History Month hispanic heritage month what to watch spider-man Reality FX on Hulu CNN BAFTA Holiday Cartoon Network black comedy Oscars rt labs critics edition Nickelodeon cops The CW popular Britbox blockbusters MCU CMT YouTube breaking bad stop motion San Diego Comic-Con Tokyo Olympics movie 1990s Summer spanish jamie lee curtis crime drama 73rd Emmy Awards DC Universe chucky FXX nbcuniversal kaiju Winners marvel comics Best and Worst vs. Spring TV Emmys theme song Animation cancelled Cosplay art house Trailer robots latino 2020 jurassic park Photos trailers asian-american mcc 2019 TV movies Superheroe international Universal dreamworks cartoon Biopics Awards Tour ID nfl scene in color Year in Review screenings GIFs USA Network christmas movies TCA Winter 2020 science fiction The Purge thriller A&E Broadway Masterpiece cats comics Elton John italian Anna Paquin miniseries Musicals Baby Yoda rotten movies we love TIFF Premiere Dates dogs based on movie game of thrones CBS All Access cancelled TV shows canceled TV shows Paramount Network boxoffice comic 4/20 police drama Holidays indiana jones OneApp game show YouTube Red Logo Martial Arts Marvel witnail HBO war Drama dark Tubi scorecard hidden camera Creative Arts Emmys aapi football Mindy Kaling Neflix screen actors guild Turner Classic Movies Ellie Kemper