Tom Hanks ‘Cast Away’ Made a Bold Choice to Highlight Isolation

2000’s Cast Away is far from the first movie to explore what it would be like to try and survive on a deserted island. But the film just might be one of the best to make that experience feel real and relatable. Sure, it helps that Tom Hanks is the main character, as the actor’s everyman likeability and box office bankability make him an easy centerpiece for audiences to connect to. However, Cast Away also uses some creative tactics to put viewers on that island with Hanks.

A ‘Cast Away’ promotional billboard with Tom Hanks holding Wilson the volleyball
A ‘Cast Away’ promotional billboard | Tim Boyle

Tom Hanks spends much of ‘Cast Away’ alone

Early on in Cast Away, Hanks’ character — a FedEx employee named Chuck Noland — is the sole survivor of a plane crash. Chuck washes up on the shore of a deserted island, with only the packages of FedEx customers to help him stay alive. And for most of the movie’s 144 minutes, Hanks is the only one on screen.

To cope with the loneliness, Chuck develops an imaginary friendship with a volleyball named Wilson. This relationship gives Cast Away a number of its most memorable moments, including during the emotional climax of the film. But it also gives director Robert Zemeckis and Hanks a way to ground Chuck’s plight and give him another “character” to play off of during the film.

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Director Robert Zemeckis made a bold creative choice

This isn’t the only way Zemeckis and his team help audiences feel the weight of Chuck’s time on the island. Nearly all movies — certainly those with the production values and budget of Cast Away — feature a comprehensive musical score. But for Cast Away, Zemeckis opted to keep the movie’s audio absent of any score while Chuck is on the island. Instead, the movie features only minimal sound effects, allowing audiences to feel just as isolated and alone as the character.

Only when Chuck escapes the island does the score by composer Alan Silvestri kick in. Silvestri contributed such indelible scores as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump for Zemeckis. And his music in Cast Away garners so much power because of the emotional way it’s used in the story. In 2002, Silvestri even won a Grammy Award for his music in Cast Away.

The film remains among Tom Hanks’ biggest hits

For Hanks, Cast Away was perhaps the biggest test up to that point. The actor radically changed himself physically to embody how Chuck’s body has reacted to his time on the island. But moreso, so much screen time with just Hanks could have become tiresome for audiences. And in lesser hands, that might have been the case.

However, in Hanks’ filmography, Cast Away remains among the biggest hits of his career. The film earned $427 million worldwide, according to The-Numbers.com. Even more than 20 years later, that makes it his biggest live-action hit after only The Da Vinci Code, Forrest Gump, Angels & Demons, and Saving Private Ryan.

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