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Cast Away Review
by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  22 Sep 2008

Cast Away is truly an amazing and outstanding film, mostly so because it marks the stellar debut of Wilson, the volleyball who is the only friend of the character played by Tom Hanks over a five-year period on a small and isolated island in the South Pacific. The credits do not mention Wilson's true name, perhaps a nod to the old Universal monster features that originally put a question mark after the monster's name in the opening titles. Whatever the name, we can expect to hear it soon and often thereafter. Perhaps we'll get the name at the Academy Awards in early 2001, when I wouldn't be surprised if an Oscar goes to a volleyball manufacturer for the first time in history. Not only is Wilson's noble death the climax of the film (Am I the only one who thought I saw Wilson subtly swimming away from the raft in order to spare his friend?), but Wilson steals every scene he can in what can only be called a brilliant film. Indeed, the title does not so much play to the success of Survivor by aping the title of its British predecessor, nor does it refer to Tom Hanks's character being cast away; rather, it refers to the cast, which is away in spirit when not in body, with the sole exception of Wilson. Wilson's facial expressions are simply masterful, surpassing all expectations. His ability to communicate with very few words (and even the words he offers are inaudible!) surpasses even that of Morgan Freeman and other masters.

Cast Away is indeed a love story by genre, but the great love of our main character is not that with Helen Hunt, whose fickleness is shown by her two marriages (before and after Tom Hanks's character) and her impulsive indecisiveness upon Tom's return, whose lack of seriousness about Tom is shown by her clear dislike for his Christmas gifts and for her lack of marriage to him, and whose undesirable qualities include an obnoxious family, a Southern accent (lacking in Tom despite their cohabitation), and poor decorating sense. Rather, the great love story of Cast Away is between Tom and Wilson, whose encouragement first causes Tom to master fire. From then on, their love is as hot and natural as that flame. We watch as Wilson (quite realistically) lacks faith in Tom's escape plan, and we reel with Tom in horror after seeing him, enraged, commit domestic violence against Wilson, tossing him from their cave. Remembering that the cave is a vaginal symbol if ever there was one, and that the cave is dripping wet at the time, it should be clear that the sexuality between Tom and Wilson, while never shown, sizzles beneath the surface. Since we strangely never see Tom masturbate, although we do see him defecate and urinate, we should do well to wonder where all that semen and sexual frustration is going -- and Wilson, as Tom's sole companion, is not the best suspect but the only suspect.1 And we see Tom decorate Wilson's face with his bodily fluids (both blood and saliva). This is reminiscent not only of ejaculation but of women shading their faces with their blood, such as has sometimes been done by prisoners (including some in Schindler's List) -- and, typical of the male species, it is only after Wilson's visage has been so decorated that Tom becomes suddenly taken with Wilson's curvaceous figure. Moreover, Tom actually does penetrate Wilson off-camera; after the five years elapse in a single jump, we see that Tom has apparently inserted what look like reeds into the top of Wilson, an act reminiscent of some aboriginal practices in which reeds are inserted into the urethra. Tom has indeed "gone native." It is frankly refreshing to see the marginalization of sex with inanimate objects go the way of the dodo, and we should congratulate Tom Hanks for once again bravely expanding sexual toleration, a personal commitment of his, as he previously did in Philadelphia -- though the greater marginalization of this "love that dare not speak its name," and thus the boldness of this newest foray of Hanks, is shown by the fact that it can only be tolerated on an isolated island rather than in urban America.

Knowing all of this, we can feel all the more for Wilson's pain as he watches Tom continue to pine over his woman, her picture a constant reminder to Wilson and to us of how Tom can never utterly throw off society's deep repression toward those who love the inanimate. We can also see Tom's continuing self-hatred, even when so utterly removed from the culture that indoctrinated him into those values, in his attempt to hang himself, late in the five years we do not see (and perhaps right after penetrating Wilson). And we can shed deeper tears when Wilson refuses to shout for Tom's help (for we know Tom can hear him) and gently drifts away to his death, in a scene surpassing the ends of both Titanic and The Perfect Storm. Perhaps Wilson even intuits that Tom will be rescued and remembers his own disbelief in the escape plan as well as the discomfort Tom continues to show for their alternate lifestyle. Perhaps Wilson knows that America will have no place for their love and leaves Tom to cry and to return to his earlier, human love. We want Tom to be holding Wilton fondly on the plane home, demanding his lover be treated with the respect he deserves from Tom's former colleagues. Tom too feels Wilson's absence, now willingly giving back his wife's gift that had sustained him. Tom finds Wilson's love only after it is gone, just as his old love appears as Tom is realizing that his true love was lost at sea. For Tom realized his love for Wilson too late, sending his oars out into the sea after Wilson, an act of suicide in the wake of love lost. Romeo and Juliet were never this poignant -- or this tragic.

Zemekis (who also directed Back to the Future and Forest Gump) daringly makes this film ploddingly slow to make us feel the repetition of living on a island with nothing to do. Like Tom, we too contemplate suicide, a case of audience-character identification which knows no competitor. That this pacing was a conscious device on the part of Zemekis should be seen by the fact that he allowed to be released, even prior to the film's opening, a number of half-minute and one-minute "director's cuts," sent straight to the people via the television and containing the same plot as the more carefully paced film. Similarly, Zemekis bravely makes Tom Hanks an incredibly boring, average character whose most interesting feature is a strong Protestant work ethic. This is an act of kindness, lessening our sense of tragedy, as if to keep us from sending our oars out into the water. But it is also a brazen statement: in the right circumstances, even the most boring person could become one of "them." And it is proved right, for who indeed can watch this film and not fall in love with the Best Supporting Actor of 2000.2

NOTES

This essay was first published online in December 2000. It was described as "a thoroughly hilarious review of Cast Away that also serves as a work of Menippean satire, perhaps of self, perhaps of a certain type of academic discourse."
1 Recall that this sexual dynamic is inherent to island strandings. The speculation, which continues in popular culture even today, as to the sexual couplings of the characters on Gilligan's Island repeated themselves in "real life" during the flurry of attention devoted to Survivor. While certainly crude, Fox's "reality" show Temptation Island (launched in January 2001) simply centralized such concerns, glaringly making such surrounding speculation into the show's focus. Any time two (or more) characters are stranded on an island together, a sexual tension (and therefore a relationship of some sort) is inevitable. In characterizing Wilson, the filmmakers have forced us to recognize Wilson's sexuality -- whereas we might ignore it on land. [BACK]
2 I wrote this review the day after Cast Away opened in December 2000, having seen the film the previous day. I sent it out via e-mail late on the night I wrote it, encouraging people to forward it along. I subsequently, on 10 January 2001, saw an Associated Press story that interviewed a Wilson executive and talked about the financial boon Cast Away's success would provide -- though, the executive noted, it would be less than a the boon effected by a sports celebrity's endorsement. The article reported that the company plans to market a volleyball with the same markings Tom Hanks added to Wilson in the film. [BACK]

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Other Essays by Julian Darius:
Yellow Sign Series in the Vatican Museum
Feminism was a Response to Dishwashers
Life on Gor (Page 1 of 6)
Life on Gor (Page 2 of 6)
Life on Gor (Page 3 of 6)
Life on Gor (Page 4 of 6)
Life on Gor (Page 5 of 6)
Life on Gor (Page 6 of 6)
The Danger of Personality Tests
The Party’s Raging but the Messiah Stands Us Up
How to Have Fun with Scrabble
Love the Good Women, Boys, Love the Good Women
Against Gardner
I Need a Secretary
Cast Away Review