Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Castaway

Not only had I never seen Castaway before, I have some how managed to avoid spoilers about the ending, which I am going to spoil here in a minute, so if you want to remain a virgin, you should quietly slip out the back now. Most of what I knew was Wilson the Volleyball and that was pretty much all from parodies and cultural references in other locales. So I pretty much had a clean slate going in other than my usual expectation of tossing a coin to decide whether I will like a Tom Hanks movie. I did like Castaway, for what it is worth, but I was surprised by the ending.

It surprised me because I had forgotten Hollywood could be so cynical. Essentially, Hank’s character, Chuck, survives for four years stranded on a deserted South Pacific island with nothing but a volleyball and a photo of his wife in a locket to keep him company. It was fascinating to watch Chuck slowly degenerate mentally and emotionally during his ordeal, even to the point he treats Wilson as a child would a stuffed animal or doll. What is even more amazing is to realize the bulk of said deterioration is demonstrated by Hanks as the onlt human actor for the longest time on screen. No wonder he wound up with his umpteenth Best Actor nod, although I believe he lost out to Russell Crowe that year.

But here is where things turn strange—for Hollywood at any rate. There is this big build up that the only reason Chuck is staying alive is to get back to his true love. At one point, which is awkwardly addressed in the past tense twice, Chuck decides to give up and hang himself in order to end his physical and emotional pain. His plan fails and something tells him there is a reason he needs to stay alive. So he redoubles his determination to do so. Eventually, he is able to build a raft and escape the island. So hard times pass at seas, including losing Wilson, before he is rescued.

You would think we would headed for a happy ending here. We are not. Everyone thought Chuck was dead and have moved on with their lives. His sweetie has remarried and does not even have the nerve to show up to greet him when he gets stateside. Instead, she sends her new husband. That is a low blow I can barely put into words. The two eventually do meet back up and have a bittersweet reunion in which you almost think several times she might dump the husband we already do not like because he is an interloper as far as we are concerned, but she does not. Chuck drives off into the night because he knows life has passed him by.

He finally delivers the package that he was trying to when his plane crashed four years previous. Country singer Lari White, cameos as the recipient. There is a brief flash there in which you think the two of them see sparks flying, but they do not. The movie ends with Chuck at a four way crossroads wondering where to go from here. It is left up in the air why there was a dire need for him to stay alive. He figured it was because his wife was waiting for him and you really wanted to see that right before the credits rolled. No such luck. Hollywood took a slice from real life. Just because you suffer does not mean there is something good on the other end. Those feelings of having a higher purpose are not messages from on high as much as maybe indigestion. You will probably wind up, as Chuck did, wondering what the heck all that crap was for.

The best part is the movie ends there rather than with Chuck going on every talk on television, landing a book deal, and selling the movie rights before eventually replacing Jeff Probst as host of Survivor. All that most certainly would have happened, but the movie’s ending made sure you never got a hint it would. I found it amazing the film would end on such a downer ending.

Castaway appeals to my sensibilities even if the ending does not accurately reflect the enriching possibilities that now lay before Chuck in our celebrity obsessed world. maybe we are supposed to believe Chuck is too humble a guy for all that. I do not know, but Castaway works on all other levels.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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