Castaway Movie Analysis-Journeys

‘Castaway ‘, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a 2001 film starring Tom Hanks. Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx delivery man whose life is headed in the ‘right direction’, until his plane crashes and he is stranded on an island. He must adapt to his new life on the island; overcoming many obstacles in order to survive. ‘Castaway’ explores three different journeys; physical, inner and imaginative. Chuck Noland is a filmic representation of the philosophy of time equals money equals fulfilment.
Zemeckis is deliberate in his obvious manipulation of the responder as he uses a multitude of filmic techniques to create a connection between the audience and Chuck. The physical journey in ‘Castaway’ is Chuck’s struggle to survive all the obstacles of living on the island and his journey to get home. On the island his inner journey of self discovery is about learning what is really important in life. After he returns home he must learn to adapt to normal society and overcome his traumatic ordeal. Chuck’s imagination is also taken on a journey when he creates a companion out of a volleyball, whom he shares all his ideas and secrets with. Castaway’ is a film that is rife with symbolism. The director has purposefully included an array of different signs that convey various meanings and concepts within the film. The first shot of the film is that of an old road and as the camera pans to the left we see a van driving towards a crossroads. Immediately, these images of the road and the crossroads connote that a journey is going to take place. They symbolises that the unknown protagonist is going to come to a point in his life where he will be unable to decide where he is going.
As a result of the cyclic structure of the film, we see Chuck both physically and mentally arrive at the same crossroads from the opening scene. As a result of his years spent on the island is undecided about where he is heading so he pulls over and is given directions. He moves out into the middle of the crossroads and considers which of the four roads he wants to travel; knowing that whichever option he takes will lead to a different destination both physically and internally. The film ends with a close up of Chuck’s face as he gazes down his chosen path.

The responder is left in a state of deliberate uncertainty about which path he has chosen. The audience can be certain of one thing; his choices in life will be forever influenced by his ordeal. By leaving the ending open to interpretation, Zemeckis leaves the responder debating over which direction Chuck would have headed both in his car, and in his life. During the film we see the package with the angels wings painted on it frequently. The parcel becomes the first person as we follow it to the destination. This personifies the package and gives the responder the impression that this package will be almost like another character.
This package is one that washes up on the island with Chuck and is the only package he does not open. Wings are symbolic of flying and being lifted. The wings package raises Chuck’s spirits and gives him hope that one day he will be able to deliver the package to its owner. The audience never find out what was in the parcel. This fosters a sense of mystery and intrigue in the responder. Would the contents of the box have changed the outcome of Chuck’s life? Time is a motif that is heavily emphasised in this film. Clocks are effectively placed in the mis en scene, demonstrating that Chucks’ life is controlled by time.
He believes organisation and time management is the key to his happiness. The gift his girlfriend, Kelly, gives him is a pocket watch with her picture inside and it is one of his only possessions on the island. While on the island the importance he placed on time fades, as his life is now run by nature. He finds himself alone with a limitless amount of time but with nothing to do during it. He stares at the watch for long periods, not because of time but because of the picture of Kelly in it. Like the wings package she becomes his symbol of hope and his motivation to get off the island.
His determination and faith serve to evoke optimism within the responder and it gives them hope that Chuck will continue to survive until he gets off the island. The impact time has on his life is also evident when he is admonishing FedEx employees. He states “We live or we die by the clock. Never allow ourselves to commit the sin of losing track of time. ” He says the same thing to the volleyball, Wilson, when he is planning their escape off the island. The context of when he says it changes the meaning of this quote.
The first time it is said he is passionately trying to get workers to be more efficient and the quote is an exaggeration. The second time Chuck makes this remark, death is actually a serious option. Although the timing of his escape is important to him, time is not what is driving him anymore, instead his desire to get back to Kelly. The volleyball, Wilson, becomes Chuck’s only companion on the island. Wilson is Chuck’s need for companionship personified. Wilson is a part of Chuck as Wilson’s face is made of his blood and is the physical manifestation of Chuck’s mental state. “I know you. Chuck repeats to Wilson and this signifies that Chuck is aware that Wilson is a part of him while demonstrating Chuck trying to reassure himself of who he is. When Wilson is lost at sea, Chuck is devastated at losing his ‘friend’ and one of the only things kept him sane on the island. Chuck’s palpable anguish evokes sympathy and grief within the responder. Chuck’s physical journeys are common and the directors’ choice of having him works for FedEx is intentional. The scene where the audience is shown photographs of him with various modes of transportation also indicate that Chuck is a well travelled man.
However, he does not understand what life is really about. It is not until he is stranded physically that his inner journey begins and he realises what is really important in life. This concept forces the responder to ask themselves whether what they value most in life is really all that important. The use of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds is particularly effectual in contrasting Chuck’s life on the island with that of his old life. For the whole time that Chuck is on the island only diegetic sounds such as waves, wind and thunder is heard.
The sounds of wildlife have been cut from the scene also. Zemeckis has done this to highlight the fact that Chuck is completely isolated. The first non-diegetic music we hear is when Chuck is watching the island disappear in the mist as he rows away. Even without the visual we know that Chuck is now leaving the island. The lighting in ‘Castaway’ is central in showing Chuck’s isolation on the island. During storms, especially the initial one which causes Chuck’s plane to crash, lightning and moonlight is all the light used in the scene.
The lightning during the storms is hard key lighting and creates a sense of fear danger on screen and amongst the audience. The shadows that are cast on Chuck’s face from fire light and lightning show his vulnerability and panic. Zemeckis uses over the shoulder shots and close ups frequently on the island. This is done so the responder feels as though they are on that island with Chuck. The point of view shots that are used on the island are particularly useful in showing Chucks’ isolation. At numerous points we see the vast expanse of ocean through Chuck’s point of view.
This technique once again highlights his loneliness and desperation to find another living companion. The bird’s eye view shots show Chuck, alone, surrounded by nature, highlighting his solitude. Panning camera movement is used repeatedly to introduce the viewer to the landscape of the scene. Zemeckis uses zoom to focus the responder’s attention on Chuck which enables them to discern his emotions from his facial expression, rather than dialogue. There is minimal dialogue used in ‘Castaway’. This is again used to demonstrate the characters segregation but it also serves another purpose.
Minimal dialogue places greater emphasis on the other devices such as camera usage, music and lighting and it relies on these devices to convey the journeys. The 2001 drama film, ‘Castaway’ is an excellent example of a film encompassing physical, inner and imaginative journeys. The director, Robert Zemeckis, has exploited numerous filmic devices to allow the responder to experience the film as though it were reality. His effective use of symbolism, camera shots and angles, sound and lighting influences the responders’ view of the film.

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