In which Gerry Hayes rolls up his trouser-legs and paddles on the shores of FedEx Island…
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Starring Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, A. Volleyball.
Written by William Broyles, Jr.
Astonishingly, the story goes that FedEx were reluctant to have their brand used in this film (didn’t like the idea that one of their planes might crash). Rumour has it they had to be persuaded to allow Hanks’ character work for FedEx and that they didn’t pay a penny for product-placement. Weird, huh? Why did the writer plump for FedEx? Why not just invent a fictional delivery company? Dunno. I do know, however, that there is no escaping FedEx in Castaway. I came out of the film wanting to ship something, anything, to anywhere. I miss those magazines, but I’m sure there’s a guy in Tuvalu who’s enjoying them as we speak.
But I digress.
Hanks plays Chuck Noland, an utterly joyless, jobsworth with a mild OCD. He’s infuriatingly preoccupied with time. He’s like the boss that stands over you as you fumble to finish a task saying, “it only took 192 seconds yesterday – what’s wrong with you?” Because of this, FedEx have given him a job where he flies around the world telling employees that they’re not quick enough. In short, he’s an arse.
But he’s about to learn a valuable lesson. Or something.
Storms… Plane off course, of course… Crash… And…
Just like that, he’s marooned on a desert island somewhere in the Pacific. It’s only a small island, mind. No pirates. No pygmies to worship him as a god. No differently-coloured chap to enslave and call after a weekday as you couldn’t be bothered to ask him his name. Nope. Just Chuck and a bundle of FedEx packages. He opens them all bar one – clinging to his jobsworth sensibilities to the end.
One of the packages contains Chuck’s new best friend, a volleyball called Wilson (a rather crappy gift for someone, FedExed by that godparent who never bothers showing up for birthdays). Chuck and Wilson’s relationship is a complex one. That Chuck loves Wilson is not in doubt but he does occasionally strike out at him – actually kicking him in the head at one stage. Afterwards, Chuck, invariably, holds Wilson, telling him he loves him and that it will never happen again. Be thankful there are no kids to see Chuck’s violence and Wilson’s shame.
Speaking of shame, although not fully explored in the film, I hope, at least, that Chuck turns Wilson’s face away when he performs his dirty, man-business; sitting in the dirt of his cave, squinting lustfully at crudely-rendered drawings of Helen Hunt touching herself. Wilson doesn’t need to see that.
Four years pass. Chuck gets skinny and beardy. One day, half a portable toilet washes up and, after poking it with his spear for a bit, Chuck realises he can use it as a sail on a raft and then he’s away. He ties some sticks together and he and Wilson are off to sea where, and this is the bit that really gets me, he apparently makes friends with a whale.
When Chuck’s asleep and Wilson bobs off into the ocean, the friendly whale squirts him with blowhole juice to wake him. The same thing happens when he’s asleep as the ship passes. More blowhole squirting. Friendly, frickin’, whales? Give me a break.
But it works. Chuck wakes up, is rescued and flown back to civilisation in a massive FedEx advert. Seriously, they didn’t pay for this? There are FedEx napkins. And mugs. Why would this be necessary if they weren’t paying? Why? It has no bearing on the plot? Why?
Anyway, while he was away, Chuck’s girlfriend, Helen Hunt, has had a haircut and got shacked up with some other bloke. Chuck has to be all noble and Casablanca about it and tell her to go back to her new family, even after she tells him “I always knew you were alive.” Personally, I’d have asked why she married someone else if that was the case, but maybe that’s just me.
It’s almost over but Chuck has one more thing to do. He needs to deliver the package he never opened. Wouldn’t you know, it’s a pretty girl at the address. We leave Chuck at a crossroads but it’s a metaphorical one as well as a literal one ‘cos it’s all deep ‘n’ stuff.
We never got to see what was in the last package but in my head, it was a survival kit and a satellite phone. Here’s hoping.
Read more I Sat Through That? right here.
Gerry Hayes is a garret-dwelling writer subsisting on tea, beer and Flame-Grilled Steak flavour McCoy’s crisps. You can read about other stuff he doesn’t like on his blog at http://stareintospace.com or you can have easy, bite-sized bits of him at http://twitter.com/gerryhayes