Cast Away is a “story of a workaholic who must learn to live without work, without clocks, and without people” (Soares, 2011) after being stranded on an island. The amazing thing is that the majority of this movie contains no dialogue and is filled with many visual cues to get the message across as the movie progresses. There are four major visual cues that move this story along and are consistent visuals throughout the movie: a watch containing Kelly’s picture, a Wilson brand volleyball, wings painted on a FedEx box and the crossroads shown in the first scene of the movie and the last. They each symbolize important aspects of this story.
While there are many visual cues throughout the film, these four very important visuals speak volumes to the meaning of the story being told. They move this story forward as Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks, experience most people’s worst nightmare, survives and meets a major crossroad in his life. These visual cues affect viewers emotionally and allow us to sympathize and relate to Chuck Noland and his ordeal. Using the six perspectives, this paper will analyze these visual cues used by the creators of this movie that evoke an emotional response of sympathy for the main character.
I really appreciate this movie and connected with it because of the use of imagery and visual cues to tell the story. The first time I saw it, I was amazed at how the small amount of dialogue moved the story along and yet remained an interesting and intriguing story with profound statements and meanings. One visual cue that really spoke to me was Chuck’s transformation from a slightly overweight man to a weathered-tattered, tanned and slender character with matted hair. Visually, the movie producers show viewers how four years changed an experienced professional into a fierce island survivor. He becomes experienced with learned survival techniques and this is visually shown with his hardened and rough appearance.
The end of the movie was most profound to me. I was at a crossroads in my own life so I connected with the ending immediately. It was shown literally at crossroads in a place where nothing was around other than those roads. Since I was at my own crossroads when I saw this movie, it allowed me to connect with the movie in a unique way. When Chuck Noland was standing in the exact middle of the crossroads while looking and considering each direction, I could see my own crossroads. His facial expression said it all. I could feel the weight and importance of which route I would choose to venture just as Chuck Noland did. The final scene successfully depicts a happy ending even though he would not end up with Kelly. His final glare down the eastward road indicates that this is the road he will journey down. It is such a powerful depiction of making a life-changing decision and starting a new life.
Cast Away was released in the year 2000 so it was probably filmed in the late 90s. One of the key indicators of the time it was filmed was the use of pagers in the beginning of the film. Pagers were beginning to phase out in the mid to late 90s but a predominant factor in this movie. Chuck Noland was driven by time and his career which translated with his use of his pager. It was the pager that actually led him to the plane that crashed into the ocean which brought him to the island.
He actually gave Kelly, his fiancée, a pager for Christmas right before he got on the plane so they could stay connected. The pager indicates their connection but it was the water and the fateful crash where they lost that connection. After he awoke from his journey to the island in the safety raft, he discovers the water logged pager in his pocket. The camera zoomed in on the visual cue of him emptying the pager of the ocean water– you can see that the connection was lost as the water drains. He is alone with no connection to the world he knew before he got on the plane.
Other indicators were the visual cues such as old CRT monitors and computers. Those big boxy monitors weighing tons are unimaginable today. The technology for monitors and computers has advanced to sleeker, more streamlined flat screens since the 90s. Seeing that type of dated computer and monitor along with the beige coloring is a sure indicator of the technology during that time.
Their wardrobe, specifically the style of the sweaters that they wore early on in the movie also indicates a certain style during that time. In the 90s, most men sported colorful waffle-weave styled sweaters. The colors, design and style were popular during the colder months. Like most movies, wardrobe and costumes is a great indicator of the time that it was portraying or the time that is was filmed.
The model and year of specific vehicles is another indicator of the time frame of this movie. In the scene where Kelly and her new husband go to the landing center to meet Chuck displays a 90s model of the Toyota Camry. My mother had one the same color and year when this movie was released so I remember this one specifically. On one of his business trips, Chuck gives a Russian boy a Walkman style CD player. Yikes, I had one just like it! You just don’t see these anymore yet they were at the height of popularity in the 90s thus a solid indicator of the time frame. Also, the use of DayTimers in the movie visually indicates a time when they were an important time tracking tool for most people which were used before today’s PDA’s and SmartPhones.
Camera angles were important with this film since the dialogue was so limited especially when he was stranded on the island. When Chuck was in the cave shortly before he was to pull his aching tooth out, the angles were tight on him and on his preparation. Close up angles in this same scene also include Chuck glancing at Kelly’s picture in the watch and also his illustration of her on the cave wall. After he completed this painful task, the camera follows Chuck as he falls to the ground unconscious and focuses on his head next to the small fire. “We can be pulled into a story and become emotionally involved by camera movement” (Kidd, n.d.). It is hard to not feel the pain of this scene and sympathize with Chuck because of the movement, the tight and close-up camera angles, the surrounding darkness and the shadows cast by the fire.
The use of lighting during dark stages of his time on the island indicates a darkness and loneliness in his life. In the solace and protection of the cave that he discovered, the darkness and close confines make viewers feel the loneliness that he is experiencing – it shows visually how small his world has become where tight shots aid with this perception. “Lighting creates mood, directs attention, and, in the way it is angled, changes the picture. It conveys time and place and sets mood” (Kidd, n.d.). And back to the scene where he pulls his own tooth, the cave is dark but the small fire casts flickering shadows on both Chuck and Wilson. This allows a viewer to feel the pain and suffering he is experiencing with his tooth and the difficulty in doing this himself. I also see the flames as a flicker of hope that he will have one less pain to deal while he continues to learn how to survive on the island.
After Chuck successfully creates fire he raises his arms and proclaims “look at what I have created.” The illuminating effect in this scene is brilliant. It shows a sense of oneness with not only the fire but survival as well – you get a strong sense that he will survive the island because he can now create fire. He is on his way to being a survivor since he has reached the Biological and Physiological Needs stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which is the most basic level to reach before moving up in the hierarchy (McLeod, S. A., 2007). The movie producers visually show us his success in reaching this level with this illuminating effect – he has the power to create fire and thus survive the island.
Several FedEx packages conveniently washed up on the shore that helped Chuck while he was on the island. There were several items that he used and sent visual messages about their potential but the one that is most easily remembered is the Wilson brand volleyball. The ball was given a face after Chuck hurt his hand and then in a tempered rage, picked the ball up and threw it with his bloody hand. He scraped a face onto the ball and he had an instant companion. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the very most middle level is “Belonging” (McLeod, S. A., 2007).
The volleyball is a reflection of the need to have some form of human contact – Wilson was a substitute but kept him connected and allowed him to share his feelings. The viewer can see the interaction by the use of the camera angles when Chuck and Wilson are engaged in conversation. They appear to be having two way conversations which really personifies Wilson into his own character. These tighter shots of Wilson allow viewers to connect with “him” on a deeper level since he was providing companionship to Chuck. Viewers may experience a sense of gratitude toward Wilson since he was fulfilling a sense of friendship to Chuck and at this point, can only sympathize with his situation.
A FedEx plane crashed into the ocean taking the lives of several employees. When I first saw this movie, I remember thinking that it was a brave move on the part of the shipping giant. The crash was horrific as they show the nose of the plane swiftly heading to the ocean and the character’s hair blowing out of control while hanging on for dear life. It would be hard to not feel the fear that the characters were feeling by the visuals in the crash scene and how FedEx is ethically responsible for the loss of their lives and packages as well. I would think that FedEx would want to avoid such a strong visual connection even though it was just part of a storyline. But they did and they continue to grow and evolve.
Another ethical note comes from Chuck himself and his dedication to FedEx. This shown by his actions to save the packages that washed up to the shore early on after he arrived on the island. He is seen retrieving the packages from the water and then organizing them in some way without touching what was inside. It is symbolic of his hopes of being rescued and his dedication in wanting his customers to receive their packages. This is a visual cue that shows us that Chuck is confident he will be rescued soon and will be able to deliver the packages to their respective recipients.
He eventually learns that he may need what is inside to survive and opens them. This could be symbolic to the fact that he will never be the same person compared to who he was prior to the crash – his whole focus was on his career and timing. Secondary to his career was his relationship with Kelly which is what he is now longing for more than anything. The only box that he did not open was the box with painted angel wings – the same angel wings that started the movie. This is a semiotic code which describes that “for something to be a communicated sign, the viewer must understand its meaning” (Lester, 2010). As the movie progresses, viewers can feel the emotional connection to the angel wings more and more.
Chuck connected with this box right after he retrieves it from the shore and it becomes an important representation of hope and survival throughout the movie. The wings symbolize his hopes to survive, get off the island and return to his life with Kelly – they are the wings that will help save him. He was able to save one package from the crash which led to his survival and as we see in the end of the movie, delivered him to a new life. The winged box literally brought him home and to his new life as shown in the final scene as he intensely stares down the road where the wings were created. This was after the original sender of the package gives him directions and then drives toward her home down the same road. We can only assume that this will be the road of his choice and thus a happy ending for both Chuck and viewers.
And finally, the viewers are shown visually how FedEx will probably take care of Chuck after his rescue after four years of being on the island. Viewers can make this assumption for a few reasons depicted after his rescue. He is shown in a private jet flying home with a fellow colleague and friend. He is then shown at a welcoming ceremony for their lost employee and then to a fancy hotel where the buffet spread is quite appealing. I think these are symbolic showing that the FedEx Corporation will be taking great care of Chuck after the hefty ordeal he endured. It tells us that FedEx acknowledges their responsibility and will ensure that they will give Chuck his life back.
I think culturally, a lot of people tied to a working life can relate to Chuck’s dedication to FedEx. It’s all about getting the job done and in a time-efficient manner. It is not uncommon to be a workaholic of sorts whose entire life revolves around the clock. This is displayed many times with a clock somewhere in the background or even in close up shots in the movie. It is an indication that some people get caught up in a life that is dictated by time – nothing else matters, only the location of a clock’s hands. When that life is removed as it was removed from Chuck on that island, the clock takes on a different purpose. The only clock he had left was Kelly’s gift to him that also contained her picture. Chuck referred to the clock as “Kelly time” which took on a new meaning on the island – he had all the time in the world but no Kelly. It was a visual cue that is an important representation of his motivation to survive all the way to the scene where he returns it to Kelly after he learns that he lost her.
The movie itself can be summed up in one sentence. A FedEx employee survives a horrific plane crash, washes up on an island, survives and makes his way home to a completely different life. However, there is so much more to this story and a large majority of this was accomplished by using visual cues that without analysis may not be seen with much meaning. “You will find that all images have something to tell you because every picture created, no matter how banal or ordinary it maybe at first glance, has some meaning to communicate (Lester, 2010). The visual cues in Cast Away successfully communicate and promote the meaning behind the story and allow viewers to connect with Chuck and his plight for survival.
This movie has a powerful overall message about taking life for granted and meeting crossroads that will change our path forever. It tells a story of how every one of us will have crossroads to encounter and resolve. The crossroads scene at the end of the movie is so powerful – it is visually meaningful and symbolic to this message. The use of visual cues throughout this movie were used phenomenally well and allowed viewers to connect with the story on a deeper level. “Movies affect us emotionally because the powerful visual messages, on a screen as large as a house and with the sound quality that is better than being on a set, tell stories that we understand” (Lester, 2010). The moral of this story is something that most people relate to and understand even though the circumstances may be much different.
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