This is a story about isolation, about change, and inevitability. It’s incredible how interesting this 2 1/2 hour film is, especially considering it is very light on dialogue and is home to very few characters.
The film is simple. A Fed Ex worker, Chuck (Tom Hanks), crash lands in a plane and finds himself is stranded on an island. What puts him there is a perfect storm of events. Determinism is, of course, hinted at here. Even upon leaving the island, the implication is that the current state of reality is unfortunate, incredibly saddening, but ultimately entirely unavoidable. There was no pivotal moment for Chuck at which he could have turned back and never gotten stranded on the island. There was no choice. This sort of moment was never highlighted cinematically in any way. It is only later, after Chuck gets off the island, that he returns mentally to the moment before he stepped onto the doomed plane. The crucial takeaway here is that it is only in hindsight that that pivotal moment is highlighted. Just like our own lives, we cannot predict the future. It is only in hindsight that we analyze these moments of choice, so why should cinema do anything differently?
Tom Hanks gives a performance to remember. He goes through a huge physical transformation, going from cleanly shaved and a bit plump to scruffy, tan, and muscular. Even the final several minutes of the film sees him strangely skinny, as if he has found that his clothing no longer fits him. In addition to physical transformation, Hanks guides his character through a genuine mental transformation as well. His busy, ‘run everything by the clock,’ mentality is challenged when he is forced into a situation in which he has all the time in the world. However, interestingly enough, his constant motivation actually helps him in this scenario. His need for control is what he taps into in order to drive his body and mind to do what is needed to survive. He latches onto certain objects, a pocketwatch his fiancé gave him, a volleyball he ascribes a personality to, and a package with a painted logo of angel wings, in order to keep his mind focused. Despite the deterministic script, Chuck latches onto a feeling of control in order to survive, bending the elements to his will, and ultimately constantly trying to defeat the deterministic world around him. But he fails. He eventually returns home to find that his previous life has crumbled under that cruel, controlling world. But he finds solace in simply letting go, leading him to his true destiny when he finally delivers the package he has been saving. And what an optimistic destiny this one is!
This film spends so much time trying to be naturalistic, forgetting traditional back and forth dialogue, reducing the number of characters down to a handful, etc, that it’s quite a shame that the film relies so much on visual effects. There are quite a few CGI waves and storms as well as many day-for-night scenes. For such a great, naturalistic, film about isolation, it’s a shame that many of these “Hollywood” effects couldn’t simply be avoided.
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Art Direction: 6/10
“Film as Entertainment” Rating: 7/10
“Film as Art” Rating: 8/10