According to psychologist David Richo, "Hope is about believing in the potential in us for a life that is greater than the one our frightened and limited ego has designed, a wisdom larger than our thinking mind can muster, and a love wider than that with which we embrace our immediate circle of friends." Hope is the secret buried inside us all waiting to rise to the surface when we need it most. It is a Divine gift, a treasure without measure.
Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a FedEx systems engineer, has no time or need for hope; he's too busy flying around the world taking care of business. In Russia, Chuck is a cheerleader telling employees: "Let us not commit the sin of turning our back on time!" Back home for Christmas, he has two minutes for a gift exchange with his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt). She gives him her grandfather's pocket watch with her picture inside the case. He gives her a ring box, hints at a proposal to come, then runs to catch his cargo flight to the Far East where he needs to put out another corporate fire. His last words to her: "I'll be right back."
Not hardly. His plane goes down in the South Pacific during a storm. The crew all die in the crash but Chuck survives and washes up on a deserted island. Now he has all the time in the world to try to stay alive. All he has to do is find food, water, shelter, and learn how to make a fire. Not so easy for a person who has spent a lifetime relying upon modern conveniences. Luckily for Chuck, some FedEx packages have washed up on shore too. Ice skate blades are handy as a knife, netting from a dress becomes a fishing net, videotape is used as rope.
Four years later Chuck has found a cave for shelter. Hope of his eventual reunion with Kelly has kept his spirits up — her picture inside the watch is a sacred talisman for him. As an antidote to his impatience and loneliness, Chuck has painted a face out of his own blood on a volleyball that he found in a FedEx box. He establishes an emotional relationship with "Wilson" that enables him to express his feelings. (Wilson is the year 2000's testament to the soul of things; 1999's was the plastic bag in American Beauty.)
Cast Away is inventively directed by Robert Zemeckis based on a screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. With his everyman image, Tom Hanks is the perfect actor to play Chuck Noland. First he's the archetypal go-getter who does everything conceivable to stay in control of his life. To him the beauty of the island means nothing without the accoutrements of Western culture; the place is a prison, not a South Seas paradise. Over time, he adjusts and creates a life, but he still knows his solitary existence is precarious. Believing in himself, against logic, and out of love, he decides to risk everything to escape aboard a raft. He is motivated purely by hope.
The surprises awaiting Chuck when he returns to Memphis and his long-awaited reunion with Kelly cannot be revealed. But this survivor has discovered the secret long known to spiritual adventurers down through the centuries — the art of giving up the illusion of control and opening oneself to the mysteries of the present moment. By the end, Chuck no longer needs to know exactly what the future will look like. He turns his back on time. His four years of training have set him free for a greater life than the one designed by his ego. Wisdom and love are just down the road.