Pascal . . . Kierkegaard . . . Nietzsche . . . Zemeckis?
You don’t have to be a Hollywood insider to know about the Oscar jinx — never hire an actor or director coming off an Oscar win. They’ve got the big head, the big ego. They don’t want to make a picture, they want to make a statement.
But Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks, dripping with both Oscars and about half a billion in long green after the monster, monster success of Forrest Gump back in 1994, didn’t have to worry about getting a job. They could afford to hire themselves, which they did, and the result was Cast Away, which, surprisingly enough, did make a statement, and not a very nice one either, the point being that life is el nada grande. Look for a clean, well-lighted place, amigo mio, because that’s all you’re going to get. That, and lots and lots of time to slowly curl up and die.
If anyone had asked me, in the year 2000, to pick a director likely to come up with a highly wrought, $90 million, neo-Kubrickian, neo-Hitchcockian meditation on the perils of abyss-gazing, it wouldn’t have been Robert Zemeckis. I caught Bob’s act on the Tonight show with Jay Leno back in 1992, hawking Death Becomes Her, a massively heavy-handed, massively misogynistic special-effects comedy, which I saw but didn’t like so much.1 I particularly didn’t like the ending, where we hear a funeral oration for Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis, in what was surely his only wimp role). The good doctor was a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, an artist with the scalpel, who turns his back on the bright lights to minister to the needy. It’s the simple things that count, we’re told — compassion, friends, family, serving others.
I resent being told that it’s the simple things that count by Hollywood types. You don’t go to Hollywood because you care about friends, family, and serving others. You go because you care about serving number 1. Bob unwittingly confirmed my thesis when he mentioned to Jay that the first film he directed was I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a sweet look at the birth pangs of Beatlemania.2 “Oh, really?” exclaimed Jay enthusiastically. “I liked that film.” “Didn’t make money,” snapped Bob, dismissively. Case closed. Let’s not talk about it. Not worth a damn pronoun! I don’t waste oxygen on losers!
No one can say that Bob made the same mistake twice. His next picture, Romancing the Stone, most notable for the famous shot of muff-diving Michael Douglas, back in the days when he had a penis, was big, very big. He followed that with an eighties icon, Back to the Future, which dazzled audiences with its constant flow of ingenious plot twists and riffs on pop culture, past and present. There was a stumble with Back to the Future 2, surely one of the worst sequels ever made, crippled with infighting and disputes over money,3 but Bob was more than back on track with Forrest Gump, as full of tricks as BTTF 1, but with lots and lots of heart — in fact, lots and lots and lots and lots of heart.
But at the same time Zemeckis was learning how to make films that would take audiences on a roller-coaster ride of sweet and sentimental thrills, he was also learning how to make films that would do the opposite, films that wouldn’t take audiences anywhere, that would leave them staring at an inexorably unfolding reality devoid of direction, purpose, or reassurance.
Cast Away begins with a static shot of an utterly flat two-lane highway out in the middle of nowhere. There’s more than a hint of the crop-dusting scene in North by Northwest, when Cary Grant gets off a bus halfway between Nowhere, Illinois and Godforsaken, Kansas. Zemeckis’ camera pans to a bleak crossroads whose road markers tip us to the fact that we’re somewhere in Texas. The silence is broken by the groan of a laboring engine. A Federal Express truck struggles into view, droning like a solitary bumblebee. Zemeckis makes us wait and wait as the truck lumbers along, completing its journey in real time rather than movie time.
The truck drives past a cozy-looking farmhouse and then passes under a fancy arch that bears the words “Dick & Bettina,” the ampersand set in a pair of stylized, metallic wings bound with hoops of steel. We see several pairs of similar wings — massive structures perhaps ten feet high — on the lawn. As the truck approaches a barn we hear some music playing on a stereo. It’s Elvis, with his first big hit, “Heartbreak Hotel”! Hey, this is more like it, because we Americans, hey, we love our rock and roll! Yeah, baby!
The bit is a fairly obvious nod to the early bit in Forrest Gump, where young Forrest hangs with young Elvis and teaches the King how to move — kind of a meme thing, really, because the film used rock and roll through the fifties, sixties, and seventies as the soundtrack of our lives, the backbeat to the agony of American existence in those tumultuous times.4 So, we think maybe we’re looking at Forrest Gump 2, but we aren’t. This is the first of many tricks Zemeckis will play on us. They’re easy to miss, because Bob isn’t the type to slap the audience in the face. He isn’t going to tell us that life is shit. He’s going to let us figure it out for ourselves.
Well, to get back to Cast Away, the driver goes inside and has a casual conversation with a chick sculptor/welder, working with a blowtorch on yet another set of wings — the kind of fashionable metal crap that rich people like to buy. She’s got a FedEx package waiting for the driver, with the Fred & Bettina wings logo stamped on it. We don’t get a good look at her face — she’s got a welder’s mask on most of the time — but the driver addresses her as “Mrs. Peterson.” As the guy heads back to the van, “Heartbreak Hotel” fades on the stereo, to be replaced by “All Shook Up,” playing directly on the soundtrack. The music swells as the driver puts the package in the back of the truck and then suddenly disappears as the door slams shut. No more good times!
We make a long jump to the delivery of the package, a very long jump, as a matter of fact, because it turns out that we’re in Moscow. The package is delivered to “Mr. Peterson”! (I had to watch the flick three times to figure all this out. I’m guessing that Zemeckis didn’t want audiences to get it.) We don’t know what Dick is doing in Moscow, but it’s clear that he isn’t behaving himself. He’s wearing a bath robe and a cowboy hat and he’s got one of those blonde Russian babes who are nothing but trouble on his arm. He hands her the package and snickers “It’s from my wife.”
The driver of the Russkie FedEx truck leaves and then stops at some sort of restaurant, giving a package to some kid to deliver, mostly so that the camera can follow him as he runs through the streets of old Moscow, which has rarely looked so good. Zemeckis compounds the kitsch by flooding the soundtrack with a massive Russian choral music — gorgeous, but utterly flat-footed and totally irrelevant to the rest of the flick.
If you see the picture more than once, it seems to be a bizarre mistake on Bob’s part. He’s trying to do a serious picture, and, for the most part, he’s succeeding, but for the moment his medulla oblongata overpowers his cerebrum. Up until this point, he’s been deliberately echoing Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which had no music on the soundtrack at all,5 a terrific way to keep an audience off balance. We keep waiting for the music to let us know how we’re supposed to respond, but our cue never comes, and we’re left hanging. So why does Bob hit us with the choral bombardment? I think he wasn’t thinking.
Once we get past the Mother Russia bit we actually catch up with our star, Tom Hanks, a FedEx middle-management type, furiously giving Russian FedEx newbies a pep-talk/beat down, the low-down on the new capitalism — you do it right, you do it fast, or your ass is grass! That “mañana” socialism crap is out, out, out!
Once Tom is finished kicking Russkie butt, he hops a flight back to reality — Memphis, Tennessee, home of both Elvis and FedEx, a nicely ironic coincidence that Zemeckis deliberately makes and then will deliberately not develop.6 Tom reconnects with his sweet girlfriend, the always classy Helen Hunt,7 and then we settle in for an old-fashioned Christmas dinner,8 a dinner for FedEx orphans, apparently, because, despite the Norman Rockwell setting, it’s all business gossip and no relatives.9 Zemeckis shoots it in cinema verité fashion, with near-inaudible, overlapping conversations, much of which we can’t follow, although we do hear Tom ribbing Helen about her ex-husband. Making fun of your girlfriend’s ex at the company Christmas party somehow doesn’t strike me as classy, but nobody seems to object.10
In the midst of the festivities, duty calls. Tom’s got a flight to catch, though we’re not told where he’s going or why. Helen accompanies him to the airport, where they exchange gifts.11 Helen gives Tom a beautiful, heavily symbolic gift, her grandfather’s railroad watch, with her picture in it. Tom first gives her hand-towels, supposedly a typical dorky guy gift,12 suggesting, for just a moment, that Tom has no thought for anything except his career13 before unveiling (of course) the biggie, the diamond. Underneath that career-obsessed carapace, he cares, goddamnit, he cares! He just needs to learn how to stop to smell the roses from time to time! Because love can conquer time!
Tom gets on the plane, wearing a silly Christmas sweater, even though he’s bound (apparently) for Hawaii.14 He nods off, wakening to an emergency which is never explained. Things fall apart, in a hurry. Tom is left alone by the crew, who are desperately struggling to get the plane under control. A huge steel packing crate starts sliding around the plane, eminently capable of crushing poor Tom to a pulp. That doesn’t happen, but the plane goes down, one disaster following another, and we watch Tom being threatened by various gigantic chunks of errant modern machinery, including a voracious jet engine that looms over him like a shark pursuing a guppy.
Well, even a guppy gets lucky from time to time. Despite his sopping wet sweater, which must weigh twenty-five pounds by now, Tom launches an inflatable life raft, rolls into it, and hangs on, despite the endless buffets of an angry sea. All this furious action is shot in a passive, undramatic manner, with no cutting to heighten the suspense or cue our responses. We’re immersed in the action but have no idea of what is going on. There’s no real storyline or narrative here. Things just happen.
Tom, inert and motionless in the life raft, rides out the storm, looking more like a drowned rat than a leading man. When he finally gets his ass safely on shore, Tom is scarcely more than alive. Gradually he comes to grips with his situation: islands have palm trees, palm trees (some of them) have coconuts, coconuts are hard to open, rocks don’t help you much, but if one splits, you might get a sharp edge, which you can use to cut away the coconut’s husk, and, if you keep at it, you might get a mouthful or two of coconut milk. Also, walking on sharp rocks barefoot is not a good idea.
While Tom is digesting all of this, the corpse of one of the flight crew washes up on the beach. In a civilized gesture, he wastes hours, not of time, because he’s got plenty of that, but of energy, burying the corpse. Tom’s benediction, “Well, that’s it,” suggests that there’s only so much you can do for a corpse. You bury the dead, you move on.15
Tom has been collecting stray FedEx boxes as they wash up on the beach. With the dead buried, it’s time to see what’s inside. Zemeckis, or script writer William Broyles Jr., comes up with a nice collection of random items that, naturally, are just what you don’t need when you’re stranded on a tropical island. Videotapes! Yeah, those will come in handy. And a volleyball! Hey, if four chicks in bikinis and a net wash up, I’m in business! And ice skates! Even better! How lucky can you get! But then, in a nice twist, Tom realizes that the skates are useful. A steel cutting edge may not be a machete, but it beats the hell out of a sharp rock every time.16
Once Tom has made some tangible progress on the “primitive living” learning curve, he decides to take in the big picture. He climbs to the mountain top17 and takes in a 360. It’s a brilliant bit — I mean, what a view, right? Everywhere, perfect tropic beaches and blissful, slow-rolling waves. It’s heaven, it’s paradise, except that, well, it’s a heaven for gods and land crabs, not for human beings. Those waves, they’re just a bit relentless, aren’t they, the way they just keep smashing into the shore? They never get tired, and they don’t stop for anybody or anything.18
There’s an intriguing bit of subtext here, a bit of subtext that I may be superimposing, but what the fuck, right? There is no more potent symbol of success than having your own island. That’s what you do when you’re not just rich but mega-rich, Tom Hanks rich, Robert Zemeckis rich. You get your own island. And how cool would this place be if it only had, you know, a $20 million villa perched on the mountain top, with, you know, solar panels, and a backup generator, and satellite TV, and air conditioning, and a staff of about, you know, ten or twenty, and a nice dock with a fifty-foot yacht and a weekly packet boat bringing in supplies, so that every evening you could sit out on the verandah with a round of margaritas watching the sunset? Pretty damn cool!
But Tom doesn’t have any of those things. He doesn’t have anything but his own damn self, and he’s getting awfully hungry, and awfully lonely. He’s climbed to the top of the mountain, and all he’s seen is his own solitude.
So Tom comes down from the mountain. He pokes around, and finds a cave. All right! Something to explore! What’s inside? Signs of human habitation, some tools maybe, human skulls, a monster? Well, none of the above, actually. Tom can go inside when it rains, but the place isn’t much of a haven. It’s just a place.19
On to the next challenge, the conquest of fire, mankind’s first great step upward, from the raw to the cooked, and the single biggest item on Tom’s learning curve. He sets earnestly to work, but, as always, keeps getting it wrong. He’s too impatient! He wants everything right now! Hey, is there some subtext here? When he screws up and cuts himself, he’s so pathetically enraged that he picks up the unoffending volleyball, whose only crime is to be in the neighborhood, and gives it a mighty whack, leaving a bloody handprint. Stupid!
But then Tom’s right brain reasserts itself.20 Patience, stupid! Patience! Tom tracks down the bloody volleyball, the emblem of his folly. He converts the handprint into a face, a stupid, silent, staring, screaming, bloody face, “Wilson,” his companion, his buddy, his totem, his echo, even his god, something he made with his own hands and now sets up on a pedestal as something independent of him and his equal.21
With Wilson to keep him honest, Tom settles down to business. You don’t repeat your mistakes. You learn from them. Slowly, slowly, he gets it right. This is what went wrong. This is how to fix it. He’s clumsy, but he’s patient. He gets it right, and he gets his reward: Fire!
Once again, Zemeckis makes Tom’s triumph untriumphant. There’s no swelling music, no fist-pumping Hollywood reaction shot from Tom to nail it. Instead, we see an overweight, middle-aged man waving a burning palm frond while tunelessly singing “Light My Fire.”22
I once saw a forest ranger who did start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, which is possible if you know exactly what you are doing. The ranger used the American Indian method — spinning a dowel fitted into a hole in a plank with the use of a bow, which provides primitive gearing and allows equal friction for both the forward and back stroke of the arm. The dowel and the plank are specially chosen woods, and the embers produced have to be placed in a particular form of kindling — the dried inner bark of the paper birch tree. Tom uses a couple of pieces of wood that he found on the beach, along with some palm fronds. I don’t think it would have worked.
Zemeckis may be cheating, allowing Tom to survive where, one suspects, even an accomplished survivalist, let alone an overweight FedEx middle-management type, would quickly expire, but we have little sense of being manipulated, because the film’s manner of presentation is so flat and unaffected. We’re given the form of a Hollywood “survival” epic — the triumph of civilized man over nature — without the substance, the emotional payoff. We keep reaching for a moral, and Zemeckis keeps taking it away.
Once he’s consolidated his great triumph, and eaten some cooked crab — what a feast! — Tom’s still got a problem — a bad tooth. The damn thing is killing him. Well, how about a little primitive dental surgery, using an ice skate blade. Tom screws up his courage to the sticking point, rests the tip of the blade against the dying tooth and gives it a good whack with a rock. Triumph! Well, sort of. Tom loses the tooth but also passes out from the pain. Some hero!
Even the dramatic “four years later” shot, showing Tom as a Tarzanic jungle lord, or at least Pacific island lord, taking out a sardine at thirty paces with his spear, though hokey, isn’t that hokey.23 Tom looks a lot better with the weight off, but he isn’t, well, fabulous. He’s ripped, but he isn’t that ripped.
When Tom goes back into his cave, we see that the four years have toughened him, but they’ve weakened him as well. The camera does a slow pan, showing the handful of trinkets that constitute Tom’s tiny world — the pictures he’s drawn on the wall, Helen’s grandfather’s watch, containing her picture, and Wilson the volleyball. They’re all slowly dissolving into the mud that surrounds them. And Tom, he’s dissolving too, becoming a part of nature, instead of being apart from it as a man should be. He’s come to look like one of Poussin’s bearded, sunken-eyed river gods, who live without hope or purpose, cursed with immortality instead of blessed with it.24
Tom’s sad lethargy is shattered by a messenger, not from the gods but from civilization, in the form of the floating plastic shell of a porta-potty. It’s a nice touch — this is what mankind has accomplished! — but Tom’s near instantaneous calculation of his approximate geographical location, plus his forecasting of seasonal patterns of tides, currents, and prevailing winds — um, how’de do it?25 Is this what they teach you in FedEx school?
It’s interesting to compare Tom’s adventures with those of a real-life castaway, Tony Bell, a “Burnley man,” according to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.26 Bell was the sole survivor of a shipwreck and spent eleven months alone on a tropical island. He was 65 at the time, which made it no picnic. However, he was one up on Tom because he had a tool — his eyeglasses, which he could use to start a fire.27 Like Tom, Bell survived on fish and coconuts, but he also had access to birds’ eggs.28
After eleven months, Bell’s weight had fallen to 97 pounds. When he saw a passing boat, which ultimately rescued him, he lacked the strength to do more than wave. So, could a 35-year-old man, not a 65-year-old one, build a raft, launch it in the face of twenty-foot breakers, and ride it through storm and calm back to civilization?
I don’t think so. But, despite the massive implausibilities, Zemeckis, if he doesn’t make us believe what we’re seeing, doesn’t invite ridicule. Once Tom is underway, he’s a passive witness to his trials, not their master. If the gigantic waves he rides don’t crush him, it’s not because of his skill, but rather their indifference. The whale he encounters isn’t one of nature’s marvels, but a massive, sullen brute, utterly alien to him. Worst of all, he even loses Wilson!
Tom’s rescue has to be one of the least dramatic on record. He lies on his battered raft, no more than a handful of twigs, a bare, forked animal, dead to the world, while a massive steel wall, the hull of a gigantic cargo ship, silently fills the horizon behind him.29 Is this featureless cliff of machinery the face of civilization?
Tom finds out when he returns “home” to Memphis, discovering that, basically, everyone has forgotten that he ever existed.30 He wanders through his reception/resurrection like a zombie. When he goes to meet Helen, the one person he wanted to see, she doesn’t even show! Instead, Tom meets hubbie Chris Noth,31 looking very not “Big,” who stumbles through some lame explanation about how Helen wanted to come, but, you know, it’s complicated! And so sudden! You know!
Later, Tom takes a cab out to Helen’s place to confront her, and Zemeckis softens things considerably. “You’re the love of my life,” Helen tells him. “You always will be.” Which is very good to hear, but in fact the woman he loved has disappeared, faded into nothing just as her picture did, just as, in fact, the man that Tom was has disappeared. And all the sweet music on the soundtrack can’t make that go away.
The suburban, middle-management world of shaded streets and receptions at the Holiday Inn, which so humiliates Tom, is exactly the world that Robert Zemeckis left behind when he went to LA. How shallow, how pathetic! I’m moving on up, baby! My own island! Yeah, man!
So you get your own island, and where are you? Earlier, as the “Welcome Back” reception wound down, Tom played with the lighter used to light the chafing dishes, clicking the flame on and off. What an incredible gift, to have fire whenever you want it! He could have killed for this! And yet, which is more real, more authentic — life on the island, or life here in this two-bit Holiday Inn? Aren’t they both the same? Once you get out of the squirrel cage you realize — you were better off inside!
Zemeckis isn’t quite done messing with us. Tom still has one task left, one hope left, the one package he’d saved to deliver. In a bizarre twist, we see Tom heading back to the exact same rural Texas crossroads that we saw at the beginning of the film. If we had looked really hard back on the island, we would have noticed that the package Tom had saved to deliver had Dick & Bettina’s hooped wings logo on it.
Tom’s got Elvis (of course) on the radio, singing (of course) “Return to Sender.”32 He turns in at the gate, but we see that “Dick” is gone from the arch. Apparently, Bettina found out about the Russian babe.
Tom checks the farmhouse but no one’s home. He stares at the wings and shouts “anybody home?” a couple of times, but gets no answer. So he writes a note “This package saved my life” to someone he’ll never meet.33
Once he delivers the package he discovers he’s lost.34 As he struggles to make sense of his map a sweet chick in a pickup with a collie in the back pulls up. Gee, that looks like a nice world, a world of sweet chicks and pickup trucks and collies. Do you think Tom could get into that world?
Well, no, he can’t. Once you’ve been on the island, you can’t get off. Once you escape all the hassles, headaches, and strivings of everyday life you discover that those headaches and hassles didn’t confine you, they defined you, they created you, and without them you don’t really exist. Tom hasn’t got a girl, or even a dog. All he’s got is a new Wilson, an affirmation of his solitude instead of an escape from it.
As the truck drives off, Tom notices the hooped wings logo on the back. He doesn’t know it, but he just met Bettina. Say, do you think? He chases her for a few steps and then gives up.35
He could follow her in his car, of course, but he doesn’t. He stands by the road, utterly alone. He isn’t literally trapped, the way he was on the island. He’s got plenty of gas. He can go anywhere he wants, in any direction. But anywhere, everywhere, nowhere, it’s all the same. It’s just you under that great big blue sky, that great big blue that doesn’t give a good goddamn about you.
- Goldie Hawn with a huge hole through her tummy? I’m dying, but not in a good way. [↩]
- And, thus, of course, the entire modern era, except for Dick Cheney. [↩]
- Damn actors! They want to get paid! [↩]
- As someone who actually lived through “the sixties” et al. and went to Vietnam, I found it all pretty enjoyable, although there were a lot of assassinations. The fact that we don’t shoot at people as much as we used to is definitely a step up. [↩]
- We actually hear a lot of music in Rear Window, but it’s all “ambient” — someone in the movie listening to the radio, singing or playing an instrument. I was fascinated to learn that Rear Window wasn’t just a hit, it was a monster. According to Box Office Mojo, Rear Window‘s domestic gross of $36.8 million back in 1954, when adjusted for inflation, puts it ahead of both Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Spider Man 3. Of course, the worldwide gross of these two flicks, not mention DVDs and other tie-ins, would dwarf Rear Window‘s numbers, but still. The population of the U.S. in 1954 was less than half of what it is today, and so was the average family’s income. [↩]
- Actually, Elvis (right) reappears several more times in the film, but with no emotional payoff. It’s more of an in joke than a subtext. [↩]
- Helen parlayed her preppie good looks into a long-running role in the sitcom Mad About You, playing Paul Reiser’s shiksa goddess and eventually picking up $1 mil per episode. Not bad for a show that I would rank closer to Wings than Cheers. [↩]
- The flyover cuisine, which includes marshmallow-coated candied yams, is exactly why people like Robert Zemeckis leave home. [↩]
- As far as we know, neither Tom nor Helen has any family. When Tom gets back from the island, Helen is the only person he wants to see. [↩]
- Zemeckis always seems just a bit suspicious of the dames, except maybe for Back to the Future III, where Mary Steenburgen gives a very sweet performance. Of course, maybe even Bob couldn’t prevent Mary from giving a very sweet performance. [↩]
- Elvis is singing “Blue Christmas” on the radio at this point. [↩]
- This one came totally out of left field for me. I would be happy, or at least a lot happier than I am, if all the hand towels in the world were cast in the deep blue sea. What kind of guy would buy hand towels? I bet those guys on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy don’t have hand towels. [↩]
- . By Zemeckis’ standards, of course, Tom’s career is a totally piece of shit career. Creative types love to make fun of middle-class strivers, dreaming of Cadillacs. Excuse the dust of my one-of Ferrari! [↩]
- Or is it Tahiti? A FedEx flight from Memphis to Tahiti? I wonder. [↩]
- Also, you take his shoes. After all, he won’t be needing them. [↩]
- For no reason that I could determine, Tom decides not to open the last package. It’s stamped with Dick & Bettina’s hooped wings logo, and Zemeckis gives us a good look at it, but this was totally by me the first two times I saw the flick. [↩]
- Fortunately, the island has one. It makes a great visual. [↩]
- I’ve always found the ocean shore to be exhilarating, but not everyone has the same reaction. Robert Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” gives us the downside: “The shattered water made a misty din, Great waves looked over others coming in, And thought of doing something to the shore, That water never did to land before.” [↩]
- It’s not a threat, either. I thought once Tom went to sleep the tide might come in and he would be trapped, but that doesn’t happen. As always, Zemeckis deliberately keeps things undramatic. Or maybe I just worry too much. [↩]
- Or is it his left brain? I’m left-handed myself, so I assume that everything rightie is sensible and square. [↩]
- Because he can only respect something he made himself? [↩]
- As a stylist, Tom falls (with a thud) somewhere between Jim Morrison and José Feliciano. [↩]
- It is, however, pretty unbelievable. How could you even see a fish underwater thirty feet away, much less hit it? And why waste the energy on such a small fry? [↩]
- Kinda like the virtuous pagans in the first circle of Dante’s Inferno. [↩]
- Most importantly, where does Tom think he’s going, and why does he think he can get there? The potty was manufactured in Bakersfield, California. If something washes up on your beach from California, does it prove that if you launch yourself at the right time you will eventually wash up on a beach in California? [↩]
- This is serious Brit talk, way over my head. Presumably, Burnley is somewhere in or near Lancashire. You can read Tony’s story here. [↩]
- Bell had another advantage — an incredible childhood. Orphaned during World War II, he was placed in the care of a nun and sent to live with relatives in Africa at age five. The nun died along the way and when Bell arrived at his uncle’s farm, he learned that his uncle had left for England. An African woman adopted him and he lived as a “savage” for several years. Eventually, England reclaimed him, but like Huckleberry Finn he didn’t care much for civilization. “I hated wearing shoes and clothes.” At age eleven he was shipped out to a “work station” in Australia, which, apparently, had the right balance between civilization and freedom. “I loved it.” Zemeckis et al. bought the rights to Bell’s story when they made Cast Away. Like virtually every author who has sold something to Hollywood, Bell was underwhelmed by the end product: “It wasn’t anything like what I had written. They altered it for the American market. They took a lot of my ideas but they also invented their own.” [↩]
- . Perhaps the sight of Tom chowing down on birds’ eggs and the occasional fricasseed baby penguin (right) was deemed too authentic for American audiences. [↩]
- This scene echoes, deliberately, I’m sure, the famous “space train” bit in 2001, reportedly Tom Hanks’ favorite film. In that film, and others that followed, Kubrick sought to tell a story without telling a story, presenting a series of strikingly disconnected images that deliberately frustrate the viewer’s expectations. We’re looking for the point of it all, and the point is that there isn’t any point. [↩]
- At this point the film acquires a soundtrack, as though at last we’re going to escape from the oppressive silence and lack of affect on the island. But in fact we aren’t. [↩]
- In a very lame gag, Chris is the dentist who screwed up Tom’s tooth. You fuck my molar and my girl? Ow! [↩]
- For the prince of missed connections, read Melville’s more than great “Bartleby the Scrivener.” Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity! [↩]
- . It wasn’t clear to me why he saved this package, and of course we never find out what’s in it. It’s interesting that it’s the package, not Helen, that “saves” his life. [↩]
- Why doesn’t he just turn around and go back the way he came? Because that would be too easy. [↩]
- Gee, if only they could have met! The stories he could have told her! They might have hit it off! Two who have loved and lost, finding each other! But they didn’t. Did Zemeckis really expect audiences to follow all of this? I sure didn’t get it the first time around. [↩]