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Cast Away

By Elaine Cassel

There is a lot of psychology in Cast Away—motivation, intelligence, problem-solving, creativity—and developmental issues.

The irony of being tossed ashore on a desert island as the lone survivor of a FedEx plane crash is not lost on Chuck (Tom Hanks). Coming from a world in which not having enough time was everything, Chuck suddenly has nothing but time. With his pocket watch frozen at the moment of the plane's impact, Chuck has plenty of time to contemplate how he can survive and return home--presumably to Kelly (Helen Hunt), the girlfriend he did not have time to propose to on Christmas Eve as he rushed to board the ill-fated plane.

Shortly after awakening on the deserted beach, Chuck demonstrates extraordinary creativity and problem-solving skills as he fashions headgear and footwear from the clothes on his back. As the plane's cargo--mostly Christmas gifts--washes ashore, he salvages those that will be the most useful to him. The blades from a pair of ice skates are handy tools for piercing coconuts and, later, carving tree limbs into a frame for his sailing raft. He struggles mightily as he tries various methods of making fire, finally succeeding. He creates a lean-to, giving him some shelter from the elements. These activities demonstrate Chuck’s motivation to fulfill physiological and safety needs according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The way in which he uses available resources to fulfill these needs demonstrates Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence, which stresses what intelligence means in everyday life. Aspects of Sternberg’s model that Chuck demonstrates include using problem-solving strategies, dealing with new situations, and shaping and adapting the environment to meet his needs.

Because even a castaway needs companionship, Chuck tries to satisfy the instinctual human longing for connection with others, the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy. He carves images of people onto rock faces. On these same rocks he scrawls messages noting his arrival and departure and marks off the days, months, and years. His locket-pocket watch, a gift from Kelly, holds her picture, a source of inspiration and hope. Indeed, the longing to get back to her is the motivation behind his survival efforts and the perilous venture to attempt to be rescued.

Chuck creates "Wilson," a companion of sorts, from another of the cargo's treasures--a basketball bearing the Wilson logo. Using blood from one of his wounds, Chuck draws a face on the ball. Wilson becomes his constant companion, his friend in distress, even his alter-ego. When Chuck sets off from the island, he tethers Wilson to the raft. Along the perilous voyage, Chuck constantly "communicates" with Wilson, responding to Wilson's encouragement and admonishments that no doubt represent Chuck's inner voice. When Wilson is lost in a violent storm, Chuck mourns him as if he had lost a dear friend.

The island experience--and its aftermath--is not without its developmental challenges. At one point Chuck considers suicide, making rope from the leaves of an indigenous plant. It is Wilson who "reminds" him to retrieve that rope and use it for the rescue raft. When Chuck is rescued and returns home to a hero's welcome, he learns that life did not stand still for Kelly. She, reluctantly, has moved on.

After a period of despondence, and true to the nature he expressed on the island, Chuck tries to find the will to go on. Fate sends him an unwitting messenger, whose explanations about what lies beyond the crossroads where he meets her are far more than directions to a geographic destination. They remind him that his life did not end with the crash, or the rescue, or the loss of Kelly. There are any number of paths he may take. Neither he--nor we--know what lies ahead (although the movie ends with Chuck pondering one tantalizing option). But we are confident that he will use his innate resilience and the knowledge gained from his island experience to make a new and good life for himself. And take his time doing it. Cast Away, written by William Broyles, Jr. and directed by Robert Zemeckis, also stars Valerie Wildman, Geoffrey Blake, Jennifer Lewis, and Christopher Noth.

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