From a purely artistic perspective, this film may be commended for its realistic and absorbing portrayal of human suffering in the face of seeming hopelessness. Although the film is not overtly spiritual, humanity can benefit from its underlying symbolism and themes. This film will delight those, from thirteen years upwards, who are patient enough to sit through over two hours of slow plot-progression. There is also no fairy-tale ending to Chuck’s relationship with his former fiancée. In real life, after all, tough choices must be made, we don’t always get our way and we have to take a risk in order to progress.
A “castaway” may be defined as “1. a shipwrecked person 2. One that has been discarded or rejected.” [Webster’s Dictionary]. The Apostle Paul makes a direct reference to the ‘ship-wrecking of one’s faith’ (1 Timothy1:19) which starts from not having a pure conscience before God. What may then result is this feeling of being discarded or rejected. If the Christian viewer can relate the physical experience of being a castaway to its spiritual undertones, there will be a lot to be gained apart from simple entertainment.
The predominant theme of the movie is ‘time’. Hank’s job as system’s engineer at FedEx is to be in control of time. The first scene witnesses him rebuking his subordinates for failing to deliver a parcel expeditiously. He states memorably:
“87 hours is an eternity … the cosmos was created in less time.”
His conversation is laced with references to time deadlines. This pre-occupation has even spilled over into his personal life. He keeps peeking at his pager during a Christmas dinner. Despite Kelly’s concern, she ironically buys him a Christmas present which is the very object of his obsession – a locket with clock. The airplane accident literally brings time to a standstill for Chuck. His normal routines are disrupted, and he is even powerless to deliver on his promise to Kelly to be home for New Year’s Eve. Alas, Chuck’s joke about the creation the cosmos holds a bitter truth as he comes to realise that time is ultimately not under human control. Indeed, divine timing is an inescapable reality to which Christians must surrender in order to live out the will of God for their lives.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 states:
“For everything there is a season and a time for every activity under heaven…”
Furthermore, James warns us against rigid planning – “you ought to say – ‘if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’”(James 4:15 ). Chuck ends up spending four years on the island as a castaway. He returns to civilization as a humble, more mellow version of his former self. He has lost his fiancée and even his friend’s wife has succumbed to cancer which he previously described as a “thing” to be “fixed”.
A second prevalent theme is the issue of ‘hope’. What gets Chuck through the isolation and despair is his love for Kelly. Even when his plane is plunging to the ocean depths, Chuck clutches to the locket with the photo of Kelly. It is this image which keeps him hopeful of one day re-uniting with her. Chuck is so lonely that he even develops a ‘pretend’ friendship with a football (Wilson) he has found in one of the FedEx parcels swept ashore. Both relationships end up being false hope. When Wilson is lost, we sense that Chuck is utterly discouraged and ready to die. But it is at this moment of utter darkness that the light of hope shines brightest. Scenes abound where Chuck stares wistfully at Kelly’s picture.
This draws a parallel for Christians who are expected to keep their “eyes fixed on Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Every person must ponder this – what am I getting attached to that has no life and no hope, and which may be replacing dependence on the Creator?
There is a heart-wrenching scene where Chuck tries to commit suicide but his testing of the reliability of the tree fails, leading him to bemoan the fact that he couldn’t even kill himself properly. Christians must remember that the devil’s attempt to lure the desperate and distraught into suicide is no less than an effort to sabotage a divine destiny. Had Chuck succeeded in his suicide attempt, he would never have made his life-saving discovery nor triumphant return to civilization.
Chuck must exercise tremendous courage to rescue himself in the face of incredible odds. It is this theme of ‘courage’ which balances the film’s initial darkness and despair. In fact, Chuck’s prolonged isolation on the island may be likened to a spiritual “wilderness” experience such as that experienced by the children of Israel, Jesus in the desert and the apostle John on the isle of Patmos. It is typically a period of great turmoil, reflection but ultimate breakthrough provided one perseveres to the end. Chuck’s breakthrough came when he had the courage to seek help and not just wait for it.
This bears strong resemblance to Jesus’s admonition to Peter to “launch into the deep” (Luke 5:4) in order to secure a catch. In other words, one must be willing to leave one’s comfort zone to gain an advantage. Just as most of the children of Israel were afraid to leave the wilderness because of the size of the inhabitants in the Promised Land (Numbers 13:31-33), isn’t it true that the size of the challenges which loom ahead of us as Christians, often make us hesitate or procrastinate where courage would save the day? Chuck’s courage makes him a hero but without it, he would surely have been a “has-been”!
The film ends with Chuck at a new ‘crossroads’ in his life.This is where crucial decisions must be made. Should he go back, venture forward, veer to the right or left? Ironically, though back in civilisation, he is still alone. He has lost the ‘love of his life’ but has gained a new love of life.
Chuck’s answer lies in his previous words of wisdom gained from his exile on the island , namely to “keep breathing” because “tomorrow the sun will rise…who knows what the tide could bring”.