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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Cast Away can be found here.
On Christmas day, Memphis-based FedEx executive Chuck Norland (Tom Hanks) takes a business trip to Malaysia, reluctantly leaving behind his fiancee, PhD student Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt). His flight crashes in the South Pacific Ocean. Washing up on an uninhabited island, Chuck attempts to survive for four years with only a locket containing Kelly's picture and a Wilson volleyball to keep him company.
Cast Away was filmed from an original screenplay by American screenwriter William Broyles, Jr.
Right after Chuck is forcibly blown out of the FedEx airplane lavatory, one of the pilots can be heard shouting, "Explosion!" However, when Chuck returns home, Kelly reveals that it was never discovered exactly what caused the aircraft to crash but that it was possibly some mislabeled hazardous material in the cargo that ignited. From the evidence provided in the film, there are a few possibilities. First, we get a glimpse of the weather head-up-display prior to the crash; it is easy to see that the aircraft is surrounded by hazardous weather and turbulence. Second, we can see, through the cockpit windows, a brewing lightning storm. Chuck is quite literally sucked out of the lavatory, a tell-tale sign of a loss of cabin pressure. This means that the integrity of the structure of the aircraft was breached. As the aircraft is making its final mayday calls before plunging into the Pacific, we hear the pilots indicate an engine fire (if not multiple engine fires). In summary, we can assume that the aircraft's structural integrity was breached by some sort of explosion, resulting in a loss of cabin pressure, and that something incited an engine fire (this could be a number of things, anything from Kelly's hypothesis to a lightning strike on the aircraft). A lightning strike or electrical spark from the storm is more probable than a "mislabeled cargo container."
Cast Away was filmed on the island of Monuriki, Fiji, in the Mamanuca Islands off the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island. A map can be found here. Monuriki is located in the upper left-hand corner. In the movie, however, Chuck was told that he was marooned on an island "about 600 miles south of the Cook Islands." There is no land between Antarctica and the southern-most Cook Islands of Mangaia.
Wilson Sporting Goods is a company that manufactures balls for every sport, volleyballs are one of them. Their brand name is printed on the volleyball, which is why Chuck names the it "Wilson." In a more personal sense, Wilson is the sole reason why Chuck stays sane during his time on the island. The isolation of living alone on an island for four years is enough to drive anyone crazy, and Chuck kept this from happening by creating the "Wilson" character. Over the four years, "Wilson" serves as a second voice inside Chuck's head, personifying the battling thoughts over whether he can survive, if it's worth it to keep going, etc. Ultimately, though, this salvage from insanity could itself have turned into insanity, but Chuck depletes the chance of this happening in the scene where he lets "Wilson" drift away on the ocean.
In one of the first scenes in the film, when Chuck and Kelly are at home watching television just before Christmas, we are shown a close-up of several sailing certificates in Chuck's name. Therefore, we can assume that Chuck is an experienced sailor and would know the proper methods to determine the direction of the wind, how far he had drifted, etc. The diagram that looks like a figure-8 on the wall of his cave is called an analemma and is found on any globe. It also aided Chuck in his calculations.
Realizing that he's lost Kelly to her new life, Chuck draws upon his experiences on the island to remind himself 'who knows what the tide could bring.' He attempts to deliver the yellow angel-winged FedEx package to the Dick-Bettina (now missing the Dick) ranch with a note saying that the package saved his life, but no one is home. While parked at a crossroads looking at a map, he is approached by a woman (Lari White) in a pick-up truck who asks whether he is lost. She informs him that south leads to route 83, east leads to I40, west goes to Amarillo, Flagstaff, and California, and.that north, the direction Chuck just came from, leads to nothingness. She wishes him luck, and then heads north herself. Chuck notices the yellow angel wings on the back of her pickup, realizes that she is probably Bettina, and walks to the middle of the intersection, looking in each direction for a few seconds. In the final scene, he turns north, and his gaze lingers after Bettina's truck.
A divorce occurs throughout the course of the film. At the start of the film (when the FedEx package was delivered to Russia), it was Dick with the cowboy hat who opened the door along with his Russian mistress. This gives a reasonable explanation for the divorce and the reason that the word "Dick" was removed from the ranch sign.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, director Robert Zemeckis was asked in an interview what was in the unopened package. He replied that it was a waterproof, solar-powered, satellite phone. In other words, it is not important that the audience know. In the original screenplay, the package contained a couple of bottles of steak sauce. In the third draft of the screenplay, the package is opened by Chuck on the island after he has lived there for 1,000 days. In the package he finds two cans of salsa and a note that reads, "You said our life was a prison. Dull. Boring. Empty. I can't begin to tell you how much that hurt. I don't want to lose you. I'm enclosing some salsa, the verde you like. Use it on your sticky rice and think of home. Then come home—to me. We'll find the spice in our lives again. Together. I love you. Always. Bettina."
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