Cast Away (2000) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A FedEx executive undergoes a physical and emotional transformation after crash landing on a deserted island.

  • Memphis-based FedEx operations executive Chuck Noland and grad student Kelly Frears have long dated and lived together, and despite each being the love of the other's life, have not gotten married because of their respective busy schedules, especially Chuck's as he is more often on business trips than he is at home. That marital status changes when on Christmas Day 1995 as Chuck is rushing off to catch yet another FedEx plane for a business trip, he gives Kelly a ring. That flight experiences technical difficulties, and goes down somewhere in the south Pacific. In a life raft, a relatively unharmed Chuck washes up on shore what he will learn is a deserted island, he unaware what has happened to any of his fellow flight mates, or the plane. However several of the packages on board for delivery do wash up on shore with him, those packages which he initially treats with respect. Chuck realizes that his priority is survival - which primarily means food, water, shelter and fire - and rescue. But survival is also in an emotional sense. To fulfill that emotional need, he has an heirloom pocket watch with Kelly's photo that she gave him as a Christmas present, and eventually opening the FedEx packages, a Wilson volleyball on which he paints a face and which he names Wilson. As time progresses, Chuck goes through a range of emotions, but if rescue is ever in the cards, he realizes that he has to find a way to get off the island, which is seemingly impossible in his circumstance due to the strong on shore surf he cannot get beyond without assistance. What Chuck may not fully realize is the longer he is not rescued, the harder it will be for him to return to his old life in its entirety if he ever is rescued. Although the thought of Kelly is what largely keeps him motivated to be rescued, Kelly, who probably believes him to be dead, may have moved on emotionally from him in the intervening time.

  • Flying from one country to another, troubleshooting problems and arranging package transfers all over the world, the driven but overworked and time-obsessed Federal Express executive, Chuck Noland, is living a hectic life. In 1995, against the backdrop of the impending New Year's Eve, an unforeseen complication forces Noland to leave his sad but understanding girlfriend, Kelly, behind, and catch a plane to Malaysia, only to end up marooned on an uncharted, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Chuck has all the time in the world; however, bereft of the comforts of civilisation, tending to his fundamental needs now becomes a constant struggle. Now, Chuck, the only living soul on the islet, must summon up the strength to survive. But, can he resist despair, and maintain hope to stay alive?

  • After FedEx systems engineer Chuck Noland is ripped out of his hasty life by the clock in a plane crash, he finds himself alone on the shores of a tropical island. First, frustration gets to him and then he realizes how little his chances are to ever get back to civilization. Four years later, Chuck has learned very well how to survive on his own: mending his dental health, catching fish with a spear, predicting the weather with a self-made calendar. A photograph of his girlfriend Kelly has kept his hopes alive all these years. Finally, Chuck takes the opportunity to take off for home: he sets off on a wooden raft with a sail that has washed ashore.

  • Chuck Noland is a FedEx manager who demands that everything must be on time and travels the world to make sure punctuality is on top of everything else. He has a girlfriend, Kelly, with whom he is deeply in love with and family he hardly sees. When work intrudes on Christmas Eve, Chuck has a quick gift exchange in the car and kisses Kelly goodbye. He boards a delivery plane going overseas which gets caught in a horrendous storm and crashes into the Pacific. The sole survivor Chuck washes up on a remote island along with several FedEx packages that he must use for supplies. With limited luxury, he adapts to the island over the course of 1,500 nights. When Chuck finally sees his chance he rafts out on the ocean and fortunately is spotted. After a bittersweet welcome-back reception, Chuck finds Kelly has married another man and has children. But he is missing more than her. For all his life his objective was work. For four years, it was survival. Now Chuck is compelled to live.

  • Chuck, a top international manager for FedEx, and Kelly, a Ph.D. student, are in love and heading towards marriage. Then Chuck's plane to Malaysia ditches at sea during a terrible storm. He's the only survivor, and he washes up on a tiny island with nothing but some flotsam and jetsam from the aircraft's cargo. Can he survive in this tropical wasteland? Will he ever return to woman he loves?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) is a systems engineer for Federal Express. He shows some Moscow (Russia) staff how FedEx does business. The most important thing he tells them about is time: that the package sorting must be completed precisely on schedule. To prove it, he opens a package he sent to himself from FedEx's headquarters and his home base in Memphis, Tennessee, that contains a small timer. Chuck stops it at 87 hours, which he says is a deplorable delivery time considering FedEx's chief business strategy of delivering packages overnight. While yelling at the staff, the translator brings up a past incident where Chuck stole a kid's bike when his delivery vehicle broke down. Chuck insists that the story has been hyperbolized and that he merely borrowed the bike and that he still got his deliveries done. Chuck launches the crew into the package sort with a time limit of three hours. With 15 minutes left, the sort is threatened when one of the Moscow office's trucks is booted in Red Square. The package sorting is carried out in the street. He calls his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt) and leaves a message saying he'll be back there in less than 24 hours and that he needs to see a dentist for a tooth that's bothering him. After the sort is done and he's back at the airport, he talks to his coworker and friend Stan (Nick Searcy). One of the crew asks about Stan's wife, who's been battling cancer and isn't doing well. The mood turns somber and Chuck looks thoughtful about the news.

    Chuck returns to Memphis, FedEx headquarters, and visits Kelly, who is a PhD student. During dinner with her family on Christmas Eve, he gets a message that he needs to go to Malaysia. They drive to his departure point at the airport and they exchange their Christmas gifts. He gives her a bunch of kitchen items, she gives him an antique watch that belonged to her grandfather. Inside the lid is a picture of her. Chuck is quite taken with the watch and promises her he'll always keep it set to Memphis time to remind him to come home. Right before he leaves for his plane, he gives her a small ring box. Though it's not shown explicitly, it's an engagement ring. He'd planned to propose on New Year's Eve but decided to do it earlier. He tells her "Ill be right back." He is the only passenger and rides in the jump seat of a FedEx cargo MD-11 across the Pacific Ocean.

    Chuck wakes up when the plane bumps in some turbulence. The plane has encountered a fierce storm. The pilots attempt to fly around it but they've fallen out of radio contact with Fiji. Chuck goes to the bathroom to freshen up a bit. Suddenly the door flies open and Chuck is nearly sucked out of the plane due to depressurization. He gets back to his seat and is given a life raft by one of the crew. The plane goes straight down and crashes in the ocean. Water rushes into the fuselage in a flash. Chuck makes it to the surface and climbs in the raft, seeing one of the engines explode. Chuck passes out and is washed onto the shore of a very small tropical island. He discovers immediately that his pager is waterlogged and that Kelly's watch is equally ruined. He also finds out very quickly that he's alone, though the sound of falling coconuts trick him into thinking someone else may be stalking him. Desperate to find food and fresh water, Chuck spends a lengthy time trying to open a coconut. When throwing them at a large rock and smashing them on a smaller rock fail, he uses a sharp rock to finally cut the shell. He's also able to spear small crabs but without any fire to cook them, they aren't a good food source.

    He explores the island, finding a small cave in the rock and finds a total of eleven FedEx packages from the crash that have washed ashore. He also discovers the body of one of the aircraft's pilots and buries him. At night on the beach Chuck sees the lights of a ship. Using a small flashlight he recovered from the body of the pilot, he tries to signal the ship but is unsuccessful.

    The next morning he attempts to leave the island in the rubber raft from the jet. The high breakers over the coral reef surrounding the island turn the raft over. He's tossed onto the reef and his thigh is badly lacerated. Recovering from the accident. he begins to build a simple camp and opens the FedEx parcels. He discovers several items that aid him in his survival including a pair of ice skates, a leather and lace dress, videotapes and a legal document declaring a divorce. Another parcel contains a volley ball that eventually becomes his companion. One of the parcels is decorated with a pair of wings and for unexplained reasons he doesn't open it. He tries to build a fire by rubbing a stick against a piece of wood, but cuts his hand. In a fury, he grabs the volley ball and throws it. His cut hand leaves a bloody imprint on the ball and from that he adds in a face, naming it by its brand name, "Wilson". The ball becomes his companion. Sometime later he describes to Wilson the flight path of his jet compared to its last known position and calculates that the search area is over 500,000 square miles, twice the size of Texas. He realizes its doubtful that he'll ever be found.

    Chuck uses the lace from the dress as a fishing net, eating a small minnow he catches raw, though he's clearly repulsed by it. He also spends a lengthy amount of time rubbing two sticks together to build a fire. The process is frustrating but Chuck perseveres, refining his technique and finally gets a large fire going. Chuck creates a rudimentary home in a small cave that shields him from tropical storms that occasionally hit the island. Still suffering from the tooth that was bothering him before he left Memphis, it has abscessed and is extremely painful and swollen. Desperate, he finally resorts to using the sharp end of an ice skate blade with a rock as a hammer to extract the tooth.

    Four years pass. Chuck has lost more than 50 pounds and his hair and beard are long and unkempt. He survives day-to-day. During a storm two of the walls of a broken fiberglass portable toilet are tossed on shore. When he sees it blown by the wind, he is suddenly energized with the idea of building a raft that will use the fiberglass walls like a makeshift sail that could possibly get him over the larger breakers surrounding the island. He chops down trees and lays out his raft. To tie the poles together, he braids rope from local tree bark and from the video tape. He counts the days necessary to catch the northeast trade winds that he hopes will take him into the shipping lanes and rescue. Chuck isn't certain where he is headed but figures that he would rather die at sea that spend the rest of his life alone on the island. At one point he imagines that Wilson is telling him the plan won't work and he punts Wilson out of his cave. Immediately remorseful, Chuck runs outside and finds Wilson, apologizing to him.

    Chuck prepares food, water, and other necessities for his escape. He also tells Wilson that he'll have to "make rope again." Chuck cuts down saplings on the island and peels the bark from them to braid. When he finishes scouring the island and finds he's cut down every sapling he can, he tells Wilson he'll have to make the rest of the rope from videotape, which won't be as strong as the tree bark. When Wilson "suggests" where Chuck can get more rope, Chuck becomes very reluctant. The extra rope was a length Chuck had made when he was contemplating suicide a few years before. Chuck climbs to the top of the island's peak and retrieves the rope, which he'd tied to a dummy of himself to test it.

    Chuck ties his 'companion' Wilson and the FedEx parcel decorated with wings to the raft. With the new sail and a pair of makeshift oars, he's able to sail over the reef surf and escape the island and lagoon. He sails for many encounters a few storms -- the sail doubles as a shelter -- and continues fishing and collecting rainwater to survive. One day, following a heavy storm, an exhausted Chuck is awakened by water in his face, apparently from the spout of a whale, and sees Wilson floating away. He tries to rescue Wilson but, afraid of losing the raft, he is forced to let Wilson go. He is despondent over losing Wilson. He has nearly given up hope of rescue when he is wakened by another whale's spout. He turns over to see a container ship passing close by. They signal that they've seen him.

    A month later, Chuck is flown home to Memphis and is the guest of honor at a large company-organized welcome reception. On the plane back, he talks to Stan who tells Chuck they had a funeral with a coffin that they filled with small items in Chuck's honor. Stan's wife also had passed away during Chuck's time away and Chuck reflects on how Stan had to go through two funerals very close together. The reception is attended by FedEx's president, Fred Smith (in a cameo appearance) and a large buffet is served -- Chuck looks thoughtfully at the large crab legs that were served, perhaps thinking of fishing for crabs on the island.

    Kelly intended to meet Chuck at the celebration but she is feeling very confused. Her husband (Chris Noth), an orthodontist that did dental work on Chuck, apologizes for her absence. He tells Chuck that Kelly is having a difficult time coping with the his sudden reappearance. He asks Chuck to give her more time. Looking out of the window he sees Kelly in tears, comforted by her husband, and watches her get in a car and leave.

    Later that evening, Chuck takes a taxi to Kelly's home. She seems to be expecting him and invites him inside. They talk about little things and he discovers how much her life and ambitions have changed and how she coped with his presumed death. Chuck gives Kelly back the watch she had given him telling her that it is a family heirloom and should remain in her family. She tells him that the company presumed a hazardous package caught fire and caused the crash. She shows him that his island was more than 600 miles from the Cook Islands around which the search had been conducted. He had drifted 500 miles in his raft before he was found. He decides to keep her picture. She gives him the keys to his Jeep which she had kept. They apologize to each other for all that has happened and he drives off slowly in the pouring rain.

    Kelly suddenly runs after him, shouting his name. He backs up and they embrace fiercely in the pouring rain. She tells him that she always believed he was alive, but that others said she had to move on. She tells him that he's the love of her life. He says he loves her too. They talk for a few more minutes in his car but Chuck tells Kelly that she needs to go home, signifying his respect for her moving on with her life.

    Chuck later describes the meeting with Kelly to Stan, and how he understands and accepts that while they will always love each other, their lives have gone in different directions and they cannot be together. He confesses to the utter despair and helplessness he felt on the island, describes his failed attempt at suicide, and how he received assurance that he was supposed to live and came to terms with his isolation. While he has just lost her again, he accepts it and understands he has to take live one day at a time because you never know what the tide will bring.

    He drives to Texas with the FedEx package decorated with wings in his Jeep. He attempts to deliver it at a ranch with a wrought-iron gate reading "Bettina" but no one is there. He leaves it at the door with a note stating that the parcel saved his life. He drives south and at a four-way intersection and gets out of his car to look at a map. A friendly, pretty woman in an old pick-up truck stops and asks him if he is lost. Smiling, he confesses he hasn't made up his mind where he was going. She tells him where the four roads lead, and that north, the direction Chuck had just come from, leads to a whole lot of nothingness all the way to Canada. She drives north and as she pulls away, Chuck spots the same pair of wings that were on the package on the tail gate of her truck. Chuck walks to the center of the intersection and looks in each direction for a few seconds. He then turns north and his gaze lingers in the direction the woman drove.

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