Monday, April 28, 2008

Great Movie Endings - Part 5 - Cast Away

The deserted island is heaven to city dwellers. The rhythmic churning of tides, the vast expanse of stars at night, and the solitary splendor of one's thoughts: this is paradise. It is recreation in a seemingly perfect sense. The return to the warm oceans of our primordial selves represents a fertile fantasy for tourist brochures and private escape. For my grandparents' generation, the deserted island was the stuff of tiki phantasmagoria. My parents watched Gilligan's Island for glimmers of that place. I settled for reruns.

Warning: Spoilers

Along comes Cast Away (2000) and its promise of a more realistic portrayal of life alone on a tiny island in the South Pacific, where reefs tear the skin with razor cruelty, a diet of coconut milk reeks havoc on one's bowels, and there's nary a monkey-butler to be found. I have no expectation that the Robert Zemeckis-directed movie showed everything, but its story of harried FedEx manager Chuck Noland's transformation from a chunky, privileged synecdoche for modern American life into an emaciated, half-crazed islander rings true, at least to me.

Unfortunately, most folks I know who've seen Cast Away dismiss the movie as dull. No action, little dialogue, laden with existential angst. I love it though: the shameless triumph of Chuck's first bonfire, the quiet majesty of urinating into the ocean under the Milky Way, and the somber pointlessness of a funeral held with no attendees. And I dig the movie's harsh shifts in chronology, particularly Chuck's blink-of-an-eye transportation from battered raft to air-conditioned plane flying back home.

I imagine that solders returning from the battlefield know that feeling too, the whiplash speed at which the vivid present becomes the distant past, at least to outside observers. Those who survive those sickeningly fast transitions must carry the mental lag with them for a long, long time. Even their loved-ones rarely understand.

The movie begins on a dusty road in rural Texas, and it ends there too. Again, a number of people tell me that they can't stand Cast Away's conclusion. Chuck regains his fiancée whom he left at an airport with the promise, "I'll be right back" -- only to lose her again. This damned movie wasn't a love story at all! It is about loss: loss of dignity, loss of possessions, loss of faith in the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of modern life.

At the end of the movie, Chuck has lost everything, carrying his world in a rental car. Yet he is more fully human than he's ever before been. Thus the meaning of the last lines, when Chuck meets Bettina:
Bettina: You look lost.

Chuck: I do?

Bettina: Where ya headed?

Chuck: Well, I was just about to figure that out.

Bettina: Well, that's 83 South. And this road here'll hook you up with I-40 East. Um, if you turn right, that'll take you to Amarillo, Flagstaff, California. And if you head back that direction, you'll find a whole lot of nothing all the way up to Canada.

Chuck: I got it.

Bettina: Well, all right then. Good luck cowboy.
We spend our lives seeking escape from what we've sought. We build cities only to dream of the "Old West." We covet jobs only to romanticize retirement. And we make fetishes out of communication devices only to bemoan the obligations of our hyper-connected world.

But Chuck Noland has found a reprieve on that quiet crossroad amidst our empire of signs. Here, now, his freedom is most real. No one waits. No one trails. Every choice is new. For a moment at least, his life opens as an endless horizon.

Some people hated the ambiguity of his last stare into the camera, for Chuck is clearly not happy in the ways that magazines and television shows have trained us to interpret happiness. Yet he's not sad either. He will not follow Bettina down that dusty road, but he might. Some folks hate not knowing what happens next.

For Chuck, and for this movie, that's the whole point.

Visit IMDB's post on Cast Away.

5 comments:

detroit dog said...

I liked the movie, especially the humanization of Wilson. I've always liked to believe he follows Bettina back down that dusty road. (Partly because her partner's name, by movie's end, is missing from the front gate.)

Pensive post.

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the best movie endings of all time. He's at a crossroads, people, it's not that hard to grasp! Not every movie has to do ALL our thinking for us.

Aktuelle tilstand: said...

This is my favorite Movie and in my imagination Chuck jumps in the car, drives up to the Elvis digging Bettina (worked With elvis playing in the beginning). Chuck loves Elvis too. A hint. A common bond. They are the same age and both are single. Chuck has one hell of a story to tell and he shares it With Bettina and they are in desperate love within a couple of days and married within a couple of months to live forever on the ranch and Dicks name is replaces With chuck.

Aktuelle tilstand: said...

This is my favorite Movie and in my imagination Chuck jumps in the car, drives up to the Elvis digging Bettina (worked With elvis playing in the beginning). Chuck loves Elvis too. A hint. A common bond. They are the same age and both are single. Chuck has one hell of a story to tell and he shares it With Bettina and they are in desperate love within a couple of days and married within a couple of months to live forever on the ranch and Dicks name is replaces With chuck.

Meg G said...

I love this movie. I originally thought it was a love story between chuck and Kelly but I don't think it is. The woman that is his soul mate is Bettina. The fact that they both loved Elvis. Also for chuck to meet her, he had to go through all of that adversity. Bettina had to go through her own adversity/divorce. Interesting how chuck was in Russia the same time as Bettina's husband. I like to think that he followed her down the dusty road.