In 2000, the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, hit the theaters. A critical and commercial success, the movie portrays the life and death struggles FedEx systems engineer Chuck Noland must overcome after a business trip suddenly ends with his flight crashing in the South Pacific. Spared in the crash, Noland washes up on a deserted tropical island.

Tom Hanks In 'Cast Away'

There are several themes in the movie, but none is more evident than that of time. As a driven systems engineer, Chuck Noland is seen putting his profession and the matter of saving time first and foremost in his life. Noland puts efficiency ahead of effectiveness – the clock ahead of the compass, in Covey terms. Though deeply in love and engaged to be married, he answers the call of the company over Christmas with his fiance and ends up on a life-changing flight to Malaysia. Before leaving, he tells his fiance, Kelly, that he will “be right back.” Instead, he spends some 4 years as a castaway and as a result, loses the love of his life.

One important scene in the movie illustrates Noland’s devotion to the clock more than any other. As he is setting up a FedEx office in Moscow, Noland preaches to his new crew: “Time rules over us without mercy. Not caring if we’re healthy or ill. Hungry or drunk. Russian, American, beings from Mars. It’s like a fire, it could either destroy us or it could keep us warm. That’s why every FedEx office has a clock, because we live or we die by the clock. We never turn our back on it and we never ever allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time.”

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And so the systems engineer with time on his mind ends up, ironically, on a deserted island, a castaway, with plenty of time on his hands and nothing to do but survive.

Early on, Noland’s abilities are challenged at every turn as he struggles to find drinkable water and food and make fire and shelter. Time means relatively nothing to him, yet he clings to a pocket watch Kelly gave him just before he left. In it is her picture, the only thing he fears he’ll have left of her.

The movie fast forwards to him years later, now a long-bearded castaway, clothed in a loin cloth, tan and slim from living a life of exertion.

tom hanks shirtless castaway.hollygossip

But after years of loneliness, the monotony of surviving on a deserted island, and the thought of dying on the island, Noland decides to commit suicide, which fails. He despairs that he has control over nothing, not even the ability to kill himself.

One day, while patrolling the beach for flotsam, Noland finds a large piece of plastic siding that washes ashore. It is more wreckage from the plane. He conceives a plan for a raft, one that can take him beyond the island’s formidable barrier reef. Over the years he had studied the weather, wind, and tides and knew when conditions would be optimum for escaping the island on his raft. When the time came he was ready, and successfully set out to sea.

Escaping the island was one thing, but surviving the sea quite another. Once again, time amounts to nothing for Noland as he lay adrift dehydrated, hallucinating, and hoping that he would be seen by a passing freighter or tanker. At last he is.

Coming home proves more of a challenge in some ways than escaping the island. Noland returns home to a world where time has slipped by him. And most sad of all, he learns his fiance has married and raised a family, fearing he would never return.

We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and… knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had… lost her. ‘cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So… I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I – , I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over *nothing*. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

The movie ends ironically with Noland literally at a crossroads in Texas. After having delivered the one package with angel wings on it that he never opened on the island to its address in Texas, Noland comes to an intersection and is not sure where to go next. As he looks at a map, a truck stops by and the young lady driver asks Noland if he needs directions. The young lady gives some basic destinations for each direction and wishes Noland good luck. But as she drives away, Noland notices the same angel wings painted on the truck that had been on the package he just delivered.

The movie ends as Noland looks around at the paths before him and appears to settle on heading in the direction that the young lady took. And so the compass is now Noland’s priority, not the clock. The movie certainly leaves one to wonder how differently Noland’s life would have been if he first looked at the compass and not the clock.

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