Cast Away: why do we care about Wilson?


I recently had the pleasure of enjoying Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away, a survival drama starring Tom Hanks who gets stuck on a desert island following a plane crash. It's available on Sky Cinema right now. But, having watched it all the way through, the real star of the show was Chuck's (Hanks) only friend on the desert island - Wilson.

Never before when watching a movie have I cared more about an inanimate object. Why?

Minor spoilers for Cast Away incoming.

We care about Wilson because humans are, at heart, socially motivated. You might call yourself an introvert but in some way you will thrive from human interaction. Try as you might, humans can't escape that. If we are denied the power of this interaction, pushing eachother to be better, then (like Chuck) why not invent it? It's a very human thing to do.

In the film, Wilson is conceived as Chuck loses all hope trying to make fire. Then, the blood from Chuck's crippled hand creates a face. An optimistic personality for his character to latch onto. Without Wilson, Chuck may well have thrown himself from the highest peak of the island. Instead, he made fire and eventually got himself off four years later.

An "over the shoulder" shot of Wilson and Chuck conversing.
An "over the shoulder" shot of Wilson and Chuck conversing.

But there's more to it than that. Chuck's volleyball friend is also a connection between us and him. Through Chuck's conversations with Wilson we're given an insight into Chuck's thoughts. Wilson is treated as a character in his own right, given that right by the filmmaker. Through Wilson we care about Chuck's journey and, ultimately, that drove me to care more about Wilson. It's likely that, without that ball's indirect motivation, we wouldn't care as much about Hanks' motivations by the end.

The unyielding strength of a volleyball surviving a desert island for four long years is what makes Wilson's ending all the more emotional. There's a great video on Amazon Prime called Why Do We Care About a VolleyBall? which goes into other explanations with a lot more detail and I'd urge you to check it out once you're done with Cast Away.

But I suppose the overriding message is "hang on in there". Even with no social interaction we can get through as many lockdowns as we need to. Make sure to interact with as many people as possible in whatever way possible. There is always an end in sight.

Any Good? Cast Away is a solid lockdown watch that reveals the value of human interaction. It's available on Sky Cinema now.