Running time: 144 minutes
Premise: After a FedEx systems engineer’s plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean, he finds himself fighting to survive on a deserted island.
Designing Principle: Sometimes a love that keeps us alive might have to be given up due to life’s circumstances.
The sheer genius of this script has unfortunately been overlooked by many. First of all, this is indeed, a Romance genre, but it is more of Drama genre, with Adventure as the spine for the Desire Line. And further, this is Tragic Romance: Oh! What could have been!
The Hero is flawed in the beginning of the story, as his Desire is to be a workaholic, and by the way, he’s also getting married to a great girl. There is conflict about this arrangement, as we can see by the “looks” that the girl gives to the Hero when he talks like a mechanical robot about the importance of “time.” The script does not dwell on the Romance genre from the first few pages – Therefore, the audience does not have a vested interest in the Hero’s love interest despite the fact that their very meet-up is the Inciting Incident of the story.
We also see, from the very first scene, the symbolic importance of “time” vis a vis a vast and seemingly barren land of farms and dirt road – The Fed-Ex truck, a lone vehicle, arrives on time- The importance of “time” is ironic, as the Opening Story World is barren, empty, almost as if time has no beginning or end here – Very symbolic use of Story World for the writer – Similar to the ocean- its vast grandeur and beauty, but it can be fierce and menacing – Similar to a vision of outer space – Total emptiness. This “time” element portends for what lies ahead in Act 2, on a desert island where “time” no longer has any significance.
The genius of writing this Story World is that man must find beauty no matter where he is: Noticing the stars, the flashing lights of the moon, the red/brown of the Tennessee clay, the clapboard houses set off in the setting sun, the isolation on an island that is barren, yet lush with vegetation. How difficult it is when man must survive and bleed and make mistakes as the Hero of this story does – All to survive, which is the new Desire Line beginning in Act 2.
Another genius writing element is the love that the Hero has for his fiancée. The love is enduring, despite the loneliness, sheer devastation of being stranded on an island with little or no hope of ever being rescued. The photo of his fiancée is in the family heirloom locket that she gave him for a Christmas gift – The last time he saw her before his plane crashed.
To write a Hero in an adventure/drama/romance story, the decision must be made as to which genre should be primary. In the case of Cast Away, the writer decided on Drama and Romance as the Designing Principle, and Adventure for the spine of the plot. The Hero’s Desire is to find a way to survive and get rescued. The island is both his savior and his prison. He understands this, as time goes by. The photo of his great love is also his savior and his prison, as he knows he will probably never see her again.
Adventure is a sub-plot of Action. However, this is not an Action story by any means. In Action genre, the Hero must think “on his feet” and engage in action at every turn. Honor is the driving force behind an action Hero. The elements of Drama override the Action genre here though – There is a very strong moral dilemma in Drama genre. The characters are intimate and the Opponent is also a known entity, as opposed to Myth, whereby the Hero encounters dragons and slays them, one after another. In Cast Away, the Hero says that he even tried to hang himself at one point, but true to form, after he tested the bough, it broke and even his attempt to kill himself was not in his power.
The Premise of a story for film should include three elements: The Hero; the Inciting Incident; and the Hero’s Desire line. So the Inciting Incident should have been the plane crash, if Adventure (sub-plot of Action) were the genre that took precedence. But the Inciting Incident is when the Hero and the love of his life meet up during the Christmas holiday, thus taking from the Hero a break in the concept of time that means so much to him in the beginning of his Character Arc. So the screenwriter made a very important decision: The Romance genre, key to the Designing Principle, is really the key to the plot of this story, as opposed to the Adventure/Action genre.
But the Hero’s Desire Line is in sync with the Adventure/Action genre. The fact that his Desire is also to be reunited with the love of his life is the moral dilemma that he has always faced for the better part of his life. So herein lies the genius of this story: Sometimes a love that keeps us alive might have to be given up due to life’s circumstances.
There is a story element called a Double Reversal in Romance genre: Both the Hero and his great love do a reversal from where they were emotionally in the beginning of the story. We see this in a very powerful way in Cast Away. Both characters have a moral epiphany and then a Self-Revelation that has most of us in tears because this is a cathartic experience for anyone who has ever loved and then lost…The genius of the writer was to have the FedEx employee whose wife was dying of cancer as the Hero’s audience, while the Hero is telling in exposition before the Moral Epiphany and Climax scene what the Designing Principle of this story was really all about.
One word about the use of Wilson, the volleyball, as a character. Obviously, to craft a story with a Hero on a desert island would be a challenge. Because in film, as opposed to novel, the audience needs to know what’s in the character’s mind- what his feelings are- his emotions, etc. So the Point of View Character, also called an Ally serves this purpose. The writer came up with the idea of Wilson, the volleyball, so the Hero would have someone to emote to and thereby express his feelings to the audience in a believable way. Again, the cathartic emotions we feel are that if we were stranded on a desert island and we had the ingenuity to craft a “volleyball friend,” we would absolutely do it!