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Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is a systems engineer for FedEx whose plane crashes in a terrible storm while on route to Malaysia. With the crew lost to the sea, he survives and washes ashore on a small deserted island along with a few boxes from the airplane’s cargo hold. Noland manages to makes use of most of the items he savages from the FedEx boxes strewn about the beach, including ice skates and a dress. One of these cartons contains a new volleyball, still in the box, which Noland doesn’t see as useful until one day, after cutting his hand while trying to make fire, he lashes out in frustration and pain, grabbing the ball and trowing it in anger. When he calms down, he notices a large bloody hand print on the surface of the ball and after eyeing it for a bit, draws a rudimentary face in the blood. He strips away the box, calls it Wilson, and soon begins talking to it. In time, it becomes his most valuable possession, his only friend, and the greatest treasure he finds on the island.
The Moment: In the first few weeks on the island, Noland learns to use what he’s found from the FedEx boxes to help sustain his existence on the island. He can break open coconuts with the skates and catch fish with the netting of a skirt. Wilson however, becomes his friend and over the next four years, one that changes along with Chuck. As Noland adapts to and masters his environment, he sheds weight, the sun bleaches his hair, and he becomes almost feral. Wilson deflates, a hole splits the crown and Noland fits dry reeds and grass inside, giving the ball some ‘hair’. The two have only each other, and Chuck does nothing without his companion alongside. Like any good friend, Wilson doesn’t always agree with Chuck. In this moment, Noland is considering the chances of surviving at sea and the likelihood of making it off the island. He toils with the decision, the calculations and the odds of it working, all the while communicating his concerns with Wilson, who, to the audience is silent but for Chuck is part of the dialogue. The stress is compounded by the fact that he’s stripped all the usable bark from the saplings on the island, which he uses to make rope. He’s going to safely build a raft. Wilson reminds him that there is still thirty feet of rope already made at the top of the island, to which Noland replies that he doesn’t want to back up there, though he eventually does and we learn that he had a plan to end his life as the rope is dangling from a broken mount with a noose wrapped around and a man-sized hunk of carved tree stump that resembles a person. Back at the cave where Noland lives with his volleyball, he continues to talk with Wilson, frustrated with him for always bringing it up that it was right to run a test on the rope before trying it. This leads to a shift in the conversation where Wilson may have doubts about the success of a raft and Noland grows impatient, telling his friend he’d rather take his chances on the open sea than spend he rest of his life taking to a volleyball. He then grabs it and kicks it out of the cave where it disappears. Chuck squats back down, momentarily satisfied with himself, though it doesn’t last long. He jolts upright with a sudden fear and begins to beckon for Wilson, running out of the cave in the growing dusk, frantically shouting out to the ball. When he finds it, he leaps into the water where it lays wedged among some rocks and cradles it with joy and sadness, saying, “Never again, never again.”
Why It Matters: There probably isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t at least once talked to an inanimate object (though probably laced with profanity as its hurled across the room). Especially if we are alone, we may rattles off a few words to the toaster to hurry up or the TV to stop fritzing out. But Chuck is going the extra mile and having whole conversations with his volleyball and believing it is talking back. By anthropomorphizing the ball, Noland creates a “being” in which to work out his issues verbally, giving himself a dissenting voice, even if it is his own. He is problem-solving in his own mind but finding a way to separate himself from the experience in order to give the argument to each of his problems more weight, and thus more attention. The psychology behind it is real, as a person suffering isolation and extreme loneliness regularly make strong connections with non-human objects, expressing to them as if they were. Wilson has become Noland’s quasi-alter-ego. Notice how the overweight Noland becomes slim, his pasty while flesh deeply tanned, and his short black hair grow long, blond and stringy. So too does Wilson deflate and lose much of its girth, the bright white skin turning dusty tan and a patch of bleached ‘hair’ soon adorns its head. Noland is talking to himself, literally.
The moment is revealing as it shows the internal apprehension Noland is feeling about making an escape off the island. For more than four years, it’s been his home, and while he desperately wants to go back to the real world, it has become a kind of haven and leaving it means no turning back. He either makes it to sea and is rescued or dies out in the open water. This little battle with Wilson is the culmination of that fear, and the indecision is tearing him up. So upset with the rational side of himself voiced in his mind by Wilson, he kicks the very embodiment of it out of the cave. It’s a significant moment as Chuck identifies Wilson as a volleyball while he propels it away, signifying that he does realize what he is doing and perhaps wants to be free of it. But that he chases after the ball and is in genuine anguish at the thought of losing Wilson shows just how achingly lonely he is and how deep the connection is. It’s also the primer for what comes later and allows that moment to be so much more powerful. Credit goes to Hanks for making Wilson come to life and creating a great character moment. Are you curious about what Wilson and the Whale at the end represent? Read this.
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