Cast Away might be a work of fiction, but here’s how real life inspired the survival drama. Written by William Broyles Jr. and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future), the film follows FedEx executive Noland (Tom Hanks) after a plane crash leaves him stranded on a desert island in the South Pacific. Over the next four years, he struggles to survive and hold on to his sanity, with Wilson – a volleyball with a face painted from Noland’s own bloody handprint – being his only “companion.”
After braving the elements and living off the land for years, he eventually makes his way back home. While researching the Cast Away screenplay, William Broyles Jr. consulted several professional survivalist experts before putting himself directly in Noland’s shoes by isolating himself on an island off the Sea of Cortez. Many of the moments portrayed in Cast Away came directly from Broyles’s own experiences during his days on the island.
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Broyles discussed his time in isolation and how it later inspired the screenplay in an interview with The Austin Chronicle. On the island, Broyles speared and ate stingrays, drank coconut juice, built a tent out of bamboo and palm leaves, and struggled to make his own fire. Recalling the loneliness he felt during his days on the island, Broyles explained how the experience gave him an understanding of “what it means to be truly alone.” When Broyles found a deserted volleyball on the beach one day he named it Wilson, which of course served as inspiration for Noland’s only friend during his four years on the island in Cast Away.
Cast Away was initially inspired by Robinson Crusoe, and it was Tom Hanks who had an idea to do a modern-day version of Daniel Defoe’s classic adventure story. Hanks told The Hollywood Reporter that he was inspired by a news article about FedEx. “I realized that 747s filled with packages fly across the Pacific three times a day,” said Hanks. He wondered, “what happens if (the plane) goes down?” It was this question that sparked the idea that would evolve into Cast Away. Like Defoe’s historical fiction, Cast Away was inspired by the life of real-world explorers. Alexander Selkirk is thought to have been the biggest inspiration behind Defoe’s novel, and he was a Scottish castaway who spent four years on a Pacific island in the early 1700s. After being rescued by an English expedition in 1709, Edward Cooke, who was part of the rescue team, wrote about Selkirk in his book A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World.
Other real-life castaways who inspired literature’s most infamous stories of survival include Pedro Serrano, a Spanish sailor who was said to have been shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Nicaragua in the 1520s, and Ada Blackjack – sometimes referred to as “the female Crusoe” – a seamstress who was stranded on an island near Siberia in 1921 and survived two years before being rescued. These explorers and others like them helped to inspire Tom Hanks’ Chuck Noland in Cast Away.
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