Cast Away
dir. Robert Zemeckis
Opens Fri Dec 22 at the Metro.

THE IDEA of any upper-class American--let alone a Hollywood actor--being marooned on an unpopulated tropical isle is so blatantly assaultive to our collective sense of entitlement that it seems almost pornographic. Certainly, that is the appeal of Cast Away, which takes a lurid delight in cataloging the various losses that accrue upon once-wealthy FedEx international systems supervisor Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) after a freak Christmas Eve plane crash strands him somewhere in the South Pacific. Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) is far too blunt a sensibility to mine anything but the most predictable, shallow conclusions from the situation, and the movie ends up feeling like a cross between an acting exercise and Survivor. The stupid simplicity with which Tom Hanks is shown crafting his world so utterly subverts any but the most priapic observations that one comes away from the film feeling a trifle molested. Or perhaps this is too harsh. Perhaps it is just a bore. As a film, anyway.

As an allegory for the perils of the new America, however, Cast Away is quite fascinating. The film's basic twist--that Noland finally finds his way home after four years, only to see that the world has passed him by--is an obvious allusion to the risks presented to white, upper-middle-class America by the new roller-coaster economy. Establishing Hanks right from the start as a dedicated petit bourgeois, the film even has the audacity to set the opening scene at the newly opened FedEx Moscow branch, and to show Hanks slathering his capitalist know-how all over the clownish Russians. We are meant to see Hanks as a model American capitalist of the sort that our system is loath to lose.

By way of proof, consider the impossibility of Cast Away with any black actor in the lead role. To assume that Americans might miss a non-white, non-upper-class citizen is nothing short of madness; the film would end a few moments after the plane crash. Our hero would be framed, washed up and gasping on the beach, then the camera would pan up, and the credits would roll. And it would still be a superior film.