Thursday, January 14, 2010

No Longer Castaways

Cast Away

What is it about the idea of being "lost" that we love? And not just fans of the reality show, either. This one goes waaay back in one form or another. Odysseus and his men, attempting to return home from the Trojan War, find themselves trapped in a Greek myth replete with a Cyclops and entrancing Sirens who lead men to disaster. Freed from Egyptian captivity, the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years. More recently, Castaway washes Tom Hanks up on an unmarked island like Robinson Crusoe, only his man Friday is a soccer ball named Wilson.

Obviously, we enjoy seeing characters placed in extreme situations which they manage to overcome. It tells us come hell or high water, by hook or by crook, we're going to make it. But that in itself suggests we somehow identify with the experience of being lost, otherwise what's the point?

What makes Hank's character so appealing is the fact that he holds nothing back. Civilized at first, he cooks the fish he catches. Later on, he ceases to bother and tears the flesh with his fingers, eating it raw. Eventually, he decides life isn't worth the effort if there's nothing more to it than survival. And, of course, that's when he realizes he has to go on living, taking each day for what it is, whether he has reason to hope or not.

"Lost" has to be a metaphor for what many of us feel. In whatever ways we've tried to establish a life, we find ourselves "lost and alone on some forgotten highway, traveled by many, remembered by few." We may not use those terms and the feeling itself may even lie beyond words at the rim of consciousness, but it's there nonetheless. It's there because we exit the theater as uncertain as Hanks, standing at that West Texas crossroads in the final scene. Choices, always choices. Does he chase down the gal in the pickup truck or what? We don't know because it's his choice to make and we have ours.

The idea of being lost scares us and what we learn from Hanks is, we don't have to be. When life gets stripped down to its essential elements, when we're no longer distracted by all the extraneous litter that accumulates around us -- this can be the place were things finally become clear. We are going to go on living whether we feel alone or not, we're going to make things work, we're going to make things better, and somehow, we're going to find a way off this damned island and back to the real world, even if we have to swim for it.

(Low resolution image of poster for the film Castaway used to provide ready identification of the film and subject matter under discussion. No comparable free images are available. Copyright presumed to be held by Twentieth Century Fox, 2000, image via Wikipedia)

(Sweet Surrender, words and music by John Denver, copyright 1974)
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