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The Martian and Cast Away-Films Featuring Fortitude

green tree beside seashore near green mountain
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by Rick Bretz

Every now and then a movie comes along that can teach us a lesson.  Sometimes two.

Cast Away

Two of the best examples of this are from the year 2000 and 2015.  They are Cast Away starring Tom Hanks and The Martian starring Matt Damon.  One is a FedEx Manager while the other is an Astronaut and Botanist.

The Martian

In the digital color projection of these movies, the script carries a message that the audience can use long after the credits have rolled past as they file out of the theater.

gray and white robot
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Both stories involve some form of flight.  The Martian’s Matt Damon character is left behind when the crew must initiate an emergency lift-off from the Mars’ surface.  The other begins with a plane.  with Tom Hanks aboard, crashing into the Pacific Ocean far from civilization.  Hanks drifts exhausted in his life raft until hitting an Island.

Both barely escape death at the beginning of each movie.  From there, life and the movie really begin. The theme is clear to the audience—survival.

Another Tom Hanks movie comes to mind when thinking about these characters. In Apollo 13, the Ed Harris character portraying actual Flight Director Gene Krantz shouts to the Apollo ground crew, “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things any worse by guessing.”

Hanks and Damon spend almost the entire movie deciphering, untangling—literally, and solving their challenges to remain alive.

“You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”–Mark Watney.

FOOD-A critical obstacle to hurdle was finding food, or in the case of Damon, figure out how to increase the food supply to last for many more Sols until mission control could figure out a rescue plan.  For Hanks in Cast Away, he needed to find food that would sustain life for months and years.  Living on coconuts was not going to cut it for very long.  Hanks needed fish and fire.  He figured out how to create both.

SHELTER-The other Hierarchy of needs involves making, finding or moving your shelter.  For Hanks, it meant first using the life raft as a lean-to tent and then moving into a cave by the ocean.  Damon had shelter at first and then a disaster forced him to rethink his shelter plans and move into the Mars rover vehicle.  Each one adapted to his circumstances as the movie move along.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

MOVEMENT and TRAVELLING-Transportation moved both movies along.  For Hanks, it was the plane, then the life raft, then building a raft out of logs and manufactured rope by the end of the movie so he could be picked up by a freighter, then flown home and then get his old Jeep vehicle from the beginning of movie.  Damon’s character had the rover, but he also had to figure out how to sustain the battery life over long distances.   This needed to be done to reach the spacecraft he would use to carry him to safety.  He had to adapt the spacecraft to lighten the load so he could reach the recovery spacecraft waiting for him.  This and he still had to get creative at the end.

COMMUNICATION MODES-Communication was a significant part of each movie also.  Damon’s character solved the communications issue by finding a communications satellite, digging it out of the sand, bring it back, then assembling it and turning it on.  From there, remembered that he could communicate by computer language ASCI table, using the hexadecimal and character columns and transmitted pictures until they could get the rover communications altered to send out messages.

Hexadecimal Language

Hanks’ issue involved more than just communicating with his rescuers.  First, he tried to alert any rescue planes by making a help sign in the sand and then by using sticks.  When he realized that “help” would not arrive any time soon, his next problem was loneliness, evolving into suicidal craziness from not talking to anyone.  He used the trick of making an inanimate object his best friend so he could talk to her and then bounce off ideas to see if they were valid.  I use bounce because the object was a ball named Wilson and could have been a replacement for his girlfriend Kelly Friers, played Helen Hunt.  His next communication was equally important, talking to the lady whose package he saved from the very beginning.  He was at a crossroads literally and figuratively in life and the director left it up to you to complete the story.

TOOLS FOR SURVIVAL-Tools and how to use them played an important part for both characters. Damon used the tools he had to start planting crops and to save himself with duct tape.  Hanks used netting from a dress to catch seafood and used the blades on a set of skates for a sharp instrument.  In the end, the most important tool was a left-over damaged port-a-potty for a sail to get him out to sea. He also used tree bark for rope.

Resiliency and Determination-Both Damon and Hanks had the intestinal fortitude to overcome circumstances put in their paths.  They also had the ability to recognize when they needed to take a chance.  For Damon,  exiting the spaceship at the right time to meet with the tethered rescuer proved opportunity combined with preparation can yield a fortuitous outcome.  For Hanks, his decision rested on building a raft with a makeshift sail so he could have a chance of reaching a sea vessel.

Movies are chiefly for entertainment purposes but some of them can teach us life lessons.  If life puts a rock in front of you, it doesn’t mean you can’t work the problem and solve it, and then move the rock out of the way and get on with your life.  Nothing is permanent–except traffic, death, and taxes.  Everything else is temporary and can be overcome, even taxes if you have the right accountant.

Matt Damon said it for everyone again at the end of his movie.  “You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

In life, if you solve enough problems, you get to continue because you just never know what the tide may bring in.