TOM HANKS: Oh, my.
HELEN HUNT: My granddaddy used it on the Southern Pacific.
TOM HANKS: I'm always going to keep this on Memphis time.
HELEN HUNT: Merry Christmas.
TOM HANKS: I love you.
HELEN HUNT: I love you too.
TOM HANKS: I'll be right back.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: In the movie "Cast Away," the great success of this past Christmas season, Tom Hanks is alone on screen for one hour and 15 minutes.
TOM HANKS: Brace for impact!
ROGER ROSENBLATT: A FedEx employee, he has survived a FedEx plane crash, and has been tossed on a remote island in the Pacific, where he lives entirely on his own for four years. During that time, he creates companionship by painting a primitive face on a volleyball, the contents of one of the FedEx's packages which has washed ashore with him. He calls his friend Wilson, after the brand name. He argues with Wilson. Wilson instructs and chides him. He rejects Wilson and then retrieves him with anguished apologies.
TOM HANKS: Wilson!
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The point, which the writer of the screenplay, William Broyles, makes quietly and brilliantly, is not only that no man is an island, but that this particular man whose life with FedEx assured everyone of being in touch with everyone else basically needs just one person, even if that person has more than the usual bounce. But he also has with him a sort of real person with him, the woman he loves and longs for. She, played by Helen Hunt, gave him a pocket watch with her picture in it. The man from FedEx, whose life was guided by time, now has an inoperative watch to remind him of that. Love and FedEx are removed from him, as cast away as he is.
The movie brings an unusual thought to modern America, where self-sufficiency and insularity have become the same thing. Sit at your computer and get rich or poor-- alone. Buy plane tickets, alone. Buy books or gifts, alone and stay at home and wait for someone to bring them to you-- alone. Learn, alone. Communicate with others, alone. Do your job anywhere in the country, in the world, where, like Garbo, you want to be alone. And when you want to send something to anyone, there's always FedEx, the remarkable company that connects everyone with everyone.
With connectedness like that, what could one possibly need, want for, reach for? Which brings to mind "Family Man," another successful movie of the Christmas past, which ought to have been a lot worse than it is, managing to fuse "A Christmas Carol" with "It's a Wonderful Life" without screwing up either story. ( Alarm clock ringing )
NICHOLAS CAGE: Kate?
CHILD: Come on, dad. Get up.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Here, Nicholas Cage is given a glimpse of the family life he could have had, had he made a different turn years before. What he realizes when he seeks to combine his dream life with his real one, is that his real one is alone. Rich, powerful, sybaritic, and alone. He doesn't work for FedEx, he handles giant mergers, which, like FedEx, bring everyone to everyone.
Yet he, too, finds that he only wants one person, the girl of his original dream. Alone, he discovers he wants one other, just one. The disappointing truth about mergers, or FedEx, or the telephone, the telegraph, the typewriter, the walkie-talkie, the Internet, or radio, or television-- things that supposedly bring everyone to everyone-- is that they can never deliver on their promise. The world is not within their grasp.
When John Dunne wrote that line about no man being an island, he was listening to church bells in an English village -- bells that spread the news of a local death, but were still about one person. The acknowledgment of connection was made one to one. You can never reach everybody.
But, if you're lucky, you can reach one person. And if you're very lucky, that person will reach back, and remove you from your aloneness, one to one. Here we are on Valentine's Day again. I write you from my island. I'm here with Wilson. He sends his love. I send my love.
I'm Roger Rosenblatt.