Thursday, October 25, 2012

Favorite Movie Scores: Main Theme from "Cast Away"

As my readers know, I love making "favorites" lists. I just really like sharing something that I'm passionate about with other people. I also like making "favorites" lists because it means I'm constantly writing positive posts, rather than negative ones.

So today's post is another installment in my "Favorite Movie Scores" list. I love movie scores. Music is an integral part of a film. Without music, a film feels incomplete. A piece of music can completely change the way a scene plays. The best movie scores are ones that don't force you to feel emotion. The movie's score should enhance the already existing emotion. 

The Main Theme from the film Cast Away (2000) starring Tom Hanks is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces of score ever written for a film. It was written by Alan Silvestri, who has worked on many of director Robert Zemeckis' movies. Zemeckis is known for directing movies such as the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump (1994), and The Polar Express (2004).

Take a listen:

Interestingly, Cast Away does not have very much score in it all. This one theme is all there is. The majority of the film is Tom Hanks (Chuck Noland) on a island with no one for company but a volleyball he names Wilson. The lack of score is an interesting choice. A lot of directors would be tempted to fill the long silences with score, but Zemeckis' choice to play out scenes with just Chuck's mutterings and actions creates a very raw feeling. In the movie, Chuck resorts to a very primal way of living in order to survive, so the lack of music adds to the overall tone of the movie. 

In fact, there is so little score in the film that there is no official original soundtrack available for purchase. The closest you can get is one track on compilation CDs.

This piece of music plays in two scenes in the movie. The first is the scene where Chuck loses Wilson in the ocean. For almost five years on the island with no other human beings to interact with, Chuck's only source of company is Wilson, a Wilson-brand volleyball that washes ashore after the plane crash. When Chuck sets sail on the raft he has made, he loses Wilson in the waves and can't find him.

This is the most emotional scene in the whole movie. The concept of a person treating a volleyball like a friend is ridiculous, but the audience loves Wilson because the audience loves Chuck and wants him to succeed. Tom Hanks' performance in this scene is beautiful. The desperation in his voice is heart-breaking. Not surprisingly he was nominated for an Oscar for this role. (He lost to Russell Crowe for Gladiator.)

This next part is a serious SPOILER ALERT. If you don't want to know how the movie ends, don't read this part.

The second time this piece of music plays is in the very last scene of the movie. Chuck has slowly rejoined normal society and he has just delivered the FedEx final package that he saved from the plane crash five years earlier. As he leaves the last house he comes to a crossroads and has to ask for directions. You don't have to dig very deep to understand the symbolism of the location of this scene. (Hint: He has reached a crossroads in his life and has to decide how to continue living.)

This last piece of music plays as Chuck decides which path to choose and then carries over into the credits of the film.


I particularly love the string instruments in this piece of music. The long, slow notes are very serene and beautiful. I actually recently met someone who plays this song to their newborn baby to help her fall asleep.

The quality of the piece makes me picture a beautiful, calm ocean. In the film, the ocean is simultaneously Chuck's friend and enemy. It provides him with food to stay alive, but it is also the great expanse that separates him from the rest of the world for so long.

This song plays in two pivotal scenes in Cast Away. I like that these are the two scenes that were chosen to have music because it ties them together. The theme of the first scene is "Surrender to inevitable. Sometimes events in your life are beyond your control." And the theme of the second scene is "Only you can control that path of your life, so make a decision."


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  7. I absolutely enjoyed reading your Castaway blog and to learn how the music score is only played in 2 scenes...never focused on that but next viewing I will...I truly enjoyed this music and play it often as it gives me strength to continue my path in life...Steve