We Need to Talk about Tom Hanks


19 Jan
19Jan

Susan Leighton

The first time I saw Tom Hanks on the big screen was in 1980. He appeared in a B-movie slasher called, He Knows You’re Alone. It just so happened that this was his official debut. There was something instantly appealing about his mop of curly dark hair and big green eyes. 

That same year, a sitcom called Bosom Buddies premiered on ABC. Lo and behold, who was starring in it? Mr. Hanks. 

One thing that became readily apparent is his comedic talent. Before he “came into his own,” so to speak, the way he delivered his lines and some of his facial expressions were reminiscent of another funny man on a competing network, Bill Murray. 

By the time 1984 rolled around, he was the star of Ron Howard’s fish out of water romantic comedy, Splash. Something magical occurred during that film. The goofy young lad was still present but he was morphing into a bona fide leading man! 

Howard must have recognized that this actor was special. He was a throwback to an earlier era. Several publications were likening his persona to that of “everyman” James Stewart. 

Hanks was carving out his place in Hollywood and his star burned bright during the 80’s. Then at the dawn of the 90’s, he met Meg Ryan, his co-star in Joe Versus the Volcano

The pair had so much chemistry between them that three years later, they starred in one of the top box office romances of all time, Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle. Mr. Hanks’ career was on fire and he won two Oscars during that time period. One for Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, a tale of a simple man who led an extraordinary life and the other for his dramatic and touching turn as dying attorney, Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia

However, while I have enjoyed many of his efforts throughout the decades, I have to state that to me, his performance in Cast Away ranks as one of his best. In this Zemeckis film, Tom portrays a workaholic Fed Ex executive named Chuck Noland. For years, Chuck has been living with the love of his life, grad student Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt). 

The pair have been so busy with their careers that they barely have time for one another. On Christmas day, Noland has another plane to catch for a business trip but before he leaves, he proposes to Kelly. She in turn, gives him an antique pocket watch with her picture in it. Before he goes out the door, he promises her that he will be “right back.” 

Of course, fate has other plans and his cargo plane goes down in the ocean. Chuck washes up on the shore of a small tropical island. Thus, begins the story of his survival. 

Every day is challenging and literally a fight for his very life. Lonely and bereft, longing for a human connection, he begins to converse with a volleyball (a left over from the plane crash) which he christens, “Wilson.” But it is Kelly’s picture and the hope that he might see her again which keeps him going. 

Four years later, after all of the physical and mental hardships that Noland has endured including an attempted suicide, he manages to escape his island prison on a makeshift raft. Finally, he is rescued and flown back to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee where he attempts to re-connect with Kelly. 

Thinking that he had died, Kelly moves on with her life and marries a sweet orthodontist (Chris Noth) and has a child with him. Destiny has a funny way of intervening and Chuck ends up visiting her husband to repair the damage to his teeth that he incurred on the island. 

Obviously, Kelly is having a hard time dealing with his sudden reappearance so she avoids contact with him. Finally, the universe can no longer keep the pair apart. Noland visits her house and although the exchange between the former couple is awkward, it is emotionally charged. 

This is where Tom Hanks shines. The longing in his eyes for his soulmate knowing full well they can never return to the life they once had. All of these emotions play out on the actor’s face and in that moment, you find yourself remembering the time that you lost someone near and dear to you.

One of the most moving monologues in the film occurs in the scene where Chuck is explaining his meeting with Kelly to his friend, Stan (Nick Searcy). 

“I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly but I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island and I know what I have to do now, I got to keep breathing because tomorrow, the sun will rise, who knows what the tide could bring?”

While this is heartbreaking, it is hopeful. See, we spend all of our earthly lives trying to control every situation but much to our consternation, some matters are taken out of our hands. We lose people that we desperately want to hold on to and yet life goes on. A door closes and another one opens. 

The end of Cast Away finds Chuck literally at a crossroads in the middle of the Texas panhandle, wondering what path he will take to the next chapter of his life. 

It is because of Tom Hanks and his ability to capture our hearts that makes this one of the best endings in film history and one that all of us can relate to at some point or another in our existence. Like Chuck, we need to keep an open mind and go where our soul tells us to…


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