I just watched one of my favorite films, Cast Away. I enjoy the middle portion of the film, when Tom Hanks’s character is alone on a desert island. Yes, he’s with Wilson– but the film, at this point, focuses on how he can survive in solitude.
He doesn’t handle solitude very well. At one point in the film, killing himself (hanging from the tree at the top of the island) seems a viable alternative to being alone. Eventually, he finds the resources to escape the island and re-enter society.
So why does the movie paint such a bleak picture of being alone on a desert island? Granted, the life he was living was bleak. But the film spends ample time focusing on the protagonist’s struggle with solitude. Really, it’s not his struggle with solitude so much as his struggle with loneliness. What’s the difference between solitude and loneliness? Probably self-awareness, self-definition. And Hanks’s character is defined not by who he is on the island but by who he is off of it.
Few stories have only one character, because the drama audiences are drawn to is typically human-to-human. In fiction, the rare exception is Hemingway’s short story “Big Two-Hearted River.”
In poetry, there is always one character: the poet’s point of view. Maybe I don’t want this film to be a work of fiction so much as I want it to be a poem, a poem about how to be alone.
Purchase The Descent into Happiness by David Howell for $12.95 plus $3.95 shipping: