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One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in English Language Arts, High School Level.

SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 - 1991 & Tennessee; Literature/Literary
        Devices: motif; symbol; theme development;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Surviving; Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.

Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for intense action sequences and some disturbing images; Drama; 2000; 143 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

Description: A FedEx supervisor, whose life is a series of daily deadlines, is marooned on a tropical island after a plane crash. This movie is the story of how he survives and what happens when he tries to pick up his life after he is rescued.

Rationale for Using the Movie: An engaging and aesthetically appealing film, Cast Away enables students to see visually the literary techniques they study in literature.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will be able to discern theme and analyze use of the literary devices of motif and symbol, as well as the cinematic device of music. Assignments at the end of the film will better equip students for writing analytical essays in future assessments.

Possible Problems: None.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Discussion Questions
      CCSS Anchor Standards


Explore expository phase, motif, symbol, development of theme and dramatic irony in this movie, see the Student Packet for the Cast Away Set-Up-the-Sub Lesson Plan.

A discussion of the Historical Context of Cast Away can be found at page 3 of the Student Packet for the Cast Away Set-Up-the-Sub Lesson Plan.

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project.



Discussion Questions:

After the class has seen the movie, engage the class in a discussion.

1.  Chuck, as his job requires, is focused on the passage of time. Watches and clocks become a motif in the film, reiterating this point. What lesson does Chuck learn in his experience as a cast away and his return to society that deals with the element of time? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Chuck seems to learn to live in the moment, not for the moment, a distinction that can be subtle in an individual's life. He learns to live according to a more natural clock than one dictated by industry and the rush of modern life. He learns patience.

2.  Although Chuck is sorely hurt by losing Kelly twice, once in the airplane crash and then later when she decides to remain with her husband, he finds solace in the angel wings on the package that he has kept throughout his experience and which he delivers at the end of the film. What do these wings symbolize? What does the delivery of the package after so many years symbolize? Suggested Response: The wings can have a variety of symbolic meanings. Most students will suggest that the wings represent hope; hope for physical survival while Chuck is on the island and hopes for love once he returns to civilization. The late delivery of the package symbolizes Chuck's realization that even a delivery that is not on time can be a meaningful experience; or, in other words, that life is not lived according to time schedules. See response to Discussion Question #1.

3.  Kelly has moved on with her life, remarried and now has a daughter. However, she tells Chuck that he is the love of her life. How can she reconcile her love for Chuck and her decision to keep her family intact? Once you have answered that question, describe what Kelly's decision tell us about time. Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Kelly seems to know that the hands of a clock do not turn backwards; she has moved on, has new responsibilities and a loving family in her life. As to time, Kelly's decision tells us that time does move on and can result in the loss of opportunity, but that it moves in terms of personal and biological time rather than time determined by clocks. While Chuck was gone, time passed, and Kelly moved on.

4.  Wilson is important for Chuck when he is stranded; he is crushed when the volleyball is lost in his escape attempt. What does Wilson represent in terms of survival? Suggested Response: Wilson takes the edge off of Chuck's loneliness. The volleyball represents both companionship and hope.

5.  Music and sound play an important role in the telling of this story. It is not used simply to guide feeling. What did you notice about the film's soundtrack and how did it emphasize events in the story? Suggested Response: The film is noisy as Chuck goes through his fast paced days, his family meal, and his plane crash. Then on the island, there is silence, broken only by sounds of the ocean, wind, rain, and birds. Chuck must learn to adjust to living without the distractions of a noisy society. He must learn to go inside himself, to be alone, and to find a pace unregulated by the ticking of a clock.

For additional discussion questions that explore expository phase, motif, symbol, development of theme and dramatic irony in this movie, see the Student Packet for the Cast Away Set-Up-the-Sub Lesson Plan. See also Questions for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  Write informally about a time when you were alone, without television or any of the ordinary distractions you experience as part of your daily life. Include details about the time alone: Where were you, what was it like, how did you pass the time?

2.  Write a narrative in which you look at one day in Chuck's life five years after you see him standing at the crossroads at the film's end. In your description of this day, be sure your reader can see where he lives, with whom he relates, and what is going on in his life. Show meaning through action, dialogue, comparison, thoughts, and descriptive language.

3.  Write a formal analytical essay in which you show how the various elements of literature help the viewers of the film find the theme of the story. Look carefully at expository phase, foreshadowing, characterization, irony, use of motif and symbol, conflict and resolution. Cite examples of each literary tool directly from the movie.

See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41,& 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Detailed ELA Lesson Plan for Substitutes

TWM has created a detailed Set-Up-the-Sub Lesson Plan for Cast Away focusing on skills required by any ELA curriculum. The literary devices explored in the lesson plan include:
    expository phase,
    development of theme, and
    dramatic irony.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

Parenting Points: When your children watch the film, ask them to look for angel wings and the volleyball named Wilson. Tell them to pay attention to how these seemingly minor things help the stranded character survive.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards:   None.

Featured Actors:   Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland, Helen Hunt as Kelly Frears, Nick Searcy as Stan, Chris Noth as Jerry Lovett and Lari White as Bettina Peterson.

Director:   Robert Zemeckis.

This Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden and was last revised on September 15, 2012.

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