BBC1: Friday 24 July, 11.20pm
A troubleshooter for the worldwide parcels delivery firm FedEx, Tom Hanks is a wound-tight man who lives and breathes by his beeper. “To lose track of time is a sin,” he says to startled staff in Moscow. “I’ll be right back,” he says to fiancée Helen Hunt in Memphis at Christmas. But a plane crash in the south Pacific stops his life dead in its tracks. Oh, he survives. But he’s alone in the middle of nowhere, washed up on a rocky nub of an island with a few FedEx packages. Literally disconnected from his modern life of schedules and pagers, Hanks is forced to turn his back on time. Giving the lie to the fantasy of desert-island existence, Robert Zemeckis’ extraordinary film shows that survival is hard, but not so difficult as living in mind-numbing isolation. Integral to Hanks’ mental survival is a volleyball called Wilson (after its manufacturing logo). Hanks articulates his fears and feelings to his silent, watchful companion and the anguish he feels when Wilson is abandoned to the high seas is a genuinely poignant moment in a film full of powerfully understated emotion. Remarkably, the solitary note of triumphalism in this compelling story of endurance is when Hanks creates fire – conquering the night, cooking the fish! Even so, it’s done in an affectionately mocking tone, Hanks beating his chest and intoning the chorus from The Doors song Light My Fire. Unusually and to haunting effect, music is sparingly used, Zemeckis instead concentrating on brilliant deployment of sound, both natural and impressionistic: the wind, waves and rain, of course, the crackling of the fire. But also the disorientating, disquieting noise – the muted sounds of celebration, the muffled thrum of machinery – as Hanks stands utterly lost at the airport lounge on his return to Memphis, a drastically changed man, back from the dead. Bookended by evocative scenes at a dusty crossroads in rural Texas, this is a beautifully judged work. And it carries a heart-rending message: a terrible thing happens to Tom Hanks, and it’s the best thing that could have happened in his life.