Cast Away Ending Explained: Time Stops For No One

Considering the Tom Hanks drama "Cast Away" has been parodied to hell and back thanks to his friendship with a volleyball named Wilson, many have forgotten that this is a genuinely solid movie about the perseverance of humanity, the need for companionship, what makes life worth living, and the tenacity of the human survival spirit. Directed and produced by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" sees Tom Hanks as a FedEx troubleshooter named Chuck Noland who finds himself stranded on an island after his plane crashes into the ocean. FedEx packages (and the body of the pilot) soon wash ashore, and Chuck must utilize the items arriving on the beach as well as the island elements and wildlife to survive.

Chuck spends the next four years alone on the island, every day a new attempt at survival. One day, a piece of the shell of a port-a-potty washes up on the island, and Chuck uses the materials to configure a raft. He stocks the raft with food, water, and an unopened FedEx package, and attempts to sail to help. Sadly, Wilson the volleyball falls off the raft in transit, floating away, and leaving Chuck to mourn the loss of his only companion. Fortunately, Chuck is eventually rescued by a passing cargo ship, and is brought home. The ending of "Cast Away" is not about Chuck's survival, instead focusing on the aftermath of his reunion with his loved ones, namely, his girlfriend Kelly who he saw as his biggest motivator for survival.

The Ending of Cast Away Explained

When Chuck returns to civilization for the first time in four years, he is desperate to reunite with his girlfriend Kelly, played by Helen Hunt. Unfortunately, upon arrival, Chuck discovers that he was presumed dead, and Kelly's life moved on. Not only was Chuck stranded on the island physically, but with survival as his sole motivator for existence, he was a man lost in time. Chuck spent his days longing for his reunion with Kelly, but with her understanding that he had likely not survived the plane crash, Kelly's time was spent mourning the love of her life, and moving on.

When Chuck finally reunites with Kelly, she has since married a man named Jerry and started a family. Kelly is understandably shocked to see Chuck alive, and explained that despite her belief that he was alive, her friends and family convinced her that he was likely dead, and encouraged her to move on with her life. They exchange a family heirloom with Kelly's picture in it, and the two kiss in his car. It almost seems like Kelly is ready to run away with Chuck, but there's a somber acceptance that Kelly has a family now, and she and Chuck cannot be together.

The Angel Wings

In addition to his love of Kelly, Chuck felt a sense of hope tied to a FedEx package decorated with angel wings. The symbology of the angel wings on the package prevented Chuck from opening it, and saw it as a sign that he was destined to deliver the package. After the realization of Kelly's new life, he sets out on a journey to Texas to deliver the unopened package. When no one answers the door, he leaves the package along with a note saying the package "saved his life." After leaving the house, he comes to a crossroads and a woman in a pickup truck gives him directions: 

"Well, that's 83 South. And this road here will hook you up with I-40 East. Um...if you turn right, that'll take you to Amarillo, Flagstaff, California. And if you head back that direction, you'll find a whole lot of nothin' all the way to Canada."

As she drives away, Chuck sees the back of the woman's truck is painted with angel wings. Chuck walks to the intersection and stares down the open road before the film cuts to credits. With nothing holding him back, and no relationship to return to, Chuck is at a literal and metaphorical crossroads in his life, with his options limitless. His survival was possible because he listened to signs from the universe (like a tree branch that broke when he contemplated taking his own life), and this was the universe speaking again.