Wilson the volleyball in Zemeckis' Cast Away (2000)

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

The cultural art-as-facts taking place on “deserted islands” are something akin to taking the human animal outside his habitat, to be examined in conditions far from conditioning, and relatively free from consequence, in a big old research lab. There we can study what lies between the ape and the apex predator, that cortex on two legs, and isolate the savage from the genteel, raw of cooked, lord off flies, and coalesce Homo duplex into Homo adaptabilis.

In certain instances an ensemble cast is analyzed by isolating and studying the different kinds of Homo Sapiens and their relations, identified by sociological and other fields of research. For example on the television show Lost (J.J. Abrams, 2004-2010), Evangeline Lilly‘s Kate is Homo Mendax, Josh Holloway‘s Sawyer is that strain turned Homo Narrans, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje‘s Eko is that strand sublimated into Homo Metaphysicus, Terry O’Quinn‘s John Locke is Homo Faber to Jack’s Homo Logicus, etc.

The original basic scenario of deserted island research begins with the failing of Homo Technologicus, in the form of a wrecking ship, retrieving one from the colonialist position onto the very way of life he sought to exploit, one of a pure and absolute Homo Faber. In Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe unsurprisingly seen by Rousseau himself as an important pedagogical vessel. The protagonist must prove his superiority over nature and thus over natural man, earning his return to civilization by way of a hybrid ship of pirates, half nature half cultured, in a moment of veiled transgression against Homo Contaminatus, that apotheosis of technologicus failed.

The principles of that voyage are seen already in the translated into Hebrew title of ‘Cast Away’, retranslated roughly as ‘Starting Anew’. In the morality script that is Robert Zemeckis‘ 2000 film, Chuck Noland’s (Tom Hanks) dedication to his work prevents his settling down in sweet matrimony, and he must vision-quest to experience the flaws of culture, and find through his loneliness the tribe, presented in his old country as the nuclear family, being essential to his survival. Hanks discovers this in somewhat sublimated Homo Sanguinis fashion, as Homo Pictor anthropomorphizing an object, baptized in the blood of Hanks’ first pure Homo Faber attempts at making an all-natural fire.

In his volleyball friend lies an allusion to tribal animism cum commodity fetishism, almost parodying Homo Socius whose given name, like Wilson, is predestined to be his brand. When Nolad returns home, he finds his lost love as a family woman, and both agree that their pure animalistic feelings towards each other must be tamed and sacrificed for socius sake. In Cast Away, as in other exemplars, the movement between the worlds occurs through losing regular consciousness, a kind of necessary psychopomp leading to rebirth, and at times also in the opposite motion, returning to civilization a different person.

This interplay of losing control consciousness and hold over industrial society’s trusty steeds are encapsulated already in the many-layered name of another example in this trope of a sub-genre, Lost. Losing their way, the flight passengers will find themselves struggling to keep hold of their lost old culture’s cultured humanity viz a viz the animality manifested in the absence-appearance of its other, the others tribe. The show goes on to augment the failure of Homo Technologicus with symbols of its evil twin, Homo Contaminatus, as in the self destruct clock bunker. It also displays echoes (with trace amounts of imperialism) of tribalistic beliefs, embodied by the mysteriously destructive pillar of dark smoke.

In William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies (1954) returns said motif of a two-party system of sorts, standing for the egalitarian democratic and hierarchical totalitarian. The ultimate separation between culture kids and ignoble savages is signified by the technological animality of the character Piggy. To his own socius group, he is Homo Faber-Technologicus, using his glasses to help start a fire, but for the other group, his piggishness demands destruction, being a caricature of their own apex carnivore humanimality. In a final attempt to burn the democratic rises again the smoke motif, that man-nature made phenomenon, signaling to ship technology it is time to return the children inside civilization.

Such pillars of smoke, dating back at least to God revelations in biblical times, sign to the individual who has grown to identify with an island self, that his only means of escaping savagery is to make a Promethean gesture towards the embrace of civilized society, to find himself as the stowaway in a ship of colonialistic fools, or with their uncanny nemesis, the savage-social hybrid of pirate vessels. Because after all we are still both, since animal is father to the man, as was found by Homo Sciens Darwin on the Galapagos Isles of lab habitats.

In conclusion, I must mention how such deterritorializations of humankind to experimental settings are at the heart of that somewhat pesky meme, “‘what X would you take to a deserted island?” As materialist attempt to take humanity and make of it matter, distilling being human into a little listicle of extract essence.

P.S. I never could get myself to watch Charlie Parsons’s reality television show, Survivor.