Castaway: A Complete Grieving Process

Castaway: A Complete Grieving Process One of the reasons I sometimes suggest that my clients watch the 2000 movie Castaway is because it is the best movie I’ve seen showing a complete grieving process from beginning to end. Tom Hanks plays “Chuck Noland’, a man who survives a plane crash and ends up on an island by himself, trying to survive and escape. This can make for a good illustration for those still grieving their last relationship and help them see how the process progresses and ends. Also, seeing this comprehensive grieving validates and normalizes a lot of the span of emotions we go through when going through a breakup or divorce. It also illustrates that yes, people really can and do move on from heartache, heartbreak, losses, and changes.

Movie Points: A Complete Grieving Process

If you have not yet seen the movie, please stop reading this article. Go watch the movie and then come back and read this at that time. The points below will make much more sense.

*Shock: The first stage of the grieving process is the shock we experience when we are initially hit with the news of the loss or change in our lives. This moment is captured in the movie when Chuck Noland’s Fed Ex plane he is on crashes somewhere in the South Pacific. As the plane is going down and he sees the water coming closer and closer, you see the shock on his face. Even more when the plane hits the water and he scrambles to get out of the plane, get onto a life raft, and struggle to the shore of a nearby island.

*Denial/Isolation: The second stage of grief is where we are in denial of the full reality of the situation we are in. This is simply where we adjust our inner narrative to soften the grim reality a bit. We might tell ourselves that it isn’t as bad as all that. It is just a coping mechanism to brace ourselves from the reality and suffering adjustments to follow. Same with isolation. That simply involves working to avoid reminders of people, places, and things that reminded us of the loss.

In Castaway, Chuck experiences some denial and isolation through his relationship with a volleyball he names Wilson. Wilson acts as a distract away from the grim reality that he is alone, lonely, and isolated on an island with nobody else. Talking to Wilson as if he is a real person creates a type of connection, a distraction, and a “person” to have conversations with.

*Suffering Feelings: The third stage of grief is the experience of a combination of 4 suffering feelings: anger, sadness, worry, and guilt. Chuck experiences all of these emotions at different times on the island. At one point, Chuck fails to get off of the island with his life raft, the raft bursts, he cuts his leg on some sharp coral reef, and he ends up back on the island. Bleeding, in pain, and angry, he throws an angry tantrum including throwing Wilson in a rage. At other times, he worries he is never going to get off of the island, depression leads him to a failed suicide attempt by hanging, and the guilt of poor priorities as a workaholic who didn’t appreciate many things about his previous regular life, including a wonderful fiancé he may have taken for granted.

*Resolution: the fourth stage of grief is where a person works to address and resolve their grief and loss the best they can through analysis, processing, and coming to resolution on what they will work to do about the loss/change. In Castaway, Chuck collects items from packages that wash ashore from the crash and uses them to both survive on the island and to help him escape. These items include Wilson, the companion volleyball, ice skates to cut and chop, and eventually a random piece of a latrine that serves as a sail to his new homemade raft. He eventually creates a new raft, uses the new sail, waits for a windy day, launches into the water, and finally pushes the raft past the break and escapes the island. He successfully resolves being stuck on the island with a determination to get off of the island and either be rescued or die trying. Sure enough, after a trying time at sea, he is eventually rescued by a passing ship.

*Acceptance: the fifth stage of grief involves being on the other side of the anger, sadness, and other negative emotions. More of an anti-climactic stage of being past those negative suffering feelings. After being rescued and brought back to his life in Memphis, he finds many changes including that his former fiancé is now married to—ironically—Mr. Spalding the family dentist. He and his ex-fiancé also have a young daughter now. With this painful reality that everyone has moved on, he nobly lets his ex-fiancé go on with her new life. He accepts things are now different and prepares himself to move on with his life.

*Hope: the sixth and final stage of grief is a hope and happiness stage where the person chooses to move forward with their life. There is a positive feeling that life will go on and finally the person is emotionally ready to do so. In Castaway at the final scene in the movie, Chuck is shown at a literally crossroads on a country highway. A cute redheaded woman in a Jeep pulls over and gives him directions since he appears lost. After giving directions where each path goes, she drives down the dirt road that is obviously her property. On the back end of her Jeep, Chuck notices she has an angel wings business logo sticker. The movie audience now knows what Chuck is doing there. He is there to deliver the one package that washed ashore on the island he decided not to open and deliver someday that also had the same angel wings sticker on it.

After Chuck faces each of the other 3 directions on the road, the very last frame of the movie shows Chuck turn to the dirt road. That lets me know—in my interpretation—that he decides at the end to deliver the long-lost package. I also have the impression that Chuck will also choose to now share his life with the red headed woman and go on in the happiest, healthiest way possible.

Final Thoughts: Castaway is parallel to the grief we experience with a bad breakup or divorce. When we focus on healthy resolution rather than denial or isolation, we eventually get to a healthy place of acceptance and hope. Your healthy resolution can involve therapy, self-help books, talks with the bishop, prayer, serious self-reflection, and commitments and goals to go forward in life in a healthier, happier way. For more ideas on moving on from grief and successful grieving, see: And you can successfully move on and love again. Because “…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 11:11.

Dr. G
P.S. If you can questions, comments, or a future article request for me, feel free to contact me at

2021-03-01 Randy Gilchrist Psychological health

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About the author

Hello, my name is Dr. Randy Gilchrist (aka "Dr. G"). I am a licensed clinical psychologist, a licensed marriage & family therapist, and a certified hypnotherapist in private practice in Roseville, CA (, practicing since 1997. Also, I am happily married in the temple (Manti) since 1996 and have 4 sons. I am a volunteer writer and contributor to LDS Dimension. I use my training, education, and experience to share insights with LDS Dimension on all things of interest to the LDS dating community. Please read my articles and columns on this site to assist you in your online dating journey. Also, to be considered for an answer in a future Q and A column, please email me your dating/relationship oriented questions to Finally, I also offer a powerful, effective worldwide custom hypnosis recording service just for LDS Dimension members for weight loss, pornography, and many other issues of concern to those in the LDS dating community (please learn more now at; email me questions to