Being alone is not always a fun experience. For some people, short periods of total separation from other people help them to relax, clear their heads, help them focus better, among other benefits. But what if you take that separation and turn it into total and complete isolation, throwing a person into a hostile environment and leaving them oceans, if not planets, away from the nearest human being. The calming and relaxing effects of temporarily disengaging with the world, turn into feelings of despair and loneliness, leaving a person depressed and unmotivated. “Cast Away,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Touching the Void,” by Joe Simpson, “The Martian,” by Andy Weir and “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakauer are all texts that heavily revolve around the idea of isolation and the effects of isolation on the individual.
The first text that clearly shows the connection, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” is, “Cast Away,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. Cast Away is a film that tells the story of Chuck Noland, a Fed Ex employee, who, after his plane crashes over the Pacific ocean, is abandoned alone on an island and presumed dead by the rest of the world for over 4 years.
The first example of, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” is shown during the section of the film in which Chuck starts talking to Wilson – a volleyball with Chucks bloody handprint crudely plastered on the front – as he is desperate for human connection after being alone for so long. During his first few weeks alone on the island, Chuck tries multiple times to create fire. On one of his many failed attempts, the stick Chuck is using snaps and stabs into his hand and starts bleeding. Out of frustration and anger, Chuck picks up a volleyball that washed up on the island and throws it into the forest. After recovering from his injury, Chuck finds the volleyball with the handprint on the front which, in some way, resembles a face. Desperate for someone to talk to, Chuck begins speaking to this volleyball, which he calls Wilson, verbalising his thoughts aloud:
“So… Wilson .We were en route from Memphis for 11 and a half hours. About 475 miles an hour.”
“Do you have to keep bringing that up? Can’t you just forget it? Huh? You were right. You were right.”
These quotes show how, in his desperation, Chuck resorts to talking to an inanimate object that slightly resembles another person as he needs human connection to feel he is not alone in his situation. This shows us that Chuck is very dependant on human connection to be able to maintain his sanity and will to live. The effects of isolation in this case are shown as, if Chuck didn’t have anyone to talk to on the island, he would become easily depressed and unmotivated to do anything, soaking in the reality of his situation until his eventual death alone on the island.
These effects of isolation are shown again near the end of the film when Chuck is aboard his raft, trying to make it back to civilisation. During his journey back to society aboard his raft, Chuck encounters a storm which sets Wilson afloat in the ocean. Chuck attempts to recover Wilson, but to no avail and climbs back on his raft, totally alone. After a while, Chuck lays his oars down in the ocean, as he sees no hope of making it back to civilisation alive. This shows the reader that when in an isolated situation, it is in human nature to become totally dependant on human connection and without it, an individual will become depressed, unmotivated and feel they don’t have a purpose, with their only apparent salvation being death.
“The effects of isolation on the individual,” is again shown later in the film when a portaloo washes up on the shore of the island. After four years of being totally alone on the island with no connection to society, Chuck wakes up in the morning to find the remains of half of a portaloo washed up on the shore of his island. He examines it and recognises the text on the side of the portaloo reading, “Bakersfield.” Overjoyed at the sudden appearance of a piece of society after being totally alone for four years, Chuck becomes motivated to find a way back to civilisation under his own power, rather than waiting for a rescue that may never happen.
” Bakersfield? Bakersfield! This could work.”
“And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And then one day that logic was proven all wrong, because the tide came in, gave me a sail [the portaloo]. And now, here I am. I’m back…”
These quotes show how, despite being in a situation where he has almost no hope of making it back to society alive and the most likely outcome of his situation being death alone on the island, the smallest remnants of a piece of something he recognises from his life before the island presenting itself was enough to motivate Chuck to make it back to society. This shows how in an isolated situation, it is a part of human nature to latch on to any small amount of hope we are presented with and become motivated and hopeful that we will be able to get out of that situation and see people again.
This effect of isolation is again shown through the use of symbolism in the form of a Fed Ex package, washed up on the shore of the island. During his first few days on the island, Chuck wanders around the beaches collecting washed up items and packages that have been lost in the plane crash. Chuck proceeds to open these packages, except for one with wings painted on the front. Chuck keeps the package closed in hope of one day making it back to society and being able to deliver it back to its sender. In Chuck’s situation, the package and the wings splayed on the front symbolise his hope in that, one day, he may eventually make it back to society and deliver the package. Despite the package being a small and insignificant part of his survival, the connection that it holds to the world outside and his life before the island are enough to give Chuck hope of one day making it back to civilisation. Again, this shows the viewer that human nature is to take whatever hope we have and allow it to manifest into motivation to keep on going, no matter how bad the situation seems.
The second text that shows, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” is, “Touching the Void,” a non-fiction story written by Joe Simpson, that revolves around the experiences of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates when climbing Siula Grande, a mountain in the Peruvian Andes.
The first example of, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” that is presented to the reader during the text is shown after Joe has been abandoned by Simon and is trying to make it back to camp, hearing a voice that encourages him to keep doing whatever he can to survive and make it back to Simon and Richard despite being dehydrated, totally exhausted and his leg being completely crippled.
After being left by Simon, crippled and with almost no hope of making it back to Simon and Richard alive, Joe begins to crawl, hop and use any other means of movement to try and make it back down the treacherous terrain making up the mountain of Siula Grande. After venturing for a few days down the mountain, Joe’s pace begins to slow and his motivation becomes almost nonexistent, with his main goal of reaching camp being completely abolished in favour of lying down and quietly dying in the snow. With his hope nearly gone and his physical state rendering him almost unable to keep moving, Joe stops and falls into the snow without any intention of getting back up again. This is until a voice, most likely a product of his subconscious, begins speaking to him and encouraging him to keep moving.
“I awoke with a start. ‘‘Get moving… don’t lie there… stop dozing… move!’ I set off crawling.”
“‘Come on, wake up! Things to be done… long way to go… don’t sleep… come on’ I sat up and stared at the dark river of rock flowing away from me.”
These quotes show that despite the odds being greatly stacked against him and the fact that he just wants to give up and die, Joe is able to keep moving, focusing on the small amount of hope that he will make it back to Simon and Richard instead of the small chance he has of surmounting the obstacles presented to him.
Like in Cast Away, this shows us that it is in human nature to cling to any small amount of hope presented to us in order to keep moving and not to set aside the idea of finding other people again. In both Cast Away and Touching the Void, the main characters are in situations in which there is little hope or motivation to keep going in order to find other people again but are presented with hope, in Cast Away it’s the portaloo and in Touching the Void it’s the voice, that encourage them to keep going despite being in situations where there is little to no chance of getting out of.
This section of the text and the quotes used throughout it also show that Joe, without the encouragement of the voice, would have died in the snow as he’d completely given up hope and wouldn’t have had any motivation to make it back to camp. After being left alone by Simon, totally crippled, exhausted and dehydrated, Joe keeps moving and trying to make his way back to Simon and Richard at camp as there is a slight chance that he may actually make it back alive. Eventually, Joe starts to give up hope almost entirely and lays down in the snow to die as he sees no possibility of him making it far enough to get back to camp alive. This is until the voice begins speaking to him and gives him the motivation and encouragement to keep moving. However, without the voice, Joe wouldn’t have picked himself up and kept going. His only reason for trying to survive was the fact that he was being encouraged by another voice other than his own. If the voice wasn’t there to motivate him, Joe would have most likely died alone on the side of the mountain. This effect of isolation is also shown during Cast Away when Chuck drops his oars after losing Wilson as Wilson is the only human connection he has to motivate him and encourage him to keep going. This shows us that without human connection and encouragement from other people, our motivation for staying alive is almost completely abolished. In isolated situations we become reliant on other people to motivate us and keep us willing to stay alive.
The third text that shows, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” is, “The Martian,” written by Andy Weir. The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut abandoned alone on Mars by his crew after he is believed to be dead.
The first and most significant example of “The effects of isolation on the individual,” shown all throughout the text, is the fact that Mark Watney is keeping logs, writing down his day to day experiences on Mars as he needs human connection to feel like he isn’t totally isolated.
After being skewered by the communications array dish during a sandstorm, being abandoned by his crew and left totally alone on Mars, believed to be dead and with no means of human contact, Mark Watney makes his way back to the storm beaten base of operations formerly inhabited by himself and the rest of his team. Upon reaching the hab and patching his wounds, Mark begins to write a log, explaining his situation and recounting the traumatic events that occurred the day before.
“I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.”
“I was really hoping I’d wake up to a functional lander, but no such luck. It’s high gain antenna is right where I last saw it. Why does that matter? Well I’ll tell ya…”
These quotes show how despite recognising he is totally alone and it is likely that nobody will ever read the logs he is writing, Mark continues to do so as he needs a way to vent his thoughts, similarly to the way he would if there was another person stuck on Mars with him. This shows us that Mark, being cut of entirely from the rest of humanity, is seeking human connection through writing his logs, in order to feel like he is not alone and to maintain his sanity and will to live.
This connection is also show during both, “Cast Away,” and, “Touching the Void,” when Chuck begins talking to Wilson as he needs human connection, and Joe’s subconscious beginning to speak to him and motivating him to keep moving. This shows the reader that it is in human nature to require human connection to maintain our sanity and our will to live in isolated situations, and without it, we will become depressed and unwilling to do anything in order to ensure our survival and return to civilisation.
“The effects of isolation on the individual,” is shown to the reader again during the section of the text in which Mark makes contact with humanity and is trying to devise a new plan to survive long enough to be able to make it back to Earth.
After spending a couple of weeks alone on Mars with no human contact, Mark begins to starts trying to devise plans that will allow him to create enough water and food until the next Mars mission – Ares 4 – arrives and is able to take him back to Earth.
“I need to create calories. And I need enough to last me the 1387 sols until Ares 4 arrives.”
“I have an idiotically dangerous plan for getting the water I need. And boy, do I mean dangerous.”
These quotes show the reader that, despite his plans being very dangerous and having little chance of succeeding, Mark is taking them on board and is not willing to give up while there is the possibility that he will survive. This shows us that Mark is taking the small amount of hope he has in his plans working and him being able to survive until his rescue by Ares 4, and turning that into the motivation he needs in order to keep going. This shows that it is in human nature to go to any means possible in order to survive if there is even a slight glimmer of hope that that they will come into contact with people again, no matter how much the odds are stacked against them. This connection is also shown in, “Cast Away,” and in “Touching the Void,” when Chuck finds the sail washed up on the beach and it gives him inspiration and motivation to try and make it back to society, and when Joe is encouraged by the voice and is able to keep going despite being crippled, dehydrated and exhausted.
The fourth and final text that shows, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” is, “Into Thin Air,” written by Jon Krakauer. “Into Thin Air,” is a non-fiction recount of the 1996 Everest disaster in which eight people tragically died in one day on the slopes of Mount Everest.
The first example of, “The effects of isolation on the individual,” is shown during the section of the text when Beck Weathers, a climber on the same expedition as Jon, walks back into camp after being left for dead on the side of the mountain.
After making it back to camp four on the descent from the summit of Everest, Stuart Hutchinson, another member of the Adventure Consultants expedition, organized a search party comprised of himself and four sherpas in an attempt to locate the bodies of Beck Weathers and Yasuko Namba, two of the climbers also on the expedition who had been left alone on the mountain while trying to make it back to camp. Hutchinson had discovered both Beck and Yasuko lying partially buried in the snow, both near death. After leaving them for the belief that there was no chance that neither of them was going to make it off the mountain alive, Hutchinson and the Sherpas made their way back to camp four. The next day, Todd Burleson, another climber at camp four at the time, noticed Beck walking into camp.
“I tried to get him to sit up but he couldn’t. He was as close to death as a person can be.”
“As the mummy lurched into camp, Burleson realized it was none other than Beck Weathers, somehow risen from the dead.”
“Finally I woke up enough to realize that I was in deep shit and that the cavalry wasn’t coming so I better do something about it myself.”
These quotes show us how, despite being left for dead in the worst conditions possible, Beck, recognizing that there was no help coming to him, was able to make it back to camp under his own power. The realization that he was totally alone and the sheer willpower as a result of that recognition we enough to allow him to make it back to the other climbers on the mountain at the time, despite being severely frostbitten and unable to move the night before.
We see situations similar to Beck’s in both, “Touching the Void,” and “The Martian,” when Joe Simpson is left for dead by Simon, crippled and totally alone but ends up making it back to camp, and when Mark Watney is skewered by the communications array but is able to successfully make his way back to the hab and patch himself up.
This shows us that these men, despite being in situations where there is little to no hope of surviving due to their severe injuries and dire situations, are able to make it back to a safe environment under their own steam as they have been able to muster up their willpower realising that they are totally alone and that there is no help coming to them.
This shows that it is in human nature to be able to gather enough strength to keep moving after recognizing that there is no way they’re going to survive unless they do something about it themselves, despite being in situations where there is little to no chance of this actually succeeding.
“Cast Away,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Touching the Void,” by Joe Simpson, “The Martian,” by Andy Weir and “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakauer are all texts in which the characters were unwillingly thrown, totally alone, into a hostile environment and were faced with the effects of complete isolation. The creators of the texts focused on the idea that, when faced with the reality of their situations, the characters became unwilling to try and make it back to other people alive, however, each of these individuals found some form of hope that motivated them enough to keep moving, despite their physical and mental conditions being detrimental to their chances of survival. From these ideas, we can see that, in a time of isolation, it is not the willingness to survive that keeps us going but the possibility of seeing other people again that will motivate and keep us going. We learn that, as human beings, human connection is vital to our lives and our wellbeing especially in an isolated situation and is enough to ensure our survival.