There’s no question about it: surviving isolation is the ultimate test for the human spirit. Thankfully, the human spirit is one tough cookie to crack. Some of the greatest movies about isolation show us just how vast our range for creativity is when we’re faced with the challenge for sole survival. Whether it’s dealing with it through human connection, our imaginations, or just straight up having a good sense of humor about it all. Here are some movies that inspire us with creative ways to not just survive isolation, but even have a good time doing it.
Life of Pi
Life of Pi tells the story of a young man who has to survive at sea with nothing but a boat. Oh, and a tiger named Richard Parker. He’s terrified at the beginning of his predicament and keeps as far from the tiger as possible. But after several difficult days pass, they find ways to get along. Pi goes to different lengths to bond with the giant cat, like giving him rain water and building him a ladder to help him catch fish on his own. And as they go through their journey, Pi realizes that taking care of the big cat gives him something to live for too. The film takes a fascinating look at what happens when predator and prey have to rely on each other to survive. The bond this unlikely pair forms over that mutual struggle is what helps them overcome everything that comes their way. And if that’s not inspiring, we don’t know what is.
We can’t talk about isolation movies without bringing up the classic of classics, Cast Away. Tom Hanks plays a FedEx executive named Chuck who ends up completely alone on a tropical island after his plane crashes. All he has are the clothes on his back and the random FedEx shipments left lying around after the crash. So he gets creative and uses them to create a shelter, find ways to get food, and even build a raft. But the most memorable of all is the volleyball he rescues from the debris. He paints a red face on it and starts to call it by the name Wilson. Left with nobody to talk to, Wilson is Chuck’s only source of social interaction. With all the madness that comes with survival, Wilson is the only thing that gives Chuck comfort and gets him through his days. He’s so much more than a volleyball – he reminds Chuck of his humanity.
Humans aren’t the only ones who get creative in isolation. Wall-E tells the story of an adorable little robot who is left to clean up Earth after its inhabitants leave. While Wall-E continues cleaning just as he’s been programmed, he also takes up some other activities to spice up his otherwise monotonous days. He collects random knick-knacks like light bulbs, rubiks cubes and plastic cutlery. Although these things don’t mean much to the humans that left them behind, they give Wall-E some much needed meaning, comfort, and escape. And it doesn’t hurt that he can use his collection to impress cute lady robots who come over too.
What would you do if you were stuck in an airport… indefinitely? The Terminal tells the heartwarming story of a man who has to do just that. Played once again by the lovable Tom Hanks (he must have a thing for isolation movies), Viktor Navorski’s gotten in an unusual situation where he can neither go back to his home country, nor leave JFK airport. And to top it off, he has no money. It’s not long before he finds some interesting ways to survive, like figuring out that he can get quarters from the airport cart machines to pay for his Burger King meals. But what makes the biggest difference is the people he meets along the way. Instead of isolating himself while he waits, he finds real human connections amongst the airport workers. Helping them with their problems makes Viktor’s days go by much faster and even brings him joy. Somehow, a man isolated by language barriers, cultures, and everything in between comes up with countless ways to adapt and even persevere – all with a smile on his face. Now if that’s not uplifting, we don’t know what is.
The Martian is another movie that’s all about surviving isolation with positive attitude. Mark, played by Matt Damon, is a super smart guy stuck on Mars by himself after his team assumes him dead. Rather than spending too much time wallowing in his predicament, Mark immediately sets to figure out what he has to do to survive long-term. From learning how to grow potatoes by using Martian soil and his crew member’s feces as fertilizer, to risking his life to get water to grow them. Surviving on Mars is a harrowing and dangerous job, but he’s literally the only one who can do it. And what really gets Mark through it is a positive attitude and an unmatched resilience when he’s met with countless problems. He even dips his potatoes in vicodin when he runs out of ketchup for goodness’ sake. Now that is some serious innovation.
Swiss Army Man
Swiss Army Man is as bizarre as surviving isolation can get. The film follows a man named Hank, played by Paul Dano, who’s stranded on an island. When he thinks he’s lost all hope for survival, he sees a dead body washed up on the beach. But instead of falling into despair, Hank realizes he can ride the body as a jetski. As this odd journey continues, the dead man, played by Daniel Radcliffe, actually starts to talk to Hank and the two begin to form an odd friendship. The corpse helps him survive by collecting water in his mouth, helping him hunt for food and build fires. Hank obviously questions his sanity in all of this, but at a certain point we realize it doesn’t matter whether any of this is real or not. Their bond is what helps Hank overcome the difficulties of survival and lets him find much needed meaning in moving on. It may be a strange way to get that message across, but boy is it effective.