In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman offer a useful distinction between "colonialism, the conquest and direct control of other people's land" and "imperialism - the globalization of the capitalist mode of production, its penetration of previously non-capitalist regions of the world, and destruction of pre- or non-capitalist forms of social organization." Two works, one early and one recent, encapsulate this distinction. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe positions its protagonist as a colonizer - a man who defies his father's exhortation to live modestly, instead embarking on a sea venture in the hopes of amassing significant wealth from participation in the slave trade. Lost in the Caribbean, Crusoe redirects his spirit of acquisition to transform his island, and its eventual inhabitants, into a British colony, with himself as its governor. Robert Zemeckis's film Cast Away, clearly based on Defoe's novel, refigures that foundational cultural story, featuring a central character, Chuck Noland, whose job at Federal Express involves overseeing the company's expansion into new markets. While Defoe may seem, at times, ambivalent toward Crusoe's self-satisfied rapaciousness, Zemeckis is more clearly critical of the capitalist system that controls every aspect of Noland's thought and life; when a plane crash strands Noland on a deserted island much like Crusoe's, his life-myth turns out to be empty, not quite sufficient to prevent him from reverting to the kind of primitivism and barbarism that constitutes Crusoe's worst fears. Noland can make little of the flotsam and jetsam of his civilization, including its secular forms of spirituality. The Christianity that endorses Crusoe's sense of self is replaced by a company logo of angel wings and an overvaluation of his girlfriend Kelly, suggesting the emptiness of Noland's life. Yet, while offering a critique of both his culture's imperialist greed and spiritual hollowness, Zemeckis is, in the final analysis, unable to offer viable alternatives.
"Castaway and Cast Away: Colonial, Imperial, and Religious Discourses in Daniel Defoe and Robert Zemeckis,"
Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 9
, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol9/iss1/4