In 1995, Chuck Noland is a time-obsessed systems analyst, who travels the world resolving productivity problems at FedEx depots. He is in a long-term relationship with Kelly Frears, with whom he lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Although the couple wants to get married, Chuck’s busy schedule interferes with their relationship.
A Christmas with relatives is interrupted by Chuck being summoned to resolve a problem in Malaysia. Flying through a violent storm, his Airbus A300 cargo plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean. Chuck escapes the sinking plane and is saved by an inflatable life raft, but in the process loses the raft’s emergency locator transmitter. He clings to the life raft, loses consciousness, and floats all night before being washed up on an island.
After he awakens, he explores the island and discovers it is uninhabited. Several FedEx packages from the crashed plane wash up on the shore, as well as the corpse of one of the pilots, whom he buries. He tries to signal for rescue and makes an escape attempt with the remnants of his life raft, but cannot pass the powerful surf. He searches for food, water, shelter, and opens the packages, finding a number of potentially useful items. He leaves one package, with a pair of wings painted on it, unopened.
During a first attempt to make fire, Chuck receives a deep wound to his hand. In anger he throws several objects from one of the packages, including a Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball. A short time later he draws a face in the bloody hand print on the ball, names it Wilson, and begins talking to it.
Over four years, Chuck ekes out a meager existence on the island, and has regular conversations and arguments with Wilson. After a large section from a portable toilet washes up on the island, Chuck uses it as a sail in the construction of a raft. After building and stocking the raft and deciding when the weather conditions will be optimal (using an analemma he has created in his cave to monitor the time of year), he launches, using the sail to overcome the surf. After some time on the ocean, a storm tears his raft apart. The following day, Wilson falls from the raft and is lost, leaving Chuck overwhelmed by loneliness. Later, he is found drifting by a passing cargo ship.
Upon returning to civilization, Chuck learns that he has long been given up for dead; his family and friends held a funeral, and Kelly has married Chuck’s dentist and has a daughter, Katie. After reuniting with Kelly, the pair profess their love for each other but, realizing a future together would be impossible due to her commitment to her family, they part. Kelly gives Chuck the keys to the car they once shared.
Chuck travels out into the country to return the unopened FedEx package to its sender. The house at the address is empty, so he leaves the package at the door with a note saying that the package saved his life. He departs and stops at a remote crossroads. A woman passing by in a pickup truck stops to explain where each road leads. As she drives away, Chuck notices the illustration on her truck is similar to the one on the parcel. He looks down each road, then back to the road the woman took, and smiles.