All Is Lost
PG-13 for brief strong language
Buy on DVD
Buy on Blu-ray
To turn a lost-at-sea narrative into a 106-minute feature film may seem like a tall order, but J.C. Chandor, with the estimable help of Robert Redford, manages it.
All Is Lost is about a man yachting alone in the Pacific Ocean. When his boat collides with an errant shipping container, his vessel begins to sink leaving him stranded at sea with little hope of survival. Our Man (Redford), as he’s never given an actual name, employs his vast knowledge of seafaring preparedness to hopefully last long enough to be rescued.
The film opens in pitch black as Our Man is narrating his diary. We are late in the story at this juncture, so his words inform us what to expect from the subsequent events. Apart from this opening narration and a choice word mid-way through the film, the entire project is sold on Redford’s ability to grab your attention and inform it with expressions, gestures and dialogue-free character development. We learn so much in our time with Our Man that it’s interesting to note how little we actually know about him.
Audiences are supposed to identify with him so they can understand why his plight is of paramount importance. Typical modern filmmaking tends to favor heavy amounts of dialogue required to convey complex notions to the viewer even if it would require a character to act outside of his nature. Redford is said to have told writer/director Chandor that he could convey all he wanted with far less dialogue, almost none in fact. He succeeds admirably. This is an actor’s dream role, one relying on expressions and body language to convey everything about Our Man. Redford may not have been doing much in the way of quality acting in the last couple of decades, but this more than makes up for his prior failures. This is a definitive work that acting classes need to study when asked to provide a wordless experience of character.
It’s on this performance that the entire film anchors and we’re lucky that’s the case for the lengthy, dreary film doesn’t go very many places. We’re stuck on the boat and the life raft with Our Man for an almost interminable duration. That’s realism and I admire that. However, some trimming here or there might have kept the pace at a more reasonable and engaging duration.
Chandor’s second film doesn’t quite excite or entice its audience, which may be its intent, but is the crux of its problems. There are no grand sermons Chandor is trying to convey. This isn’t an exploration of religion like Life of Pi is, nor is it really a tale that questions man’s relationship with nature. This is a struggle within one man who must keep his hope alive that he will be discovered even when such hopes seem to dash themselves at regular intervals.
Perhaps there are moral equivalencies that can be made with the film. You could easily use it as an exemplification of how losing one’s religion can leave you lost and alone where rediscovering your faith will be your rescue. Yet, any kind of emotional loss and discovery could be imposed on the film. It could also simply be a story of survival and a dissection of the limits of human persistence and perseverance. The fracturing and mending of the human spirit as a journey of mind and soul. There are any number of potential comparisons you could make, but the film remains ambiguous. You must fashion your own meaning out of the film.
All Is Lost is a film about surviving. It’s about a real problem that cannot be easily overcome by technology or faith or survival instincts. Sometimes we have to realize that to find ourselves, we have to let go of ourselves. Looking at an obstacle from the outside gives us insight that we cannot observe while on the inside. The open-ended finale allows the film to take on many different possible outcomes depending on the observer’s own experiences. As such, we can celebrate the superb performance from Redford and leave the film itself to sit by itself for a time and hope to one day find the answer, if there is one.
March 17, 2014