Being farther off the grid than the weathered yachtsman played by Robert Redford in the majestic, melancholy All Is Lost isn't easily imagined. He is alone on a 39-foot sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean after a freak accident.
Being farther off the grid than the weathered yachtsman played by Robert Redford in the majestic, melancholy All Is Lost isn’t easily imagined.
He is alone on a 39-foot sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean after a freak accident.
During the night, his boat struck a drifting shipping container — and a corner of the giant metal box pierced the hull.
The nameless mariner awakens to find the contents of his galley bobbing like rubber duckies in a bath. Yet he doesn’t panic: He goes about patching the hole and pumping out the water — no easy feat with the electricity out.
The radar and radio are kaput, too.
He has a manual for celestial navigation and a sextant, which he has to determine how to use.
All Is Lost — written and directed by J.C. Chandor, whose Margin Call was clipped, talky and set in the teeming canyons and corridors of Wall Street — is as simple a tale of survival as possible: a man, a boat, the sea, the sky.
And all the questions of our lives — how we relate to our loved ones, what we think of death, whether we believe in God and an afterlife — are there to consider, wordlessly.
With the exception of an opening voice-over and a guttural profanity aimed at the heavens, Redford’s man (identified only as “Our Man” in the credits) hardly speaks — as he has no one to speak to.
Instead, we hear the creaking of the boat, the lapping of waves, the uh-oh rumble of thunder and roar of a storm.
All Is Lost, whose ending is open to interpretation without necessarily being ambiguous, explores themes remarkably similar to those in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. The crisis of Sandra Bullock’s astronaut, spinning in a crippled craft in space, is even brought about in the same way: by a surreal onslaught of debris.
But, whereas Gravity frames its isolated humans in space, All Is Lost uses the most primal element: water. Water covers more than two-thirds of Earth, and Our Man and his boat are specks caught in its currents. The sun beats down; the stars arch overhead.
How he got here and why are questions only partially answered by the opening narration. What we know: He has left loved ones behind with some heartache, regret and sense of failure.
Redford, his skin as burned and leathery as someone who has spent years sailing (or skiing, hiking and riding at his Sundance home), gives a performance as soulful and powerful as it is quiet and indrawn. On-screen just about every minute, he lets all of his vanity go. The hardy septuagenarian gingerly hoists himself up the mast to try to fix his radar, or dangles by ropes and rigging off the boat’s side, or hunches over a can of food.
Incredible tension exists in his ordeal, the effort to survive and be rescued — and Redford, an icon of American film for more than a half-century, makes that tension deeply palpable.
Those blue eyes haven’t previously looked less cocky or more overwhelmed by his predicament.
And in the grander, metaphoric view, the predicament is one in which we all could find ourselves sometime: abandoned, navigating existence with only our minds and spirits to keep us on course — or throw us desperately off.