“ALL IS LOST” is a spare, minimalist movie about a man (Robert Redford in fine form) – a lone mariner, who is never named, on a well-equipped yacht, sailing solo from somewhere, we are never told where, to somewhere else – whose yacht, which presumably is all he owns, is irreparably damaged by an abandoned, half submerged container, absurdly filled with children’s sneakers. The movie is the story of his, often ingenious, increasingly desperate attempt to stay alive in the face of an implacable and relentlessly destructive ocean – a place of sun drenched calm, circling sharks and violent, battering storms. Despite the ghostly presence of a couple of freight-laden super-tankers, who remain oblivious to his presence, he is alone and adrift in a dark, hostile world, where there is no-one to reach out a helping hand.
The movie offers us no back-story; there’s no attempt to endear us to Redford’s unnamed character. That’s not the point. All we know of him is what we’re allowed to see, so that we ‘know’ him not so much in terms of who he is, but what he does: a person who fights, through nous and determination, to stay alive. It’s as though director/writer (J.C.Chandler, who also gave us the gripping “Margin Call”) – is suggesting that his – Redford’s – back story is not simply unimportant, it’s a distraction. This isn’t so much about a character with whom we’re supposed to identify, it’s about an idea that is at the very heart of human existence – the drive to stay alive despite whatever odds life may throw at us: be that poverty, sickness, tragedy, loneliness, depression, or in this case, shipwreck.
The movie asks us, at what point do you give up? At what point do you play the ultimate hand and stake everything on a throw of the dice, resigned thereafter to give in and sink into the void? To what extent do we need others, that helping hand, as a vital and necessary shoulder to lean on, without which there’s only chaos and darkness? The suggestion is that though for whatever reason, we may want to – or have to – go it alone, that way lies only madness and death.
The movie plays with the audience beautifully: we’re one moment in the claustrophobic confines of the man’s life raft, in his head almost, closed in, zipped up against the torrent outside (perhaps this was how the man had dealt with the world – he had tried to simply be on his own and shut it out); the other moment we’re a distant observer, deep below the raft, a floating, lonely, fragile sphere of plastic – our earth? – encircled by a flow of passing, indifferent marine life.
This is a movie of extraordinary and noticeable sound design. There are pretty much no words spoken (that would insert too much characterization and back story). But, beyond the visual worlds we are made aware of: his world of the yacht/life-raft and the external, increasingly hostile world of the threatening sea and its rumble of storms, the director immerses us into an aural universe. The movie starts in darkness, and we’re introduced to the experience ahead via the sound of the waves lapping against the hull of a boat. It’s a gentle, almost soothing sound that belies the tragedy that has befallen the ship. As the story unfolds, the soundscape – the sound of the rain on his tarpaulin roof, the angry roar of the waves, the deep rumble of the passing tankers, the distant thunders of storms too far to see, but not too far to hear – give a life to the movie that takes the place of dialog. This is his conversation with the nature that he seeks to be a part of, but which seems set on ridding itself of him, an antibody that must be removed. And in the end his only conversation with this world is one loud, piercing “fuuuuuck”.
Redford, now nearing 80 still looks good. He looks the part of the weather-beaten, capable ‘yachtie’. He’s always been an understated actor, not unlike Clint Eastwood, and here, he fights to stay alive not with thespian anguish and gritted teeth, but almost with a kind of stoic endurance. Like the movie itself, Redford’s acting is a wonderful piece of contained energy and quiet determination.
Look for it somewhere in the Oscars