All Is Lost a daring, intense experiment
Starring Robert Redford. Rated G.
All Is Lost is the age-old conflict of Man versus Nature stripped down to its essence—or would that be taken to its extreme?
In this story of a person lost at sea—only listed as Our Man in the credits—there is no volleyball, no magical tiger for him to bounce his fears off of. Robert Redford’s strong, silent type is left to calmly face disaster after disaster alone, wordless except for an opening journal entry and an extended, shouted “Fu-u-uck!” more than halfway through the film.
Fuck, indeed. Watching this daring experiment is an intense experience, and not necessarily a pleasant one. Not that it wants to be. Writer-director J.C. Chandor (who also wrote and directed Margin Call) strives to trap us on the crippled yacht with Our Man, throwing us around the deck during storms, and often sending us to the cramped quarters below, where cracker packages, cushions, and other supplies float in the rising water. We only escape the boat occasionally, when the camera sinks to the murky depths below the hull, staring up at the silhouette on the surface with detachment.
What’s so provocative here is that we have no back story. An intertitle has told us that Our Man is 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits—the middle of the Indian Ocean nowhere. We can only surmise from his tony wood-finished yacht that he’s a man of privilege. He wears a wedding ring, and someone has given him a beautiful, boxed sextant. But mostly, we can only know Our Man from his actions: the way he patiently bails water, methodically tries to patch a gaping hole in his hull with epoxy and fabric, and calmly shaves before a pending storm.
Redford is receiving huge accolades for his performance, but how much of what we understand about this man is based on what we know about Redford the movie star—strong, unflappable, and heroic? His face, weatherworn in the way a lifelong yachtsman’s might be, actually reveals little about his state of mind. His expressions alternate between furrowing his brow and widening his eyes, say, at the sound of approaching thunder.
This must be all part of Chandor’s plan to withhold emotional catharsis. But to give away more detail here would be to unravel the whole clever setup. Go see it, but be careful if you don’t have strong sea legs.