Saturday, July 25, 2015

All is Lost (2013) **** -Spoilers-

This is one that I put off watching for a long time because it sounded pretty grim. It was billed as a story of a lone sailor battling the elements and, based on the title, presumably losing. So I'm going to break my usual rule against spoilers by saying that all is not necessarily lost. The sailor gets rescued at the end, although it's possible to interpret the ending as a dying hallucination, maybe even a metaphor for entering the afterlife. Director J.C. Chandor has said that audiences are split roughly 50-50 in terms of which interpretation they choose. He seems perfectly satisfied with this ambiguity. I found it thought-provoking, but I think some viewers may feel cheated by an ambiguous ending, which is why I am giving you fair warning.

Robert Redford plays the sailor, a grizzled but fit old guy sailing alone in the Indian Ocean. The story begins with an accident. The sailor wakes up to the sound of a crash, followed by water gushing into his cabin. Out in the middle of nowhere, where he should have been perfectly safe, his boat has crashed into one of those metal shipping containers, which must have fallen off a cargo ship at some point. There shouldn't be anything in this section of ocean, but there this container is, gouging a hole in his boat.

Our sailor sets to work dealing with the situation, getting his boat separated from the container, then working to patch the hole, pump out the water, and dry out all his damaged electronics. With no radio or navigation equipment, however, he wanders into the path of a massive storm, which ultimately damages his boat again. He never gives up, but despite his best efforts, the situation continues to worsen.

Robert Redford is the only actor in the movie, and he hardly uses his voice at all. I always thought it must be hard for actors to memorize all those lines, but I think what Redford does here is much harder, conveying everything through facial expression and body language.

“All is Lost” deserves the prize for Most Existentialist Film of 2013. The point of the film is summed up in a letter the sailor composes for his family, where he says, “I want you all to know that I fought until the end, if that matters.” No matter how dire things get, how bad the storm, he keeps trying, and he even takes a moment to appreciate the beauty around him. It may not matter how you interpret the ending, because the point is not the end, but how he comports himself along the way. The important thing is not how he dies, but how he lived, because even if the sea doesn't take him, something eventually will, and the fact is we all have a shipping container waiting for us out there.

4 stars out of 5

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