Survival, when one is totally left to one’s own initiative in this age of technology, is at the heart of this almost wordless parable. Like GRAVITY which depicted Sandra Bullock as a scientist unleashed from her space ship drifting alone in the universe, the director of ALL IS LOST, J.C. Chandor gives us a view of the mechanics of perseverance, and the struggle of man to abide, but this time in the infinite trackless breadth of the sea. These lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner can describe what one must endure:
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
ALL IS LOST opens up with a smattering of the few words uttered by Robert Redford in a grueling, almost silent, singular performance as Our Man (what the character is called in the closing credits,) apprising us of his hapless situation, and his fierce determination to stay alive. What Redford briefly vocalizes in a clear unwavering voice is an apology for attempting to pursue a moral, good life and his shortcomings in reaching that objective - poignantly articulating the frailties of being human. Those few words cried out in despair - a fleeting moment of self-revelation are the only clues we have to this man’s background. We get to see the character through his actions and the accouterments/provisions housed in the thirty-nine foot yacht that has been his “home” on the sea. We also know from the onset that this is the 8th day of his ordeal and the consciousness of time hovers over each and every confrontation he has with the vagaries of Nature. ALL IS LOST then steps back in time, filling us in with the details.
The movie continues with the camera focusing on a weathered Robert Redford being jolted out of a comfortable sleep by a loud thud, the result of an idly drifting container vessel (ironically composed of children’s shoes) colliding with his ship, water rushing in, and totally disabling the boat, radio, and navigation tools as well as his life which is tumultuously up-ended. A child’s lone shoe is seen bobbing on the driving waters breaching his cabin - perhaps a reference to this famous line in William Wordsworth’s poem (My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold) “The Child is father of the man.”
From that moment, I became fascinated with the tools, ingenuity and methods Redford applied in literally keeping afloat. Nothing is explained; we are only shown the process. Redford’s facial expressions indicate the varying subconscious strategies forming in his mind, in his decisive battle to exist. The silence of Our Man is now overtaken by the grating, grinding, moaning sounds of a craft in distress, falling apart - accompanied by the slapping of the waves which can be both benign and harrowing depending on the weather’s temperament. The resonance and beauty of the accompanying music was inherently necessary to a film without dialogue, as was both the breathtaking and occasionally “conventional” cinematography. Yet shots taken from under the life-raft; schools of fish lyrically darting back and forth among the menacing activity of sharks, moonlight creating the only semblance of light in the inexhaustible darkness actualized the ordeal.
Robert Redford going solo against the backdrop of Dame Nature at the age of 77, unquestionably relinquishing glamour, gives the performance of his career as Our Man – a person who is indefatigable, tapping into his interior resilience in order to fight the capricious heartlessness of chance.