All Is Lost (2013)

If Life of Pi (2012) is magical realism, then All Is Lost is absolute realism. Some say it’s a modern version of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I tend to see it as the flip side of Life of Pi. It is the magical, the supernatural that we pant for while watching the man in the film silently struggle to stay alive in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Without a miracle, this is what it is.

At the back of my mind was this query… In our age driven by visual spectacles and mega sights and sounds, why would someone take up a project of this nature, a 106 minute feature film with just one character and no dialogue, except for a few words from voice over in the opening when the man utters what seems to be his last words to his loved ones.

I admire the courage and talent of writer/director J. C. Chandor, who writes a 32 page script (according to IMDb) and directs it as a minimalist production in a time when the movie industry has gone ultra mega and high tech. All Is Lost is only Chandor’s second feature film. His directorial debut which he also wrote? Margin Call (2011), about the tempest in the tumultuous ocean of investment banking. Versatility is the mark of talent indeed.

But the film belongs to Robert Redford. No longer The Sundance Kid (1969) here but a 77 year-old actor playing a man dangling over the edge of survival. Redford just might have put forth the definitive performance in his long career. He has taken on the role with grace and gentleness, a paradox to his predicament in such a physical drama. He carries the whole film by engaging our empathy. His screen presence is the replacement of fancy plot lines, setting and dialogues. He plays a character with no name. Only when the end credits roll do we find out that he is called ‘Our Man’. 

Robert Redford in All is Lost

Unlike Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000), who speaks and yells his mind, and socializes with a volley ball, Our Man is the epitome of restraint. He is the strong and silent type of veteran sailors on a solo voyage, who encounters the misfortune of being stranded in the vast ocean. At the beginning of the film we see Our Man wake up to find his sailboat has been hit by a loose cargo container floating by. The sailboat is taking on water through a hole in the hull. The radio and equipments are damaged. Our Man deals with the situation resourcefully. He uses a repair kit to mend the damage, pump water out, dry out his boat. We see him eat and shave. 

Just as he has made some headway to restore safety, an impending storm blows his way. Our Man is no match for nature’s callous ferocity. He ends up having to escape a sinking boat and jump into a life raft, bringing with him a meager supply of food and water. He learns to use a sextant, and carefully charts his drift. His only hope is to be seen if his raft drifts into the course of cargo ships. He utters no words except for a futile S.O.S. call while in his sinking boat, and one expletive out of total frustration in the raft after a few days of bare survival.

One man, one raft, one sea. The wide-screen cinema is probably the best medium to depict such an existential predicament. We don’t need special effects, for this is all that we have. And the nameless ‘Our Man’ shows how universal he is. And what of him? A patient and courageous man trying with all that he has and all that he is to stay alive, waiting to be found, hoping to be saved.

Do we need to know the name on that cargo container that hit his boat? It really is immaterial considering all that Our Man has gone through and all the efforts he has put forth to be saved. But just for information, we see the name in English, ‘Ho Won’, an obvious translation from the two Chinese words below: “Good Luck”. A jest too harsh.

Spoiler Alert. If you have not seen the film, you might want to skip the next paragraph, just that one. If you have seen the film, you’re most welcome to share your thoughts on the ending.

Like Life of Pi, the ending is open to your own interpretation. Two lines of thoughts conjured up as I watched the open-ended final scene: Only when one has lost all would one be saved. Or, go into that good night with gentleness, for brightness awaits. I can see both these scenarios to be applicable here. Again, this is one of those films that leaves the viewer to draw the conclusion, a type of ending which may not be very popular but one that conveys the multiplicity of reality.

As the credits roll, we hear the song for the film. I first thought singer songwriter Alex Ebert was calling ‘Our Man’ throughout his song. As I later found in the credits, it was ‘Amen’ (with the ‘Ah’ sound). Yes, ‘Amen’ is the title of the song.

A fine movie to watch with a quiet mind and patient disposition. A necessary offering in our present day of excess among some numbing and mindless entertainment. It’s like holding your breath in your hectic course of life for 106 minutes, and survive.

~ ~ ~ Ripples


Click here to listen to Alex Ebert’s song ‘Amen’ and watch the trailer of the movie All Is Lost.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

15 thoughts on “All Is Lost (2013)”

  1. I’m looking forward to this. I’ve always felt Redford was an underrated actor, noted more for his boyish good looks than his nuance in character. Sounds like this film gives him every opportunity to do it all No one else to blame or credit but himself and his director, for the most part. I think he will pull it off quite admirably

    However, when you said he only said one word throughout, I thought, “Gee, I can’t even get in the car for a ride to the store without having an out loud conversation with myself, making up stories I never write, conversations I’d love to have and speeches I’ll probably never make. Talk about self-restraint!


    1. Jeanie,

      Have you seen Gravity? That’s the exact opposite of this film… it’s interesting to see how people deal with crisis according to their personality. Sandra Bullock is just like what you’ve described here. You might want to see both just for the contrast. Do come back and share with us your thoughts after you’ve seen Robert Redford. He’s definitely Our Man!


    1. Stefanie,

      It’s only showing in one theatre in our city. You can imagine this kind of films aren’t going to be your blockbuster. But I think it’s a rarity.


  2. Interesting thoughts (I did not read the spoilers). Never been a huge Redford fan so the idea of a movie of just him didn’t appeal to me, but as I’ve read the reviews, it seems this is a film of much merit.


    1. David,

      I still remember your high praise for Gravity. You must see All is Lost, for in many aspects, it is the opposite of Gravity… space and earth in the setting, high tech and minimalism in the filmmaking, loquacious and silence in personality… I’m sure you’ll find them a most interesting pair of films, which I believe both will be noted come awards season.


  3. I agree with you, I think this is Redford’s finest 106 minutes on film. I think he is a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination, but unless the voters get sentimental, I anticipate that Chietel Ejiofor will win Best Actor. That film is so powerful, but back to All Is Lost, it impressed me immensely. And I liked the ending. I thought it worked very well being open to interpretation.


    1. LA,

      I agree with you about Chietel Ejiofor being the front runner for Best Actor. I have yet to see it but has seen the trailer, and watched him on one of the late night talk show. He’s British, I’m sure you know, and of course, so’s Steve McQueen the director. It’s interesting to see the British telling the story of an important piece of American history.

      Spoiler Alert re: All Is Lost from here on…

      As to Robert Redford and All Is Lost, as Jeanie commented above, Redford is more known for his good looks than nuanced performance when he was young. So, it’s just ironic that for an actor to be appreciated in a deeper way, and in terms of his acting, he will have to grow much older so viewers don’t get ‘distracted’ by his appearance. Now to the ending: I was so relieved to see from deep underwater looking up, there’s a glimpse of a flashlight, a boat, and a hand extended to pull him up. BUT, right after that, the screen went white, thus a different ending was implied. Whenever we see a white screen you know where the character is heading. So, it seems the director is purposely vague on the ending.


      1. Huge spoiler alert back at you (so anyone reading comments who has not seen the film DO NOT READ THIS COMMENT): Milton and I discussed this (we saw the film separately). He asked me point-blank my interpretation of the ending. I thought Our Man had bought his rainbow and the hand reaching out could have been interpreted as the hand of God. Milton loved that coming from me, an avowed atheist. He’s spiritual.


      2. Again, big Spoiler Alert here…


        Yes, I’m afraid that’s how I’d interpret it too, mainly due to the white screen. Now, even though I’m not an atheist, I’d like to see him get rescued and not see God so soon. 😉


  4. Interesting the contrast between this and Gravity though from the outset, they would seem to be very similar — a lone survivor in a remote locale. I’ve seen neither, but hope to see them before they leave the big screen.


  5. Spoiler Alert.
    From a sailors prospective, this film is tripe. The mistakes made are too numerous to mention, but lets go with a couple obvious ones:
    – No EPRIB on an ocean going vessel in the middle of the Indian Ocean…Please
    – No Handheld radio, $100
    – an ocean sailor with no self steering? So I am to believe that he stayed awake 24/7?
    – how did the container crash through the bulkhead in calm seas, especially on the side of the boat- perhaps the bow but the side???
    – how did the “crash” with the container disconnect the mast radio antenna cable.
    – No sailor leaves a hole with such a flimsy patch
    – No prepared abandon ship bag…in the open ocean?
    – Shaving before a storm…that would have been the time to deploy the storm sail (idiot). This is textbook protocol.
    – what no automatic bilge pump- not even a $15 alarm!!
    – in the middle of a storm, this moron doesn’t even replace the companionway boards.
    – what an ocean going, singled-handed sailor with no proper (inboard) jack lines, instead he cleats to the top lifeline. This would not have held his body weight while being dragged overboard (moron).
    – not once did he put on a life jacket- death wish perhaps? Not one life jacket in the whole movie. The life ring on the stern was not even salvaged as the boat was sinking (idiot).
    -What kind of idiot, attaches a line to the sinking boat while in a life boat, then goes to sleep. Lets not forget that the boat has about 6-9000 of ballast.

    The list goes on and on, “Our Man” was an amateur and far from the resourceful sailor the film portrays. At his skill level/level of preparedness he had No Business being on the open ocean.

    I did like how they shot from underwater, shooting up on the boat and raft, cool effect.


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