The story is about as simple as it gets on the surface. Robert Redford stars a man lost at sea and this is one of my favorite stories in film. An isolated character stuck in a cruel and unrelenting universe. The man vs. nature/god/universe battle will always be explored. All Is Lost is as involving as any survival film in recent memory. So how does the film manage to captivate and engage its audience? Through technically impressive filmmaking from writer/director J.C. Chandor, and one of the best performances of Robert Redford’s career.
The man speaks only a few lines the whole movie but that doesn’t matter. It actually makes the film all the more impressive. The camera utilizes the space and brings us into this characters situation. Consider how hard it is to take one actor, a camera and tell a captivating story. Through a lot of point of view shots and close-ups we are intrigued with the characters journey which might as well be a metaphor for life. The film is big in its themes but small in approach. Handsome faced Redford emits emotion with just a look. This is something dialogue can’t do. All Is Lost proves that a picture is worth a thousand words.
So no dialogue, and only taking place on a ship at sea sounds SUPER APPEALING RIGHT? I’m sure plenty of you have seen Gravity and Captain Phillips, which are both very good movies that similarly are survival films. The word existential is a bit over used these days but All Is Lost certainly deserves it in at least some aspect. As I stated before, the film basically puts you in this nameless man’s shoes. He has no back story and even if you aren’t aware, you will give him a back story. I hadn’t even realized that I had substituted myself for him until I was driving home. This is how much the film pulled me in, particularly the last 5 minutes.
The film opens with a monologue that’s basically the only dialogue throughout. Listen closely and understand the meaning of the words to fully grasp the point of the movie in the end. Redford has to battle problem after problem and faces new challenges while Chandor throws in some very interesting shot choices. The man’s fiberglass on his boat is smashed and we watch as he smartly patches it up. He has to pump the water out of the boat which is physically stressing and then a storm comes. His radio breaks. These are just the beginning of his problems. The man still moves on though. The film does run over a few similar plot points and get repetitive, which makes the film feel somewhat lengthy.
I found it absorbing in its methodical approach in which this man is trying to do one thing: Survive. There’s some truly amazing shots throughout the film. One is an aerial shot from above showing the man curled up and the sea endlessly surrounds him. An obvious, but moving metaphor for the vastness of humanity stuck in a giant universe. You can’t stop what’s coming. Every shot in the final moments is as powerful and mesmerizing as anything I’ve seen this year. The film as a whole is an engaging experience that’s driven by Chandor’s direction and Redford’s knockout performance. I must say that I feel Chandor is a bit biased here as he seems to condemn capitalism too much. There’s subtext here that feels a bit heavy handed and one sided.
Up until the final 10 minutes I had liked the film just well enough. What happens in the last ten minutes is where the film really grabbed me. It’s surely a controversial ending but all of the greatest movie endings are. The best endings provoke discussion. I won’t spoil anything but the ending works on a few levels. The film ultimately is about the loneliness of humanity and questions what is the point? A question we all ask at some point. This is the clear point of the film and the ending reveals the answer. It just depends on your perspective. There’s a moment where something happens and everyone in the audience has an idea of what it meant. I immediately had my own interpretation and I heard others interpretations as I walked out of the theater. Not new or really that profound but it’s moving.
All Is Lost is a quiet film. It can be seen as just a survival movie, but it does aim for a bit more. Is humanity destined to be born alone and die alone? What’s the point of living at all? It’s big questions and themes like these that make me love cinema. All Is Lost handles these ideas just as good as Gravity did. At 77 years old, golden boy Robert Redford gives an incredible performance. It won’t be for everybody because of its approach, but I strongly urge you to see it and to try and see how it works. Sure, it’s repetitive in its story and a bit overlong, and while it touches nice thematic depths, it doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. All that said, this is a film of ambition and you get out whatever you brought into it. You might not even be aware of what you brought into it.