A movie like J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost usually sets up who the main character is, what they have and what they risk losing. We know virtually nothing about the 2013 release’s protagonist, although we can ascertain that he’s relatively wealthy due to the fact that he’s sailing alone on a yacht. A film such as Castaway gives you a set-up, showing what the character has at home, then displaying the character’s salvation and return to the real world. It’s a Hollywood movie. All Is Lost may star one of our great all-time movie stars, but it doesn’t take the Hollywood route. It challenges its audience.
All Is Lost is about life, death and surviving. It’s about getting old, moving on and overcoming life’s obstacles. It’s a powerful drama, with a great performance from Robert Redford. He’s credited only as ‘Our Man’, the nameless mariner who fights the elements and a multitude of challenges when his boat is hit by a stray cargo container on the Indian Ocean.
Our Man doesn’t have the trappings of the modern world, there’s no radio or computer or mobile phone as they were destroyed by the sea water following the initial collision. He’s simply forced to use his knowledge and wits to stay alive. It’s pretty much a commentary on how much we have let technology take over our lives, highlighting that we’ve lost our emotional honesty with nature – with the world.
Redford’s performance is mighty. It’s strong, realistic physical acting with his weathered face showing more detail and character exposition than a million lines of dialogue ever could. It’s more about reacting to the elements around him than acting.
Like the rest of the film, All Is Lost’s ending goes against convention; it doesn’t spoon-feed its audience but gives each viewer the ending they want, depending on their view of Our Man’s journey. All Is Lost never takes the easy way out. This is cinema in its purest form, taking things back to the silent age.
All Is Lost is a film about one man’s struggle against the world and society. The problems that we face as we get older, highlighting that there is never a satisfying or easy answer, that happy endings aren’t always guaranteed – no matter who you are.