Sometimes, all you need is one expression to encapsulate a wordy line.
All Is Lost should be your typical survivor flick, with dramatic scenes of gigantic waves crashing into a ship lost at sea. Well, it does have those scenes, but none of that cheesy orchestral suspense music or “Oh no, we’re going to die” dialogue to preface the battle.
Instead, we get 77-year-old Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, The Sting) trying to catch his breath as he lives through one whammy after another. His character is unnamed, because really, who would blurt out their name in the middle of nowhere? So, audiences get this sense of anonymity and voyeurism — there’s no need to know who this person is or what is his background because everything gets thrown out the door when you’re trying to survive in the open seas.
All Is Lost tells the story of a man stranded in the Indian Ocean because his yacht collided with a shipping container, causing a hole in the yacht’s hull. After that, it’s just a case of worst scenarios as everything that can go wrong, goes wrong with the character trying to survive out in the open all alone.
Here’s the thing: we as the ever-cynical audience get so normalised into watching epic screw-ups happen on screen that before the scene of tragedy happens, we are already running through the 1001 possible freak accidents in our head. And oftentimes, we are right.
So, instead of delivering the payoff, director/writer J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) makes us wait for the moment we had a 9 in 10 chance of predicting correctly. We see the character trying to have a normal day despite communications systems failing and water partially flooding the boat. He eats beans, tries to get fresh water, and sometimes just sits on the bench staring blankly into the distance. Yes, he also doesn’t wash the dishes.
But as we see Redford’s character get through the days that lie ahead, we see the helmsman in him. Sensing tougher times ahead, he seals important documents and prepares for the worst possible scenario. All this time, there is no visible panic or mad dashes to collect important things. However, Redford’s character’s gaze is enough for us to know what he is foretelling.
While there may be complaints that the character’s sluggish nature drags the 106-minute movie, it is this exact nature that draws us to him. Redford humanises the character’s physical failings with a mid-pause or a slight heave and even, the utterance of the F-word when the most basic necessity is spoiled. Most times, he just sleeps it off and the screen fades to black — such is the life out there at sea. Even when ships cross his path, Redford fleshes out the skepticism the character has when calling for help.
It is almost as if the old man is holding back, slowly resigning himself to fate, like most old, greying, wasted fellas do in their moments before death.
Kudos to Steve Boeddeker whose sound editing work in this film is nominated for an Academy Award. None of the sounds you hear in this film are captured directly from the scene — they are all added in post-production. Once you find out how Boeddeker adds those sounds into the film’s scenes, the beauty of each part becomes that more magnificent.
The only thing that spoiled the movie was the glimmer of hope that presented itself right at the last second just as the character is drowning, letting go of the real world. At this point, we have fully accepted his sorry plight and are prepared to see him die, even though we are rooting for someone to save him. That is a powerful mechanism in film: to accept the end of a character’s life. All Is Lost did just that, so to present that second chance at the end is frustrating for a film which works in its despondency. It seemed unfair to want audiences to suddenly want life when death was normalcy.
In all aspects, do not watch this flick if you have a technological solution that can reduce the film to a 15-minute flirt with survival. If you are a Tumblr freak looking for the next movie to quote at your next dinner party, this is also not for you. But, if you are a willing party to accept the situation in which a movie resides in and are patient enough to actually follow through a story (yes, I’m talking to you, social media generation), All Is Lost delivers much more, without the need for incessant dialogue.
Watch it in calm, and for calm.
Photos: Daniel Daza & Richard Foreman for All Is Lost Productions LLC
All Is Lost is now showing exclusively in Shaw Theatres cinemas. Thanks to UIP Singapore for inviting us to the movie preview.