All Is Lost
I still haven’t seen most of the Oscar-nominated movies this year, but I feel that 2013 is an exceptional year if only for this film and one other: Gravity. Why? Because they are both different. Different from the depressing sameness of most movies these days. (I’m talking about the big blockbusters; they are still making smaller, more thoughtful movies, too, I know that. But many of them get lost in the shadows of yet another Iron Man or Despicable Me.) Gravity has only two people in it. Almost every shot is special effects, and almost every shot is a jaw-dropper.
This movie has only one person in it, a badly weathered Robert Redford. I’m sure there must have been a movie or two in the past (that wasn’t a filming of a one-man stage show) with only one person in it, but right off I can’t think of a single one. There is no dialogue. Redford speaks a brief introduction, reading from a message he put in a bottle. Later, he tries to send an SOS, and near the end he shouts for help, to no avail. And that’s it for human speech. From the very first shot, of him lying in his bunk and water beginning to slosh along the deck below him, we are with him. While he was sleeping a steel container that fell off a ship has punctured the hull of his boat. Water is gushing in, ruining all his fancy electronic gadgets. It’s a disaster from frame one. What can he do to save his boat, and his life? We watch, and try to survive along with him. It is all a matter of seeing what he’s doing, and then, aha! I get it! And then another crisis arises, and we have to deal with that. And then another, and another. I found it all mesmerizing.
There is no back story. We know he’s in the Indian Ocean, we see this from the maps he consults. Is he soloing around the world? That’s my guess. But who is he? What did he do to make the money to buy this million-dollar yacht? Does he have children, loved ones? We don’t know, and we never find out. And guess what? We don’t need any of that stuff. The bald tale of survival is enough, and more than enough.
At the IMDb there were a lot of people who found it boring. No surprise to me. There were no impossible stunts, no superhuman feats. He is an older man, and most of what he does looks very hard. Then there were endless carps from yachtsmen, criticizing the things he did, calling most of them stupid. I don’t know crap about boats, but it all seemed reasonable to me. I thought this was one of the best films I’ve ever seen.