All Is Lost, a wilderness survival film, written and directed by J. C. Chandor, is highly engaging. It is no small feat given that the story takes place within the very limited spaces of a tiny yacht and an even smaller lifeboat. Furthermore, the film features only one cast member (Robert Redford,) and hardly uses any dialogue – so few words that they can be scribbled over a napkin. All of this makes All Is Lost quite a cinematic achievement. It is a testament to the talent of primarily two people: writer/director Chandor and actor Redford.
The film, to a point, falls into a category that is more in line with films such as the 2007 Into The Wild and the 2010 127 Hours, than sea disaster/journey movies such as Hitchcock's 1944 Lifeboat, the 2000 The Perfect Storm and the more recent 2012 Life of Pi. The story has a quality that brings to mind The Old Man and the Sea, though this is only by association as the plot and focus are quite different.
All Is Lost is a reflective film in that Chandor elects not to introduce us to the hero, not even by name. We, the audience, are brought into the events as they unfold, and at the story's conclusion (no plot spoiler here – I am not going to reveal how the film ends,) we part ways, still not knowing anything biographical of the Redford character. Yet, through the hero's trials, we get an intimate insight into his personality, an insight that is more telling than any printed resume.
Chandor and Redford created a film that serves as a mirror, with a character that is at once both detailed yet blank, allowing us, the audience, to each find his own reflection in the onscreen persona. Redford shines as he portrays a man challenged by the sea in a manner that is both minimalist and compelling. Kudus goes also to the cinematography.
Some may perceive the story as a testament to human nature, where a sense of ingenuity and hope prevails in the face of total despair. For others, All Is Lost will seem depressive, as the hero is being landed one trial after another to no end.
For me, this film is all about adapting in the face of life's challenges, about prioritizing, and about the thin line between hope and despair. For more about lessons that can be learned from this film, click here for my related personal blog entry.