Dir. J. C. Chandor. U.S.A.  2013.

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J.C. Chandor’s engrossing All is Lost opens in the dark. A 39-foot yacht drifts in the open sea. Nothing is heard until a man’s voice pierces the silence. He reads a letter written to an unknown individual saying how sorry he is that he has failed in his struggle for survival and asks for forgiveness. “I tried,” he says. “I’m sorry.” 77-year-old Robert Redford in a tour-de force performance, is alone somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 1000 miles or more from the nearest African shore. Listed in the credits only as “Our Man,” he is not only a man without a country, but also a man without a name, without a profession, and without a history. He doesn’t have any of the characteristics that we normally use to identify someone. He just is and we are with him - along for the ride.

The lack of a backstory, however, is both a blessing and a curse. Not knowing his history allows us to be in the moment without having pictures from his past get in the way to up the ante for his survival. On the other hand, not knowing much about him distances us from the outcome of his struggle. With a sudden jolt, the film takes us back eight days. Our Man’s boat has been hit by a floating cargo container and water is pouring into the yacht. Ever the practical seafarer, he does whatever patchwork is required to seal the holes, though it is clear that his laptop is unworkable and all radio contact has been lost. He climbs the mast to fix it but sees a fierce storm heading his way.

Although he knows he will be battered by the elements, he has no choice but to sail into the weather. Escaping the nightmare with only a cut on his forehead, he collects his provisions and heads for the commercial shipping lanes, where he hopes to be rescued but the two commercial ships that pass in the night are unseeing and unmoved. His ship tossed by the elements, he is forced to abandon the yacht and take his chances on his lifeboat. Compelled to call upon all of his ingenuity and determined endurance to wage a battle for survival, the odds are not in his favor.

One senses that he was once a powerful player in life but whose circumstances brought little satisfaction. Refusing to be seen by the world only as an object, he is now returning to the primordial struggle for existence, the one between man and nature. As Camus said, “There are people who prefer to look their fate in the eye,” and Our Man is seeking his invincible summer. Magnificently supported by cinematographers Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini, Robert Redford turns in a powerful performance that should be considered at Oscar time.

Though we have lived with Redford for almost half a century, here he is not The Sundance Kid or Roy Hobbs, but just a man, one man in the middle of nowhere seeking to recapture for himself the intensity that made life worth living. At one point, he just throws up his hands and yells the “F” word at the top of his voice. The scream is agonizing yet also energizing. He is L’Etranger in Camus’ novel, speaking again of the absurdity of it all, “I, too felt ready to start life all over again,” he said, “it was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.”

All is Lost is an intense and personal film that has a lot to say about the human condition, yet the title is a misnomer because nothing is lost – ever, and the truth of this is apparent on Redford’s weathered face. We never feel that he is truly alone, because his whole being conveys the strength of someone who knows who he is, a strange serenity in the midst of a life and death struggle, a knowingness that he has already come to terms with these two impostors and is just waiting to see how it will all play out.


Howard Schumann

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