By: Greg Maier
How far would you go to keep yourself from death? How much can one person endure until they reach a point of hopelessness so deep that they forfeit their will to live and abandon their animal instinct to keep pushing forward? In All is Lost, the sophomore effort from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, 2011), Robert Redford (The Sting, 1973) plays a man who is pushed to that very limit and beyond in what I would categorize as a modern day silent film. Redford plays a man, literally the only character in the entire film, who is the captain of a small sailing vessel that crashes into a cargo spill of tennis shoes somewhere in the Indian Ocean. He wakes up with a large hole in the side of his boat, clearly caused by a floating shipping container filled with new shoes, and spends the rest of the film attempting to survive out in the middle of the ocean. Almost no lines of dialogue are spoken during the film’s 106 minute running time, but every frame of this unique movie adds to the very understandable story that unfolds.
What impressed me most about All is Lost was not the very well played performance by Redford, which has already won him several awards nominations by the way, but instead it was the visual narrative which drives the entire story that stood out as the films biggest achievement. Everything in the storytelling is done so organically. Redford doesn’t speak his thoughts or intentions out loud, but by the way the filmmaker allows the audience to observe the environment, they are able to understand what those thoughts and intentions are. You really can’t do this with many types of stories and I believe the reason why All is Lost is successful in doing so is because the story is so very simple and universal; survival is instinctual to everyone which makes the silent narrative more easily understandable. Even early silent films from Hollywood filmmakers like Buster Keaton (Sherlock Jr., 1924) and Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, 1931) have title cards to help explain the story where the visual narrative alone could not accomplish it. Don’t get me wrong, All is Lost is no classic by any means, but I do admire the film’s natural way of telling a story without words.
The problem I had with the film is that it really doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than pure entertainment. I won’t spoil the ending which I found to be way overly dramatic, but when you get down to it, the story is just about Redford on a boat and hoping to survive. To me art can be almost anything, but exceptional art has more layers at work beyond just the imagery. Perhaps it makes a social commentary about the times or has other underlying themes in disguise, but for me these layers are important for a piece to be, not good, but great. I guess I feel this way because it’s more fun to experience something when you recognize these other layers, but with All is Lost I just can’t seem to find it. In the end it apparently seems that all along All is Lost was merely a film about Robert Redford on a boat…