It took me a little while, but I finally caught up with ALL IS LOST. I was curious about the film at the time it came out, but didn’t make it into theaters to see it and hadn’t found the right night to sit down and watch it streaming at home. Until last night.
I’d heard quite a lot of mixed responses to the film from friends and that probably added to my procrastination. I should know better. My tastes are not always in sync with my friends and I oftentimes end up loving films others downright hate.
ALL IS LOST had me on the edge of my seat from first frame to last. I know there are those who thought the limited dialogue was more a gimmick than anything else, but I wholeheartedly disagree. There is dialogue in the film where dialogue is needed and appropriate. But this is a film about a man alone in the middle of the ocean. And in his own mind. Part of the strength of the film is in Robert Redford’s character’s apparent calm in the face of terrifying realities. He is, of course, not calm inside and writer/director J.C. Chandor takes us through these subtle gradations in character via his impeccable direction.
The film opens with a voiceover that sets up this character’s emotional arc. We enter into the story with an understanding that this is a man who refused to see the reality of his situation until it was too late. What kind of a man he is, what his relationship with his family was, with other human beings… This is established wonderfully in the opening statements. This moment in his life is not the first time he has miscalculated or refused to see the truth of himself or the world around him. More to the point, this is a culmination of the life and perspective he has so carefully constructed. It is also the greatest moment of truth and realization. Both this man’s strengths and weaknesses are on display throughout the journey that is this film. A man alone. A man who does not freely or easily reveal his emotional inner core, and is more likely to try and control it.
ALL IS LOST builds tremendously to Redford’s nameless character’s emotional outcry and therefore gives that moment so much more power and resonance. This is an internal journey using external forces as its catalyst. And I for one was completely engrossed.
I should also add that I have a deep fear of the ocean and boats. I have gone sailing on many occasions (my father had a sailboat) and, though it was almost always fun and exhilarating, I had to fight down a measure of sheer terror to partake in the experience. ALL IS LOST tapped into that fear for me to such an extent that I was actually talking back to the movie, something I never do. My heart was pounding as my personal nightmares unfolded before me on screen.
Coming out in the same year as GRAVITY, the two films can be seen as companion pieces. One in the vastness of space, the other at sea. The difference for me is where GRAVITY relies on horribly-manufactured and seemingly insincere verbal interaction and backstory, ALL IS LOST is not afraid to ask the audience to do some of the heavy-lifting. Chandor clearly understands that it’s what we bring with us as an audience, how we read into the character from our own perspectives, that allows the film to find its power and resonance. Where GRAVITY played more like a one-dimensional video game for me, ALL IS LOST reached for something far more penetrating than state-of-the-art effects. Both films tackle similar outer journeys, but for me ALL IS LOST is the only one that paid attention to the inner journey as well and didn’t rely on cliches and contrivances in order to do it. It is a nightmare that comes to us in the dark of night and pits our inner struggles and fears against our desires and illusions.
ALL IS LOST was a truly harrowing experience for me. I was on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding. Now I watched this on a 65″ screen with 7.1 surround, mind you, so the experience was VERY visceral. If you’re gonna take this film for a spin in a home environment, I suggest you do it this way, if at all possible. Loud. Big. Immersive.
I can’t speak to those who were unaffected or bored by this film. I know you’re out there, but I could not possibly have had a more divergent experience. It took me a while to recover after the film was over. In fact, more than twelve hours later with a night’s sleep between me and the experience, I can still feel it there, in my gut, moving around.
What more could I possibly ask for?