All is Lost

Reviewed by: Julia Roe
Categories: Waste - Consumerism - Art

All is Lost \ directed by J. C. Chandor

In the aftermath of the 2014 Oscars, this review focuses on one film that was overlooked by the Academy and, to an extent, by popular culture at large. All is Lost tells the story of an aged man (Robert Redford) who finds himself shipwrecked on a solo voyage in the vast Indian Ocean. Despite his ingenuity and resilience, he will not survive this trial. The film has been praised for its gritty realism and powerful, visceral imagery, but it is also rich with highly relevant environmental symbolism.

Redford’s character is lurched awake when a dislodged and adrift storage container, filled with running shoes and other commercial products, collides with his 39-foot yacht and punctures the hull. The unforgiving steel of the storage container is representative of the threat posed by modern consumer culture. Indeed, when the monolithic container impales the fragile sailing vessel, the movie’s own symbolic depths reveal the ominous trajectory of gratuitous consumption, a weight too powerful for human society to withstand. Like the rest of us aboard planet earth, the unnamed sailor must confront an irreparable blow borne of human carelessness and will now be forced to adapt to a new and hostile reality.

In a testament to human resilience, the sailor successfully frees his boat from the storage container, patches the hole, drains his boat, and cleans away the evidence of the debacle. But is it too late? Can a man’s force of will and technological ingenuity truly reverse the damage humanity has already inflicted?

Even as the sun shines, the wind flutters in the sails, and the sailor takes pleasure in a revitalizing sprinkling of rain, his vulnerability is apparent in light that penetrates the thin, makeshift patch on the hull. This is a fascinating parallel to the disturbing probability that even as we learn to appreciate our place in the natural world, our fate within it is precarious as long as solutions to environmental degradation remain superficial.

Soon, the strength of the sailor and his damaged vessel are tested by a vicious storm. Redford alternates between attempting to take control on deck and shutting himself off within the darkness of the cabin. Ultimately, his boat does not successfully weather the storm and as it fills with water he is forced to abandon it and take to a life raft. No amount of human energy can counter the seething ocean and save the fragile vessel. This is indicative of the infinite strength of the earth, juxtaposed with the transient, insignificance of human creation.

Nevertheless, bittersweet images of hope and beauty are seen in the light dancing through the blue water and the small marine life clinging to the underside of the life raft. Schools of fish present an offering of sustenance, but when Redford attempts to harvest this resource a shark snatches his catch. Again humbled, man is reminded of his place in the natural order. Fearful and discouraged, Redford retreats into the final refuge of his plastic raft and its processed foods. Modern man is ill- adapted for survival in a changing world.

The desperation of the situation comes to a head when, after he drifts into a shipping lane, massive cargo ships pass Redford, twice, without seeing him! Flares and shouts are to no avail as these ships, emblems of modern civilization, are seemingly devoid of humanity. Ultimately, then, capitalism nurtures no cognizance for issues other than those of monetary gain. We are deaf to forewarnings of ecological disaster—the captains of industry are asleep at the wheel.

Seeing a light in the distance, Redford makes one a last attempt to draw attention to his plight by lighting a fire on the raft. Though initially contained, the fire is soon out of control, and Redford finally appears to accept his fate as he sinks into the depths of the ocean, staring up at the moon and the burning ring of fire that was his life raft. After a long battle for survival, man is ultimately destined for despair and self-destruction.

Earlier in the movie, upon realizing his doom, Redford writes a letter, puts it in a jar, and tosses it into the open ocean. Doubtless, this is the reflexive, regret-filled monologue heard at the beginning of the film. Redford admits his wrongs, apologizes, and says a resigned goodbye. Presumably, this message is directed towards his own progeny, but the sentiments are symbolic of a wider apology for humanity’s blunders and an appeal for forgiveness from future generations. The depersonalized, unnamed sailor, about whom we know so little, is an everyman, espousing the regrets of a collective human consciousness.

The final, ethereal moments of the film see Redford peacefully swim towards the surface and grasp a hand that reaches down, pulling him into the light. Perhaps this mysterious ending suggests there is still hope for an eleventh hour salvation. Unfortunately, this hope is dimmed by continued submersion within the material world and passivity in the presence of distress flares. True to the film’s title, perhaps all is lost.

All Is Lost, directed by J. C. Chandor, USA: Before the Door Pictures, 2013, 106 minutes

Reviewer Information

Julia Roe is originally from Fort St. John, BC and is a third-year history major with a minor in environmental studies at the University of Victoria.

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