Thursday 6 March 2014

All is Lost - or is it???

 I’ve always thought that simply messing about in boats is foolish in the extreme. Even boarding a ferry is portentous with the possibility of disaster, and discomfort is guaranteed. What Robert Redford is doing 1700 miles from nowhere in the Indian Ocean I don’t know – and in fact we don’t know as All is Lost resists the easy option of a back story to provide context and heighten emotions. It’s just one man in a boat; an incredibly crumpled Redford (at 77 doing all his own stunts) fighting for his survival. So no human interaction and little dialogue (except for a short voice-over at the start there is only one bellowed expletive). It’s a brave, spare and intense film and a terrific performance by man and boat.

Interesting to compare with other ‘one man’s fight for survival’ films such as Touching the Void or 127 Hours. There is one crucial difference; both of these films are recreations of real events – they did actually happen and audiences are constantly aware of this. All is Lost has to carry the additional burden of being ‘only’ a story and therefore the perception of realism is of even more importance. Members of the boating fraternity have apparently found twelve different ‘mistakes’ in the film. I and other landlubbers are blissfully unaware of course, and some of these errors are no doubt justifiable in terms of dramatic effect. But it is an irritating aspect of film and TV that if you are reasonably knowledgeable about a subject you constantly groan at the pointless gaffes (I swear that there was a woman in high heels perched on the north face of the Eiger in North Face).

So was he a bad yachtsman, or just plain unlucky, or both? It’s true that he seems ill prepared for emergencies – there is moment when he unpacks a brand new sextant and struggles to find the right way up. But he is dogged, determined and systematic and always finds a way to keep afloat and alive. This I suppose is the core of the film; keep on trying, overcome every obstacle. The process, the journey, the struggle is more important than the goal (safety / life). I can appreciate this in terms of my own brand of foolishness – walking alone through remote mountains. Getting to the summit is less important than what happens, plotting and plodding, on the way.

The ending is satisfyingly enigmatic – is all lost or did he survive? I wasn’t sure, so I asked two senior members of the Borderlines’ staff, people of immense filmy knowledge and wisdom. ‘Did he survive?’ ‘Of course!’ said one. ‘Durrr - of course not!’ said the other. At an early screening the director J C Chandor asked the audience the same question. It was 50 / 50, with no help from Chandor or Redford. Take your pick. Optimist – he made it. Pessimist – he died. For fans of the afterlife, the white light of the rescue boat could be the start of the final journey. Either way, you won’t find me on a boat any time soon.

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