“I fought to the end”. The line is spoken by Our Man (Robert Redford) in what serves as a letter of guilt and apologies. Outside the frame, Redford’s sorrowful voice sets the tone for a film that achieves a true measure of desperation. Unlike the similar-minded Gravity, All is Lost accomplishes a feat of dire spectacle, where man is tested by the enormity of Earth and its solitude. The significance of J.C Chandor’s sophomore effort is in how it evades brandishing or highlighting overarching thematic concerns. Stripped of dialogue and determined to allow its actions to speak for itself, All is Lost instills a sense of profundity through its novelty. Still, my concern is that it leaves Chandor and Redford with only a concept to work with when exposition is undercut.
My admiration for Chandor’s Margin Call was largely on a visual level, so the dialogue-less and visually dependent All is Lost has a particular immediacy to it that I can appreciate. Our Man’s solitude is disturbed by a sailing accident in the Indian Ocean. With his luxurious vessel now compromised and incoming storms jeopardizing travel, Man is left to detach himself via raft and drift. The threat of weather is still there, along with a shortage of fresh water and food. With map in tow, Man drifts toward his only refuge at sea - a commercial trail where the likelihood of being saved increases.
Chandor captures the unnerving sense of anxiety and desperation of abandonment and solitude better than just about any other film of its type. Life of Pi and Gravity were wrapped up in heavy emotional and spiritual consequence. With All Is Lost, Chandor and Redford levy only rationalism and frustration as the predominant emotional punctuations to the picture. Redford isn’t talking to himself in the film nor is he looking to befriend a volleyball - the few times he speaks, desperation or frustration composes his vocal pattern.
A solid hours passes by until All is Lost’s cyclical patterns emerge, or at least emerge into the possibility that Chandor’s ambitions seem much more substantial. With little in the way of exposition to pull from, the audience is left to decipher meaning out of Chandor’s images, like Man’s lofty living quarters compromised by a lost commercial shipping container. Or the ironic fact that man looks to the same commercial lanes where that lost container likely originated. The steadfast movement of day, to night, to the image of sharks circling Man’s movement develops into something a pattern in itself. Or the oblique nature of its ending where man gazes at the night skies and depends upon the arm of commercialization. The devil is truly in the details and Chandor, refreshingly, develops his style from the tightly confined space of his verbally dependent Margin Call to the visually spatial and challenging All Is Lost. The film warrants a second viewing, at least insofar to see how defined Chandor’s development of subtle rhythm takes shape. But as it stands, Chandor is developing into prominence.