If ever a movie was made for Nantucketers, "All Is Lost" is that movie! If we haven't been lost at sea, we have known people who have been, or we've heard about islanders who've been lost at sea, or we've read about these incidents in one of our local papers. Or maybe we've been awkened by a bad dream about being lost at sea. However it happens, seafaring adventures and misadventures are on our radar.
Here is a movie with one character, virtually no dialog other than one anguished scream, and very little music. And yet it holds our attention firmly from beginning to end. How does it accomplish this feat? First, it opens with the sound of Robert Redford reading a final letter to his family that he means to place in a bottle before his life-raft sinks. In other words, it begins with a scene from close to its ending. After a brief fade-out, the scene opens on a man waking up to the sound and sight of water pouring through the side of his sailboat, The story, then, is of a man fighting to save his sinking ship.
Redford's character is fascinating to watch because he is clearly competent. Those who know more about sailing than this reviewer may see mistakes that he makes. Yet the struggle takes place on several levels. The first is intellectual: how do you solve the engineering problems posed by a sinking ship? The second level is psychological: how does a person in desperate straits maintain his focus? How does one avoid panic? Redford's character seems at moments to be veering close to the panic zone. The third level on which the story unfolds is emotional, or perhaps it's more properly called spiritual. How should a man confront the prospect of the end of his life? What work does he need to do to prepare for his own death, if indeed he can prepare?
One of the devices the movie uses to hold our attention is the shift between contrasting scenes: on the one hand, the vastness of the ocean and, on the other, the cramped, claustrophobic feeling cabin in which Redford spends most of his time. When he emerges from the cabin to assess the weather, measure the approach of a storm, or plot his position using a sextant, his horizons seem to explode outward. These are scenes of incredible beauty, yet they are simultaneously frightening.
I found myself hoping that "All Is Lost" is as close as I will ever come to being lost at sea.