All Is Lost (2013)
There's been a resurgence of survival films in recent years, spearheaded by brilliant movies such as Into the Wild, 127 Hours, and this year's Gravity, and with a number of other entries making up a long list of films made within a short span of just 3-4 years, such as Wrecked, The Grey, Buried, Frozen, Life of Pi, to name a few. When taking a step back, it's hard not to see this trend as a reaction to the ever more interconnected world and screen-based socializing we're seeing today. Because what all these films have in common is that they're putting one or a very few people in an existential battle against nature and the elements, and this is arguably the one setting that is the most distant and absent from our cushioned Facebook and Twitter controlled lives. What the makers of these films suggest, or perhaps feel themselves, is that the lack of these battles, this primal struggle for survival against all odds in an unforgiving natural environment, which is such a big part of our ancestral history for every one of us, is an important aspect of being human, of being alive, and that is missing from our modern lives. Not in the sense that anyone would want to find themselves in Aron Ralston's situation in 127 Hours, or in Dr. Ryan Stone's situation in Gravity, but in the sense that humans all throughout history have thrived upon putting themselves in these kinds of risky situations, thanks to our inherent need for exploration.
All Is Lost, which is J. C. Chandor and Robert Redford's contribution to this sentiment, is perhaps the best and most relevant example of this so far. Why? Well, because Our Man, who is an old sailor encountering problems while sailing alone on his Cal 39 sailboat "1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits", represents the link between our modern age and the times when man's existential battles against the elements where commonplace. He's not out to make a statement, like Christopher McCandles in Into the Wild, and he's not at the forefront of the technological development like Dr. Stone in Gravity; he's simply a man enjoying the solace of the high seas, like men have always done, and he's doing so with the assistance of every normally available modern piece of equipment (which unfortunately are not infallible, as it turns out). As such, Our Man's story here could just as easily have occurred 300 years ago or 100 years from now. His predicament is timeless, and so is his struggle to survive and keep himself afloat – mentally and literally.
There are about 20-30 spoken words during this 106 minutes long film, and it has one single actor, who is in-frame about 99% of the time. Needless to say, the challenge of making an engaging, effective and relevant film within this framework is enormous, which makes the achievement even more impressive. Despite its on the surface (no pun intended) limited scope, All Is Lost is among the most wide-reaching films of the year. It's constantly enthralling, with an ever-present, palpable tension that will get to you as a human being, and not simply as a moviegoer. It is also a brilliant technical achievement, made with flair and expertise at the renowned Baja Studios. And last but not least, the film is crowned by a sober, complete and herculean performance by Robert Redford – who at age 76 gives his perhaps, just perhaps, best ever performance.