All Is Lost: A Film
The film is, with the exception of the first minute when the lone sailor reads aloud a note he pens after 8 days of surviving on a life raft, without dialogue. The sound of the ocean, raging, lolling, calm and the wind flapping the sails or enclosure over a tiny life raft are what matters. They are all the mariner hears, all we hear.
I’ve been offshore several times as crew on Trans-Atlantic crossings. After a couple of weeks, the rhythm of sea sets into your bones. Conversations become sparse in the cockpit. Water in motion is the constant soundtrack. You hear it slapping against the hull an inch from your ear when you’re sleeping, swooshing in swells when you’re on watch, even the tiniest of ripples against the topsides in a calm, the sea a perfect mirror so still and flat it looks like you could step off the boat and take a stroll right over it.
Then there’s the sound you never want to hear. Water rushing into the cabin. Which is when “All Is Lost” begins. If water could talk, it might have been reading the sailor the Last Rights.
The mariner doesn’t talk. Slowly, tentatively, as the reality of the shipping container that stove in the starboard waterline of his 39 foot sloops takes shape in his head, which, moments before in a midday nap, was perhaps filled with dreams of the life he left behind, he acts.
Radio communication gone. Most food stores gone. Most of his water gone. The next hundred and six minutes are a man’s bid to survive.
What’s left? Materials he finds to attempt to patch the vessel. A jug of water, a sextant - the gift he never thought he’d need. A previously unopened book titled “Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book”. The vast Indian Ocean. And a will to live.
The sailor does what he can. He tries to fix the radio. He tries to patch the hull well enough to withstand herds of cumulonimbus clouds packing mighty storms charging from the horizon. He nearly drowns as he tries to rig a storm jib during a gale. His boat sinks. He’s now alone and afloat on a tiny life raft, it's thin skin the only barrier between him and the deep. The image of his tiny raft, one yellow molecule bobbing in the vast ocean, shrieks “ALONE!”
Focused, nearly stoic, he does one small thing at a time. He learns to use the sextant. He plots a course toward the shipping lanes. He makes a still to produce drops of water. He tries to fish. Sharks appear. Container ships appear and vanish over the horizon.
Close up shots of the 77 year-old sailor’s craggy, salt-crusted face are eloquent speeches about his deteriorating emotional and physical state. One by one, his options are closed down. He is forced to reconcile hope and resignation. When I realize I’d feel manipulated if the cavalry were to charge over the next wave and save him, I realize how this must end.
It is left to us to interpret the note he scrawls. “I think you would all agree that I tried,” he writes, “All is lost.” To whom is it written? Does it matter? Weak, dehydrated, possibly delusional, he tucks the note into a jar, seals the lid, hesitates, then casts it weakly into the ocean.
The film’s ending is enigmatic, ambivalent and satisfying, a Rorschach test of your sensibilities. If you’re a certain age, it puts you smack in the middle of your own vast ocean of coming to terms with death. Will all be lost? Depends on how you navigated…and luck.