Friday, November 1, 2013

Old Man The Word: Robert Redford's "All is Lost"

Single handed sailors are a breed apart:  alone for weeks or months on a very large ocean, they are reliant on their craft, their skill, some electronics to keep them tethered to the world.  But it's a slim line.   Storms, a loss of balance, lacerations, bangs on the head, or hitting an obstacle while sleeping can make it all come undone.  

Such is the isolated life of the nameless Septuagenarian, mid-Ocean 1,700 miles from the Sumatra Straight,  coming to terms with end of life in Robert Redford's All is Lost.  There is a great soundtrack, but no conversation.  Just stoic silence as the old man goes about trying to salvage his craft, a 1980's 40 foot fiberglass sloop with beautiful wood joinery.  It slowly comes apart.  The ship hits a drifting container, a bit of flotsam astray from the commercial shipping lanes in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  The ocean is smooth and calm, so there is no emergency even as water laps over the floorboards.  The sharp corner of the container has ripped a 4 foot hole in the side of his boat like a heart attack.  Water laps in, but the gash is just above the water line, not fatal.  Redford looks down in wonderment at hundreds of baby shoes floating out from the container. 

Over the next eight days we follow the old sailor as he roughly patches the hull with fiberglass, encounters two severe storms, and persevers.  He goes about his business calmly.  What else can he do.  Even as he is tossed around his craft, even as he is violently sea sick, the boat is rolled twice in the storm and he loses the mast, and ultimately the boat sinks.  Pathetically, ever so slowly, but inevitably.

He winds up in the life raft as life becomes ever more precarious.  He improvises a water still, but it produces just less than necessary to sustain him.  He writes a note to his family, his regrets.  I have fought to the end, he tells them.  He wonders if it matters.  It's the human condition;  we struggle, we struggle, 'til we're gone.  He hooks a nice fish, but before he can pull it in the raft, a shark takes it away.  Sharks circle the raft.  The camera is deep under water.  The sharks are not menacing, but it's their territory.  They are young and vibrant.  The old man does not belong.  He has become invisible.  Two freighters pass right next to him.  He is like a cripple next to the freeway, trucks passing by.  The freighters pass by.  They do not stop.  They are oblivious to him.  

And then there is the hand of God from the Sistine Chapel, reaching out to Adam; and there is Alex Ebert's song …

Old man hypnotized
Spider with ancient eyes
Black dogs who come in herds
Old man the word

Raised on golden days
God loves the U.S.A.
Fed on purple haze
Young men today
He heard them say
Amen, Amen, Amen

I’ll never say good-bye
I’ll never tell you lies
I’m never gonna die
Amen, Amen, Amen

Young man’s memories
Stay away from the summer leaves
Old man we cannot see
Old man decay
Slip slow away

Old man we’ll hold your face
Sons danced for your song
Old man looked around
Heard but the sound
Amen, Amen


  1. I haven't seen this, but did listen to Alex Ebert's song, which made me wonder what the impact of the god hand and the poetic lyric was in the film ... it sounds like it's teetering on the brink of the cinematic corn pile, which is not to say that it wouldn't strum my heart strings...

  2. We don't see many films that treat issues like coming to terms with the end of life, and let you dwell on it. This film invites you to reflect on it and doesn't feed you stuff. I like that. The God stuff is just at the very end, and it's only what you bring to it. For me it worked fine as poetic metaphor, rounding out what the film is about. 4/5 stars from me.

  3. Interesting....I thought he was saved by human hand, but now ponder, was that God welcoming him? Will be interesting to think about and reflect...

  4. that only when we have given up(jumps out of life boat on fire and simply sinks), so to speak, and gotten out of God's way, can He intervene and save us.....and remain on Earth or join Him. Once we have done everything humanly possible, as the character does, and let go and let God, do we allow him to do his divine will.

  5. My theory: Our Man took a metaphorical sailing trip. He was perhaps nearing death from old age or illness. The container strike and hull breach was the beginning of the his actual death throes. His worsening circumstances would parallel the diminishing condition of an dying human body. Would also explain the lack of waterproof marine electronics, an EPIRB, etc. Beautiful film, Amen is an amazing song.

  6. Thank you Aaron for reading and commenting. I agree with your take of the film. Love that song. I should sit down and learn it.... Best