Everywhere the sea is a teacher of truth. I am not sure that the best thing I find in sailing is not this salt of reality.
(Joseph) Hilaire Pierre Belloc c.1910 The Cruise of the Nona.
All is Lost is being hailed as one of the great films of recent history; “..a gripping, visceral and powerfully moving tribute to ingenuity and resilience.” And here’s the thing.. I think it is a great film. Robert Redford turned in an amazing performance. The camera work and the direction were spot on. That said, I can’t help but wonder if the director, J.C. Chandler wasn’t playing a game of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with their audience. I’m tempted to say, they even telegraphed the idea… Anyway, here’s my conspiracy theory…
You see, I think J.C. Chandler, and Robert Redford for that matter, know a lot about sailing. So much so, that they blatantly showed anyone who knew what was going on, that their man, was, well, inept and ill prepared. Let me be clear, this not a knock at the film but pointing out a higher complexity. Yeah, “Our Man” slogged through and faced the challenge, but really, it was only fate that kept him alive. He was simply a weekend warrior who for whatever reason got himself into a situation he had no business being in. AND, he knew it.
Why Our Man Was An Inexperienced Sailor..
1. The most obvious issue was the lack of an EPIRB, handheld GPS or waterproof VHF radio on board. You’re kidding right? This is such a wild oversight that it’s hard to explain to people unfamiliar with life on the water. It’s just beyond all common sense. We did see him try to clean out a handheld radio of some sort, but the concept that he would have a non-waterproof handheld just showed a laissez faire view of safety equipment. (Something we see later concerning navigation.) At the very least he should have had an EPIRB which is required by law in many countries. The lack of these very basic safety tools is ghastly and beyond suspended belief. So ghastly in fact, that I think the writer knew exactly what the message was.. “This dude is an inexperienced sailor” at best.
2. The fiberglass repair.. If you’ve never done fiberglass repair you could be forgiven for doing a poor job on the first try or missing the issue when watching the film. But it’s fair to say even a weekend boater would/should know basic repairs. Again the director took time to show the audience that it was poorly done with one board nailed through the center and how flimsy it was. Remember, this is a film. It’s pre-planned fantasy. If the director took the time to show “Our Man” tapping on the repair and showing how weak it was, it was intended.
3. No compass? Just hard-wired GPS.. really?
4. NO COMPASS? REALLY?
5. The lack of basic navigational skills was well, shocking. When the dude pulled out the sextant and then… slowly.. the instruction manual.. I was like “No way??”. Ok, so our sailor has no clue how to navigate the old school way. He can’t find north using the sun or the stars. He has no compass and no concept of how the sextant works.. Again, if this guy sails regularly he would know some basics. He would certainly have a compass to go with his charts.
6. Did I mention that the guy in the sailboat on the ocean, had no compass?
7. Way late on the drogue. What was the deal with the storm jib? But regardless, it wasn’t until after that fiasco that “Our Man” got out the drogue (sea anchor). Again, the director took time to show the sea anchor in the beginning of the film. He was telegraphing it to the audience. And for those of you who don’t know, very generally a sea anchor keeps your boat facing into the waves so it’s much less likely to get rolled.” It seemed to be intended that we see he got rolled because he simply didn’t have experience in rough seas.
8. Tying the life raft to the sinking boat and going to sleep? Here’s the thing; You’d want to do that too right? Staying close to supplies is a good idea… but remaining tied to a sinking boat, then going to sleep is well, unwise. (Spoken in my best Mr. Spock voice.)
9. Starting your life raft on fire because you are building a fire in a plastic water jug.. I can’t even begin to talk about that one. Could he have built a fire in some way that wouldn’t have lit his raft on fire? (Personally I thought he was just going to put a hole in the raft as the plastic melted through the bottom.)
The Big Give-A-Way
Now here’s the big giveaway. Remember when our sailor suddenly decided to have a shave before going on deck? Who would do that right!? Reviewers often point to this moment as one of those “heroic”, “playing on as the titanic sinks” moments. That just doesn’t ring to me. However, what it does look like is a classic displacement reaction to a high stress situation. Like a mouse grooming itself when a snake is about to eat him. Again, I think the director knew exactly what he was saying… “Our man is out of his depth and needs to go bye-bye for a moment.” It makes complete sense when you look at a weekend warrior who was ill-prepared for a balls-to-the-wall situation at sea.
Personally, I think the general slow reaction and slow pace of “Our Man” throughout the film was an expression of someone overwhelmed. Yeah, he was doing what he could, but other than making a water collector (which he probably saw on an episode of Man Vrs Wild), he really had no business being out there.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
I loved one review I read in a major national publication that talked about how the sailor showed his skill by using his sextant to navigate his life raft into a shipping lane to give himself the best chance of survival. “Um, dude, you don’t navigate a round life raft.” You have no motor, no sail, no paddle. You just float. What “Our Man” did was take the time to figure out how the sextant worked, and only once he was in the life raft. With this tool, he realized he had gotten lucky and would be floating through a shipping lane.
AND this is where the Emperor’s New Clothes comes into play….
The problem is that the audience and the reviewers have no clue what they are looking at. They don’t know anything about the sea, or sailing. So they see a knowledgeable (Hey, he made that water thingy, and read a manual!) hero bravely facing down the cold soul of the sea. What’s more, they have a great “art” film with a major actor. It’s Robert Redford. And he, he was good in this film! So that meant the character he played must have been heroic right? Everyone says so. Read the reviews!
However, what I think you had a was great film with a great actor portraying the story of an “everyman”. A wealthily, weekend warrior who could afford sailing in the Indian ocean, but really shouldn’t have been there. A man literally out of his depth. Then the problems began, and really he was just guessing. What’s more, he was often the cause of his own terrors. He was a man blindly throwing darts at problems he either created or wasn’t educated for or prepared for. Still, he kept plugging along. What else would you, or CAN you do? After a moment of displacement, he dedicates himself to trying to survive in any way he can.
All Is Lost is a great film. Well done. Well acted. In my opinion it just isn’t the story that most people think it is.. It’s much deeper and more realistic than many understood…
Of course.. what do I know??