Sunday, November 24, 2013

All Is Lost (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

All Is Lost

On the surface of things, "All Is Lost"  (directed by Margin Call's J.C. Chandor)  is about a man and a boat but it is also nothing less than a study in Nature's animal power, her beauty and The Sublime.

We have before us the existential man (Robert Redford) alone at sea on an expensive looking sailboat. No this isn't a revenge fantasy about the 1%, but rather a gripping psychological tale of a man fighting with his wilds and his wit to literally keep his head above water.

At the beginning, the sea is blue and benevolent. The man sleeps serenely in his boat. We have a hint that he has secrets in his past as he intones earlier in a voiceover: "I tried to be right but I wasn't. At least I fought to the end...if that matters... All is lost..."

Perhaps this man was a stock trader, perhaps he was a radical environmentalist, a politician, a real estate flipper. We don't know. It is this mystery, this gap in the narrative that keeps us guessing.

Abruptly he is rudely awakened by a rush of water in his cabin, which assaults his beloved sail like malevolent amniotic fluid. The man is quickly knee-high in water but at first he maintains  a bemused smirk on his face. Surely this is a dream, a joke. Then, a hole appears. He moves on deck and discovers that a cargo trailer has run into the side of his boat with the front of it jutting out of the water like a huge scarlet iceberg. The words printed on the side of the cargo vessel read HO WON. This name might be a cynical jab that bad news comes from China or Walmart, true, or it might be some fated dark humor, given that it reads similar to WHO WON. Whatever the case, brightly colored sneakers pepper the ocean like fallen canvas orchids or Japanese lanterns.

He repairs the hole with epoxy that under the circumstances, is akin to a balm from a human First Aid kit or even an antacid.

We watch as The Man ties the boat, winds various cranks and checks his stores. He is at peace with nature we can surely assume, yet he scowls and frowns with irritated wrinkles. It is as if this man was awakened from a wonderful dream into a nightmare. He walks up and down countless times with bone-creaking trudges and moans. Above deck, there is a huge fan-like cloud creation with deep blackness below that feels all heaviness and doom; it might as well be a call from Hiroshima.

Chaos ensues and so begins the most confrontational and emotional part of " All Is Lost" which is in actuality,  a visual interpretation of The Sublime  as pictured by Edmund Burke---that middle ground between fear, confusion, beauty and shock, all muddled together and intermixed into an obscene whirl to take man out of the world.

The episodes of squalls are pulsing and almost orgiastic in their intensity. This film exposes a storm for what it appears to be: an amoral meteorological beast eating all in its path. Redford is tossed like a ginger-curled rag-doll. And his Half and half cream colored sailboat becomes a pitted and meager satellite, adrift in space. The sound of the sea is the rage of a demon and for most of the film, this is all the soundtrack that is needed.

Periodically, a ship appears. At times this event seems more like a mirage that hovers with a Camus-like apprehension just above the ocean, going neither forward or back. The bright, cranberry-intense flares come to nothing. In one such episode, we see a Maersk ship that echoes  the film "Captain Phillips". It floats by silently, a mere metal wall. The man is reduced to bobbing in his lemon shaped lifeboat--- a human fish lure. When he starts a huge bonfire in his boat, it is a call to a primeval Walpurgisnacht spirit or a yelp of white magic as well as survival.

Though the whole of "All is Lost" is seamless, one moment is singularly perfect as the unnamed  man lets himself go. As he falls deeper and deeper underneath, the ocean  seems to rebirth and regenerate him. Magically, he is light and loose.

And as he points upward with his finger in a cowboy-superhero snap, we see Redford the man as an ageless, forever young boy / star with that  fiery famous blonde hair and dazzling good looks. He is Jay Gatsby, the Sundance Kid and he won. This one moment is so powerful in spontaneity as much for the sudden clap of Redford breaking  the "wall" with recognition of his  audience as for poetry of gesture.

The potency of "All Is Lost" comes from this recognition: we see both an invisible man in the battle to continue his life in spite of nature's unforgiving noose as well as the iconic Redford who offered a flashing verve and joy to some of our greatest films.

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