February 24, 2014

See All is Lost

Finally I had a chance to see All is Lost, and I highly recommend it to any sailor. Usually sailing scenes in movies are brief interludes between other action, and often the scene is so faked it is a jarring reminder the filmmakers know nothing about sailing.

This film is different. Yes, there are many technical mistakes and unrealistic moments, but this is one of the few films I have seen that captures the feeling and mood of being offshore while dealing with difficult situations. I applaud Hollywood for taking a chance on making a film that stars one actor, and has very little dialog, no sex, and not a single gun fight!

The premise of the movie and the opening scene is one of the best parts. Spoiler alert--if you haven't seen the movie, stop reading! It all begins with Redford waking up in the V-berth after the boat has come to a grinding halt. Water sluices over the cabin soul as he rushes on deck to see the corner of a floating container piercing the side of the hull. Eventually, in a clever bit of seamanship, Redford ties a small parachute sea anchor to the container, which then pulls the container away from his boat. He starts sailing away, but then thinks better of it, tacks, and sails right back onto the container so he can retrieve his sea anchor.

That scene had me hooked right there--somebody obviously knew something about offshore sailing! A miracle. OK, there were things to quibble about. Most of us wouldn't be sleeping in the V-berth offshore, I would have been out of the hatch like a shot compared to Redford, and I think my first instinct would have been to sheet in the sails hard to heel the boat away from the container and maybe sail her off and then be on the starboard tack to keep the hole above water. Minor stuff, but still I bet every sailor that sees the movie will have their own thoughts throughout about what would have been the best thing to do.

In fact, that's one of the best parts of the movie. It really gets you thinking about how to prepare for, and then overcome the types of emergencies Redford encounters. He and the movie do a good job on some things and a bad job depicting some others. Fixing the hole in the hull with West System epoxy and fiberglass = good. Trying to wash out electronics with freshwater and then dry them = good. Struggling forward in the middle of a blow to rig a storm jib and falling overboard = bad. Getting rolled over and over in what looks like a summer thundersquall = bad. The various nonsense that leads up to the boat sinking, which apparently has little to do with the damage from the container = bad.

But, again the movie makers manage to capture interesting little vignettes of what it is like offshore that make this more than an action flick. A sudden rain squall has Redford climbing out on deck in order to rinse some of the salt off his skin. The sequence of dragging the liferaft on deck, salvaging what he can from the sinking sailboat, then casting himself adrift as his boat dives under the surface is all very well done. The passing of brilliantly lit ships in the night so close they look enormous was just as I remember it. The difficulty of being seen by a huge ship, even as they pass so close is accurate. The feeling of peering and straining to see a vague shape on the horizon is brilliant. Also, once in the raft, the various techniques used and equipment he does and doesn't have is all quite realistic.

The ending is harder for me. Frankly, it is unclear exactly what is happening. Is he saved at the last moment in a miraculous way that is too Hollywood to believe, or are we seeing the last flickerings of his thoughts as he drowns? I'm curious as to how the script describes the scene and if Redford has weighed in on what is happening. Can't wait to find out.