Thursday, October 2, 2014

Life Boat Earth?

"All is Lost,” directed by J.C. Chandor, starring Robert Redford, 2014

This film is about a guy dying on his boat.  Yet it is not.  A probably wealthy man in his late 60s, early 70s wakes up in the middle of the southern Pacific or Indian Ocean to find a hole in his sailing yacht.  We watch him attempt to fix every subsequent problem that comes up in creative or practical ways, yet nothing ultimately saves him.  Or maybe it does.

First of all, who is on this boat? Who can afford this, a 48-foot sailboat?  The retired trip of a lifetime evidently.  A weathered yet handsome (it’s Redford) American attempts to brave the ocean alone.  That is a helping of hubris.  He has faith in technology.  Even at age 70, he moves slowly, so more hubris.  He thinks – or perhaps he doesn’t -  that nature will cooperate.  He has enough money and skills to believe it so.

To me it is a parable of present society.  An aging society.  Which is why we never know his name, no back-story, hardly any dialog, a few parting words on a sheet of paper.  If you think this is just an individual survival story, I think you cook with a shallow baking pan.

The man has the world’s worst hatch to below decks – a fancy yet impractical contraption with 3 pieces that lets heavy rains in when transiting from down below to the deck above  The yacht has every safety device known to upscale wallets.  He is a frustratingly slow yet methodical sailor.  He normally does not panic.  The sailboat has few non-electric backup systems.  So when a floating Maersk container slams into his hull just above his on-board computer control and communication system, letting in the salt water, it wakes him up. 

The container seems to be full of shoes and has dropped off a giant ship.  So perhaps consumerism punctures his boat – or this symbolic boat.  It is a quiet day on the ocean – and there seem to be only two kinds of days on this ocean, quiet or stormy – so the man effectively seals the hole with marine glue, sheets of fiberglass and homemade ribbing.  Yet his radio no longer works, nor his bilge pump, nor, evidently, any motor on board, as the water shorted them out.  Like I said, almost no backups.  He hand pumps the water out and hopes for good weather.  He’s miles from anywhere.  Electric technology has failed him.  Another symbol. 

He gets out an old sextant, reads a book of directions, and plots his course on a map the old fashioned way.  Luckily he’s drifting northward towards a shipping channel.  Of course a monster storm comes up, ultimately washing over the deck several times (he neglected to put up the cover tarp in a timely manner) and punctures the hole again.  The man brings out the fancy covered life-raft, which has food, ostensible water, flares, etc.  Ultimately the sailboat sinks.  Nature has over-powered the expensive yacht.  Hmmm.

He continues to float north in the rubber raft, sometimes seeing sharks, and finally reaches the shipping channel.  He resourcefully distills potable water from salt water.  Twice he encounters enormous Maresk container ships that ignore his flares, both hand-held and shot into the air.  The ships seem to be empty of humans, just piled high with containers full of commodities.  No one is watching, no one cares evidently.  Society has been reduced to souless ships at sea. 

The man charts his path and realizes he is now past the shipping channel.  He’s nowhere.  That nighttime in the distance he sees a faint light at water level and in desperation lights a small fire in a plastic water pan on his rubber raft to get their attention.  He throws all his paper into it.  The raft, as you might expect, eventually bursts into flames and he goes overboard.  After all his survival skills, you’d think he’d stay around to see if this last desperate measure worked.  Instead he swallows water and sinks, committing suicide.  We last see him floating down far below the surface of the ocean.  No bubbles.

Long after his lungs have filled with water, he sees a faint light shining far above from what looks like the dark shadow of a boat, and he begins to swim upward.  Still no bubbles come from his mouth.  The last thing we see is a hand reaching down to grab his – similar to the one in Da Vinci’s painting on the Sistine Chapel.  Based on your naiveté, he is saved.  More likely in this parable, he’s very dead.  Not an optimistic ending.  A personal or perhaps more than that – a cultural apocalypse. 

This is a bleak film.  This is no sappy “Life of Pi.”  No Tom Hanks’ Hollywood “Cast Away.”  No “Treasure Island” or even “Lord of the Flies.”  Redford portrays an aging man who thinks he can ignore nature because of his technology.  Age or location do not matter.  Yet no one is there to help when it comes time.  He is as isolated as anyone can be – floating alone in the ocean like a planet in dark outer space. 

(‘Life of Pi,’ reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.  Books on survival, “Deep Survival – Who Lives and Who Dies” and “Into the Wild,” also reviewed below.)

Red Frog
October 2, 2014

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