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All Is Lost — An Ocean of Torturous Solitude
The Lenten themes in a movie about survival
This adage is confirmed by the new movie All Is Lost. The film’s sole character, known simply as Our Man (Robert Redford, giving an Oscar-worthy performance) is sailing on the Pacific Ocean when some debris makes a hole in his vessel. He patches it up, and all seems well until a storm hits. He makes an SOS call, but nobody answers and so Our Man must fend for himself. The storm ravages his boat and his spirits as he struggles to survive, alone on the open ocean.
Our Man never gives any outward sign of being a religious person. However, his saga has strong echoes of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, a touchstone of the Gospels. Jesus’ adversary is the Devil, who tempts him to make stones into bread, throw himself off the temple so as to be saved, and worship Satan to gain power. Though struggling, Jesus resists these temptations and is motivated by his desire to please God. In the process, he is rewarded by the angels. This story of adversity followed by rebirth has a distinctively Lenten bent.
As Our Man fights for his life, he has twin motivations. One of these is regret. At the beginning of the film (in one of the few pieces of dialogue), Our Man reads a letter in voiceover that begins “I’m sorry.” He then repents for not being a stronger, better person. The recipient of the letter is never named, but whether family or friend, it is clear that whatever Our Man did to this person weighs deeply on him. He never expresses his desire for forgiveness in an overtly religious way, but he has definitely ascribed a sort of spiritual significance to it. When he sticks the message in a bottle at the end of the movie, this is one final signal that he wants his feelings to be known, even if he cannot deliver them in person.
As the storm clouds rise, Our Man is also propelled by the will to live. When the rain begins, he tries simply to ignore it. He shaves and eats a can of beans, waiting for it to pass. Once the storm increases in severity, though, Our Man springs into action. He fights during and after the storm, trying to save his vessel and using flares to try to show himself to passing ships. This struggle on the sea is akin to Jesus’ struggles in the desert. The extreme, hot sun in such a barren environment is enough to wear down anyone, even the Son of God. Jesus’ need to fight the Devil’s temptations is exacerbated by the desert; the battle against the Devil is made even harder by the hot weather.
Our Man is also constantly tested, and these tests take a toll on him. He is tempted to give up many times, but he continues to battle the elements, propelled by the basic human need to live. The continued struggles wear him down as the movie goes on, but he keeps battling nonetheless. This determination to never give up echoes Jesus’ tenacity against the Devil in the desert, and is a good source of inspiration to all of humanity for how to deal with temptation and adverse situations.
At the film’s end, with Our Man on his last legs, it looks like he might gain some godly redemption, and his Christ-like efforts to survive will be recognized. No angelic host greets him outright, but the last shot of the movie gives an indication that Our Man will embark on a new journey. Whether this journey is spiritual or secular is left to the viewer’s interpretation, as it is not clear if Our Man is seeing what is actually in front of him or a symbolic vision of things to come.
A rescue by the angels would perfectly dovetail with Jesus’ story, and Catholic viewers might wish to see the ending this way. However, viewers from other (or no) faith backgrounds are also free to make their own assumptions. It is to the credit of writer/director J.C. Chandor that he has created a film with the potential to reach all people without being patronizing.
All Is Lost makes manifest how hard it can be to survive solitude under adverse conditions. The struggle to keep one’s life is a universal one, whether talking of the Son of Man or Our Man.