A (Long) Running Diary of All is Lost - SPOILERS!


Warning! DO NOT read this if you plan on watching All is Lost but haven’t yet done so. But, by all means, if you have seen it, check out what I had to say as I took notes during my first viewing of it. This happened in real time as the film played, and was only slightly edited to fix some spelling and make a few points sound better. 

Feb 28, 2014, 10:00pm: First, some notes with the benefit of hindsight. I wrote this over two weeks ago and did nothing with it. In fact, I wasn't going to publish it at all in the end, because I love Robert Redford and I love 'the movies.' So I didn't want to sit here and bitch about something I'd never be able to do myself (make a movie, that is). 

But I'm publishing it anyway. Ultimately, in hindsight now, I think the movie was pretty cool, and definitely a great idea. Hearing what it meant to the actor and producers made me realize that. See this little video for their perspective:

And the best way to sum up the movie as a movie-going and life-affecting experience is this quote from 'New Morning' on sailinganarchy.com:

"[All is Lost] is not a movie about sailing, so criticism at that level misses the point. It's an allegory, sailing as a metaphor for life. We travel through life solo, make good decisions, make bad decisions, have good luck, have bad luck, and die. Step back and forget about sailing."

Boom. He nailed it, and it's the one reason I actually liked the movie (despite what you're about to read).

But as a sailor, particularly if you've crossed oceans, it's impossible to look past the incredible discrepancies throughout the movie. So for that reason, I've decided to publish my thoughts. What follows, is the real-time account of what I was thinking as I watched the movie for the very first time. This took place on the plane en route to St. Lucia on February 11. Here goes.

February 11, 10:56 AM: We boarded the plane in Miami after having breakfast at Ku*Va, the little Cuban sit-down restaurant where Mia and I nearly missed our flight that one time I decided to be mellow.

‘We’ve got plenty of time, let me finish my coffee,’ I said. ‘Andy, the flight leaves in 5 minutes,’ she insisted. I thought for sure it boarded in five minutes, but low and behold Mia was right. They were calling my name on the loudspeaker by the time I got to the gate. I made the flight.

Anyway, this time we were sure of the boarding time and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, me, Dad and his new girlfriend Marcia (this is as weird for me to write as I’m sure it is for some of you to read, so if you’re a friend or family, trust that we’re sharing the same emotions right now. No offense to Marcia). I had four scrambled eggs, plantains and café con leche. 

Once we took off, the flight attendant announced on the intercom that the in-flight movie would be All is Lost. We’re on the way to deliver Sojourner north to the Bahamas, so it might not be an appropriate movie. Scratch that – it’s perfectly appropriate, and neither my dad nor I have ever seen it. He’s sitting two rows in front of me, and when the announcement came on we simultaneously glanced and smiled at each other, asking ‘Did you hear what movie’s on?!’ 

I know nothing of the film other than the fact that my sailing friends hate it (including my fellow SAILFeed contributor Charlie Doane) while my non-sailing and movie-loving friends dig it. It’s either one of the best movies ever or one of the worst movies ever, depending on who I ask. 

So here it is, the running diary, in real-time, of my first experience with Robert Redford as the ‘unidentified sailor-man’ in All is Lost. My gut reaction to all parts of the movie – interspersed with some comments on what the plane ride is like – as they are happening, with little time for reflection. 

Suffice it to say, if you haven’t seen it yet, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned.

11:04 AM: The movie hasn’t even started yet and I already know that I’m going to have to pee in the middle of it. Thankfully I swapped my window seat out for an aisle seat at the gate just before we boarded (I was nearly the last person on the plane, as I always am). I’m afraid that the couple next to me is also going to have to get up at some point and also interrupt the movie. 

It hasn’t started yet. I’m listening to classical music on the airplane headphones until it does.

11:10 AM: Still hasn’t started yet. My mom used to love Robert Redford. She REALLY loved him in The Horse Whisperer. Ooh, it’s coming on now!

11:16 AM: ‘1,700 miles from the Sumatra Straits.’ The suspense!

11:18 AM: He’s napping in the vee-berth!? Ha! Very first scene with our man in the picture and I’m already agreeing with Charlie. You’d never sleep in the vee-berth offshore unless you have to. He’s single-handed! He can choose any bunk on the boat!

11:19 AM: Nice job furling the mainsail. And wow, that container must have been moving at quite a clip to take out the side of his boat, on the aft section no less. Interesting idea with the drogue though to get the container unstuck as he sailed away from it. 

11:21 AM: Only one wrap on the genoa winch! Mr. Redford is lucky he doesn’t have some serious rope burn. 

11:23 AM: Mr. Redford is awfully oversteering on the helm. Nobody turns the wheel that fast. I’m very confused as to why he’s sailed his boat up to the container and let the jib luff while he jumps aboard it... Ah, it was to retrieve his sea anchor. The tack on the genoa wasn’t properly attached…

11:26 AM: A toaster in the galley! And it’s plugged in! Now he starts addressing the giant hole in the side of the boat, after the water is now waist-high. That sea anchor must have been expensive…

11:28 AM: A sextant? Nope. Epoxy. In a nice little wooden tool box. He applies the epoxy before cutting the patch piece. And he has to fashion a handle for the manual bilge pump. Nice preparation, sir (that was ironic). 

11:30 AM: There is no way he’d be calmly taking a nap with that much water still in the boat. What happened to the scared man with a bucket principle?!

11:32 AM: Clever idea to sit in the bosun’s chair to repair the outside of the hull. If you ever need a reason to get a higher capacity manual bilge pump, just watch this movie. Hey, he’s down to a bucket and sponge! The hole is fixed and all the water is out of the boat! Still only one wrap on the genoa sheet. Jesus, these producers know nothing about sailing. And then the boat is heeled the wrong way – he was just pulling on the port genoa sheet winch, and the boat is heeled to starboard, testing his new hull repair.

11:35 AM: Freaking ratty looking boat. I like the paper charts though. Looks like he was leafing through a book on celestial nav. now that his electronics are shot. SOS call! Nobody says that!

11:38 AM: Booze. That’s his problem! Doesn't he know it’s bad luck to drink offshore? Ask my dad and I (we ran into a nasty little 30 knot, 8-hour storm up in Nova Scotia after toasting to a particularly nice day with a couple of warm rum and pineapple drinks. The sailing gods didn’t take kindly to that)…hardly any motion at all as he’s in the galley and now getting rained on outside. Though I do know that feeling, and it’s a good one to be wet with fresh water after a thorough dousing with salt. Feels like something is going to happen…

11:41 AM: They got the mast climbing part right. No f’ing way his VHF antenna comes unscrewed. No way. Broken in the melee, maybe. But unscrewed. Sorry. Suddenly his roller furling gear is missing on the forestay now that he’s at the masthead…storm clouds on the horizon! Where’d the genoa go? Annoying, Charlie, is an apt description. I’d say thus far, almost unwatchable.

11:44 AM: Yeah right, he filled that 6-gallon gerrycan with about 10 pumps of that tiny hand pump in the galley. Sailors are cursed watching this movie, it’s impossible not to notice these things. 

Side note, written after the fact: I’m sure at some point during pre-production, the team on the movie admitted that there’d be mistakes made when it came to sailing. They probably figured the average audience and most of the critics would never notice. Totally understandable. But they HAD to know that this movie woud greatly appeal to the very niche audience of bluewater sailors like myself who’d want to watch the film. So you’d think somebody would have said, ‘Hey guys, wait a minute. These people who know sailing are going to KILL us for this, and it’s going to bring down the overall respect for the film.’ Apparently that question was either never asked or completely ignored.

Classic old-school oilskin foulies, and boat-dancing to get into them. That’s good. Mr. Redford moves about the boat slow and methodically, the ‘have a cigarette and think about it approach’ that Mike Meer and I always talk about. Storm jib is nicely stowed in it’s bag in the vee-berth, just where you want it when the sh*t hits the fan (that was meant sarcastically). The way that wind sounds, had he actually set that sail down on the cabin top it’d have been gone in an instant. Oh look, the genoa’s back, nicely rolled up again (still with the tack looking strange and floppy). 

I dig the dark music just barely perceptible in the background after Mr. Redford manages to climb back aboard the boat with the storm jib. Are you f’ing kidding me? He hoists the storm jib with no luffing, and no winch handle in about three pulls of the halyard and then climbs back down below without doing anything at the helm. Sheesh. There’s that neat music again.

Dear lord, Ben & Teresa, can you please release that movie already so people can see what sailing is actually all about?

I wonder if this is what people felt like who knew about horses when they watched Mr. Redford in the Horse Whisperer movie?

11:54 AM: I love (read: ‘hate’) how he casually tosses around his safety equipment in the height of the gale as he comes out the companionway, like it’s going to miraculously stay there.

I can just hear the director...’and then the boat flips over again, and our hero gets tangled in the rigging and manages to swim back to the cockpit just as the boat rights itself, emerging triumphantly back into the nighttime storm to a wrecked rig.’ Ugh. He cuts that rigging wire awfully easily. Some kind of pocket knife! Ever try and cut 1x19 wire, even with a hydraulic press? 

Oops. Another hole in the deck. Here we go again, water up to the settee berths. At least he’s not sleeping in the vee-berth anymore. Our man learns quickly.

My dad just got up to go pee. I tapped him on the arm and said, ‘this is pretty awful.’ He agreed. ‘Brutal,’ he said with a smirk.

11:59 AM: One thing I will admit though, this movie is making me want to go sailing again. I do miss the sea.

That feeling of pulling out the liferaft…I hope I never experience it.

12:01 PM: Looks like a Winslow? Don’t bother grabbing and food or clothing though, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

12:04 PM: Smart enough to stay tethered to his foundering boat. Now he’s back onboard looking for food and supplies. Don’t forget the spoons. Still slow and methodical. Matt Rutherford would approve. 

I just went back to see how long this has been running for. Almost an hour now. It can’t end soon enough, frankly. This is an absolute joke. Redford looks like a complete fool on this boat, who has no idea what he’s doing and no business being offshore in the first place. Whoever said this was the apex of his acting career is out of their minds. Redford is Lost should have been the title of the movie. His acting is awesome, but if you concede that he’s supposed to be pretending to be a sailor (right?), then his acting is awful. He’s the farthest thing from a sailor in this movie. Maybe his Horse Whisperer character decided to go to sea. Should have stayed on the farm.

12:11 PM: What’d I miss, how did he cut his forehead? Oops. Boat’s really going down now, better get out of there buddy. That’s right – step up into the liferaft. Good on ya! There are an awful lot of calms 1,700 miles from the Sumatra Straits. I’m using the phrase ‘awful lot’ an awful lot in this diary. Also, that’s not the color of the ocean 1,700 miles from anywhere. Looks like the muddy brown coast of Virginia Beach. Where was this filmed anyway?

12:14 PM: A brand-spanking new sextant, still in the cardboard box and plastic wrap! Cool! Looks like an Astra IIIB? But why is Redford looking at it like he’s never seen one before? All sailors at least know which end is up. Sheesh. Did Astra donate one for the movie? You’d think if they had anything to do with it, they’d at least have showed the film crew how to use the damn thing. 

12:17 PM: Well, at least he’s got time to learn it! Get to those books! You think he knows you can only get one LOP, and not an actual fix, from a single sight? I bet that realization was disheartening after all that work. I dig his sweater.

12:18 PM: Castaway was way better. At least Hanks’ character was making stuff up on the fly. Not too many people put in that scenario. Redford is almost to the shipping lanes if his sextant work is right. Presumably he’s also doing some dead reckoning from his last known position from the boat. Otherwise his noon sites would give him latitude only – he’d have no idea how far east or west he was without a good watch.

12:20 PM: Storms and calms, storms and calms. Where’s the regular wind? Presumably he knows how to right a capsized liferaft? Yes, yes he does. There’s that music again! By far the best thing about the movie. More calms again.

I wonder what Steven Callahan had to say about this movie? Mr. Redford just gave up pretty darn quickly trying to pump up his raft. Closer to the shipping lanes now (like his sextant and paper chart survived that capsize!). Oops. Salt in the water. Oops! He left the vent open when he filled it! Oh no!

12:27 PM: That’s a huge liferaft. Like an 8-person. No wonder it capsized without the ballast from the crew.

12:28 PM: Careful with that knife in the liferaft! A marlinspike! Nice touch. No f’ing way he throws anything away, not even the plastic cutoff from the water jug. No way. That’s a potential fishing lure! Cool music again in the underwater scene with the fishes.

12:32 PM: Hey, there’s a ship! USCG flares, and only now he’s reading the directions!

12:36 PM: Oh the irony of a container ship passing him so closely by, when one of it’s cargo got him here in the first place. He’s so handsome!

12:39 PM: Maybe Mr. Reford really doesn’t know what he’s doing and that’s why he ends up shipwrecked in the first place? Maybe the whole intention of the movie was to portray someone so foolishly inept at sailing that he never had a chance at all. Someone with a pipedream of sailing alone around the world that took off with marginal experience and an enormous lack of knowledge – like that guy whose boat got washed up in New England after he abandoned it last year – and it ended badly for this guy. How then, did he end up 1,700 miles from the Sumara Straits? That’s a long way to make it entirely by accident, even if he’s African (which, with a California-built boat that has ‘Virginia’ in it’s name, he’s presumably not). Furthermore, no way a neophyte sailor who accidentally got himself in that situation reacts so calmly in those hairy situations. His deliberate actions imply years of experience at sea. 

12:42 PM: Oops. Drifted right through the shipping lanes. Still plenty calm. There’s that fantastic music again as we pan wide to show the liferaft adrift at sea.

12:45 PM: Message in a glass jar, clever! That’s some damn sturdy paper in that little raft! I wonder if he wrote his email address on it?

12:47 PM: So we know he lasts at least 8 days in the liferaft, because that's how the movie started…‘8 days ago…’ Is he making a fire in his solar still, with that nice dry paper? You bet he is! No way he’s able to stand up in that flaccid raft. Especially with a fire raging. Nice move, he just set his raft on fire. That ship has to see that, right?

12:52 PM: I wonder if he’s thinking how beautiful that scene with the burning raft and the moon is as he’s sinking beneath the sea? Ooh, a search light. Nope…I get it now. 

What a cool metaphor for death though, swimming towards the white light with the arm reaching out to grab him. 

12:54 PM: Really sweet music as the credits roll. I wonder what that is?

1:01 PM: Well, that was an experience. After the credits rolled Marcia glanced back from two seats in front of me and just sort of raised her eyebrows, a 'what’d you think?' sort of gesture? She’s not a sailor (though will be, at least to some degree, after this trip. More so than Redford anyway, if I have anything to do with it!), so was looking for a realistic opinion. What did I think?

I thought the ending was great. His liferaft bursting into flames was a little silly, but the larger meaning as the searchlight pierced the water and he suddenly starts swimming towards the ‘light’ was pretty sweet. Just before the movie ends, a hand reaches into the water and takes Mr. Redford’s, and the screen fades to white. A pretty heady interpretation of drowning and drifting off to heaven. My mom would have totally dug that.

As for the rest of the movie? Well, you can see my comments above. Oddly, despite all the ridiculous, inexcusable sailing errors in the film, I was left with a kind of cool feeling afterward. It made an impact on me, almost spiritually. Maybe it’s because here I am watching Robert Redford, one of my mom’s all-time favorite actors, drown in what can only be described as a beautiful scene, while thinking about my mom in her death, and watching the back of my dad and his new girlfriend’s head two rows in front of me. All of those emotions mixing together – not to mention the added impact of being on an airplane, which makes me especially emotional (I once cried at Hotel for Dogs on the way home from Sweden) – perhaps created a volatile emotional cocktail that instantly made me realize that the movie wasn’t that bad after all, despite it all.

The most frustrating aspect of it was that it could have been so easy! All Redford needed to do was go take a weekend sailing lesson somewhere and he’s have known himself how stupid he looked in the movie. Normally Hollywood hires consultants for movies like this – in fact, there was a great article in Boat/US magazine about Steven Callahan’s consultant’s role in Life of Pi – so why they didn’t have one for All is Lost actually angers me. According to Cruising World, they used Line & Larry Pardey's Storm Tactics book as a reference, but why not just hire them? It could have been such a cool movie, I mean a seminal, one-for-the-ages survival story. 

But they freaking ruined it. That’s the most annoying part about all of it. Those little discrepancies throughout the movie add up to something much greater than the whole. Taken together, they kill what could be a fantastic movie, something the film critics and the sailors alike could have agreed on. Granted, sailing – and especially bluewater sailing, as John Kretschmer says – is a very small fraternity of people passionate about an admittedly niche sport. So the producers probably didn’t irritate an overall large percentage of their audience. Casual weekend sailors wouldn’t have noticed much of the stuff I was griping about. But everyone can relate to the dream of sailing off into the sunset to discover yourself and the world. They should have just done their freaking research about what that actually takes. 

So ultimately, I can see both sides of the argument – All is Lost IS simultaneously one of the best films ever and one of the worst films ever. And what category you put it in depends entirely on your own real-life experience. And that’s kind of cool in a weird way.