Monday, June 23, 2014
In J.C. Chandor's fascinating film All Is Lost, Robert Redford is the only cast member and he speaks only a handful of lines. Even though the film contains very little dialogue (or, I guess, technically it would be monologue), Chandor's structure and pace make the film a gripping spectacle--so gripping my 9-year-old son watched it and said afterward, "That was a really good movie." The film begins with Redford's character reading what we assume is a letter to his family, explaining that "all is lost" and repeating that he is sorry. Then we flash back to the beginning of his troubles.
I was surprised to read on Slate that the ending is considered ambiguous. According to Slate, after screening the film at Telluride the moderator asked how people interpreted the film. Half interpreted it one way and half the other. I won't say what happens, but I was surprised at the supposed ambiguity because I thought the film made it very clear how things ended. I saw no ambiguity. I never even thought of another possibility. It's reassuring to know that film and literature open up endless possibilities for readers and viewers. There is no single truth or single perspective. My viewing of what I believed literally happened at the end reiterates my limitations on how I (and, by extension, everyone) see the world.
While I enjoyed the film itself and Redford's performance is mostly stellar, I did think there were a few places where he seemed a bit stiff and unnatural. And while I enjoyed the snapshots of what he did to survive without any explanation at all (I'm sure someone familiar with sailing would understand much more than I did how he tracks his position without any electronic equipment or how he figures out how to produce drinking water), I felt the film could have been a bit longer and shown even more of his daily, monotonous and mundane tasks: eating, thinking, and even sleeping. Ten minutes of Redford attempting to catch fish or fifteen minutes of Redford writing something down. These details would probably be boring to some people, but I think they would have given the film more philosophical and naturalistic weight. A great film could still be made that combines All Is Lost with Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman.
I'm sure an interesting essay could be written that compares All Is Lost with Gravity. I'm also sure I'm not the only one to make the comparison: lost at sea in the first, lost in space in the second. A man in one, a woman in the other. One begins and ends alone, the other begins with a crew and ends alone. But fundamentally both films are about the struggle to survive, the struggle to live against all odds.
I watched Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty a few months ago, and it has lingered with me in bits and pieces ever since. From its achingly lyrical and fluid opening crane shot to its pulsing Roman night-life scene, the film itself epitomizes its title. With echoes of Fellini, it tells the story of an aging journalist who years earlier wrote the great Italian novel, but, unable or unwilling to write a new novel, he now interviews pretentious artists for magazine articles that seem to bore him. Searching for those fleeting moments of beauty and truth that were a more regular part of his lost youth, he spends his life going to parties, sleeping with beautiful women, and watching a very old nun climb impossibly long stairs. He realizes that his youth can never be relived. But he still tries. I just wish I was cool enough to dress like him.