Creativity comes from many places. The process of coming up with a film that’s new, original and pushes the medium into new places can have lots of different sources. However, one of the simplest way of doing something creative is to impose limits of oneself. Perhaps like Hitchcock’s Rope you will film the whole thing with (what looks like) a single shot, never cutting away from the action; or perhaps you will tell the story back-to-front like in Memento. Whatever the choice, once you’ve decided on the limitation, it should allow for a more imaginative or interesting film than would have been possible otherwise.
In the case of All is Lost, the limitations come in two forms. First, like Buried, only one actor is ever seen on screen (Robert Redford). Secondly, like The Illusionist, it contains (next-to) no dialogue. Naturally these two restrictions mean All is Lost must come up with creative ways to communicate its narrative and keep the viewer interested in what is happening.
As the title suggests, the film sees Robert Redford get into a fair amount of trouble as he is sailing across the ocean. His problems begin when water starts rushing into his boat as the result of a collision with a crate. Things then go from bad to worse to worse again in his struggle to survive everything nature can throw at him.
Despite the film’s self-imposed restrictions it has no problem engaging the viewer with what is happening through out its runtime. Redford is as engaging as we’ve come to expect and carries the movie effortlessly through out.
My problem is that I felt like I’ve seen the whole thing before. Films like Buried, Life of Pi, and Castaway have similar themes and have already shown that this type of film is possible.
I also feel like while the film’s decision to have a silent character doesn’t harm it, neither did it bring out enough of the themes it was probably aiming for. I feel like All is Lost is about the struggle we all have for survival, the feeling of loneliness we all have at times, and our struggle to find out what’s worth fighting for. All of these are course good themes and good issues, but by having a silent character there’s a limit to the extent they can be explored.
Also, the reality is none of our lives are silent. Even when we are alone (in fact especially when we are alone) we are constantly in conversation with ourselves about whatever the place it is we find ourselves in. So even when there is silence, the reality is there is plenty for us to listen to.
All is Lost then is the type of film you’ll see people refer to as ‘an achievement’. The problem is I’m not sure precisely what it really achieved.