All Is Lost?

Nov 28, 2013 | Field Notes

Sometimes I need a little distraction from life and I find that watching a movie can provide a brief sliver of time to escape. Often I will go to a theatre on a Tuesday night to see a movie simply because the tickets are cheaper. Last Tuesday night this is what I did. The movie I saw was ‘All Is Lost’ with the only cast being a dignified Robert Redford. It is a haunting movie, one with almost no dialogue and not even a Spartan beauty to offset the solitude, but a movie that stayed with me for several days. In fact, I was so taken by the movie that I went a second time.

The movie left me with questions. What was this sailor doing all alone in the Indian Ocean? How likely would it be for a shipping container to break lose and impale a sailboat crippling it fatally? Two times during his voyage, the sailor came within feet of being rescued by freighters but he was passed by. Was the writer of the story trying to draw out attention to the horrendous consequences of unbridled capitalism wherein people focus so much on getting their goods to market and making money that they are incapable of seeing the drowning person just feet away?

This is a story of a man who progressively relinquishes everything he possesses in order to survive. In the end, he wagers everything he has in one last attempt to be rescued. In another time, the Danish existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard argued that the truly authentic individual is the one who, being moved by anxiety and dread, comes face to face with the reality of death and there meets the question of God. Ernest Becker further explains Kierkegaard’s insight:

“And this is the one simple truth—that to live is to feel oneself lost—he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost, is without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.” (Becker, The Denial of Death, 1973. p.89.)

The writers of All Is Lost well captured the reality of a man who faces his end with stoic fortitude. Yet, how this lone sailor answered the question of God, or if he even asked the question, is left to the viewer to decide. How one answers this question will determine how you interpret his poignant final words narrated at the beginning of the movie, either as his last confession or his final goodbye. This interpretation will then overlay what you see in the story.

This movie is an allegory, along the lines of Waiting for Godot and Life of Pi, with older, graying folks like myself as a natural audience. We are left to ask, “Is all lost?” or “ Is being lost the beginning of something else?” It is not a feel good movie but it is a movie that will leave you pondering deeply the deeper questions of life. If the Oscars had a category for best spirituality film of the year, this move would be a contender.

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