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‘All Is Lost’ Is All but Universally Despised by Sailors

A few weeks ago, we posted the image below on our Facebook page and said, “Here’s an exceptionally easy, ‘Name that Sailing Movie!’ What are your thoughts on this film?”

All Is Lost
All Is Lost
© 2021 Lionsgate

An astonishing 94 people responded, with — and this is roughly accurate — about 94% of the comments sounding something like this: “Worst sailing movie ever. How many bad choices can you make?” said Michael Harlow. “An insult to sailors. I could only stand 20 minutes of watching before I had to turn it off,” agreed Bob Amis.

“A monkey would have made better self-rescue decisions! Worst sailing movie ever!” said JC Dva. “Tried twice, didn’t get past the first 20 minutes,” Adam Hauck echoed. “Terrible, and I know it’s Hollywood and we sailors should let some things slide … but, it was terrible and I highly do not recommend it. Captain Ron is more believable (and actually fairly accurate).”

“My thoughts are the director should have talked to a sailor,” Phil MacFarlane commented. “I yelled at the TV so much!” said Nadine Hendricks. “That movie was so bad and unrealistic that it does not deserve to be called a sailing movie,” said Mark Henry Sahs.

So … that’s a thumbs-down for All Is Lost?

We did not care for the movie either, but fear not, for all is not lost in the discussion of this film, which may have some redeemable aspects, namely an awesome — and near- silent — performance by Robert Redford.

Can Robert Redford spot the growing tempest of unflattering, even irate, comments about his 2013 film?
© 2021 Courtesy Lionsgate

All Is Lost opens with water rushing across the cabin sole as Redford, who is only referred to as Our Man in the credits, naps on a bunk. The first few seconds of the film actually do what movies can do so well: start the action and conflict instantly. Our Man leaps out of his bunk to find that a container has penetrated his boat, just aft of the beam. I remember feeling terrified for the character. As Our Man got busy doing some serious fiberglass repair, All Is Lost had successfully hooked me.

Bummer. Also, how did a hull-piercing collision happen at this angle? And with no wind? Sailors were immediately tasked with suspending their disbelief.
© 2021 Courtesy Lionsgate / placesjournal.org

Not long after the collision, a storm is a-brewin’. As the wind starts to howl and the seas start to rattle the boat, Our Man prepares, and eventually goes to the head for a shave. “I still climb my mast whenever I think a storm is coming and then immediately prepare by shaving,” Dave Santangelo wrote sarcastically.

Actually, I liked this part. I appreciated Our Man’s calm, and his let’s-do-it-with-some-style attitude. This, too, is what movies can do so well: show what a character is thinking in small, subtle moments. At this point in the movie, I remember being right there with Our Man. I was scared for him, and I was rooting for him. I even admired his “resourcefulness,” even though it wasn’t rooted in practical seamanship. And I appreciated the film’s ambition and unique perspective.

Like Odysseus desperately struggling to get home, Our Man fights to survive.
© 2021 Courtesy Lionsgate / heyuguys.com

If I didn’t scream at the screen during the storm, I definitely threw up my arms in disgust. The boat rolled and rolled, and Our Man was dragged underwater for what felt like long moments.

The storm is where I was, well, lost. In an instant, All Is Lost went from a gritty indie flick to a Hollywood special-effects orgy. But the story also veered: At first, we were following a sailor surviving on their wits, and doing a decent job. Once the storm hit, Our Man’s fate was no longer in his hands; Our God took over the movie. (By the way: If the skipper’s hull repair — which became an irrelevant detail — withstood a storm that the entire boat could not, then Our Man is the greatest fiberglasser in sailing history.)

“The boat is almost an abstract idea — a womb or a cocoon, a place of safety and security while the world rages outside,” All Is Lost’s production designer said.
© 2021 Courtesy Lionsgate / placesjournal.org

My intellect now tuned out; my memory of the rest of the film is spotty. Didn’t Our Man putter along on his dismasted boat — a Cal 39, as many of you pointed out — before another storm sank it for good? The skipper ended up in a raft. “My favorite part is when [Our Man] grabs a yellow duffel with one hand, casually walks aft with it, and places it on a settee,” Bryan Chavez commented. “The camera zooms in and it’s labeled ‘life raft.’ Later he’s in a 12- person life raft.”

Well, at least Our Man has room enough to teach himself celestial navigation. He manages to drift toward a shipping channel. Ships pass him by. He burns his rubber raft down. Our Man sinks underwater, fading into the black. I remember being relieved and thinking, “This poor bastard has been through enough.”

But then, a boat approaches, and a hand reaches underneath the water . . .

Roll credits.

Our Man, destined to be lost … and found.
© 2021 Courtesy Lionsgate / placesjournal.org

“Guys! Before you call this movie stupid: This is not a sailing movie. Think about it: It is about man’s life. Any man’s life,” Giorgi Muchaidze wrote on our Facebook page, as All Is Lost was getting decimated by commenters. Giorgi continued his eloquent, insightful analysis: “You wake up one morning to discover that your boat (job, family, relationship, health, etc.) is sinking. You do what you have to do, but more is coming. Nobody hears you (broken radio is a metaphor, guys). Society ignores you even when you are right there screaming for help (the passing container ship is a metaphor, guys!). And when all is lost, it takes another human being, a stranger, who reaches down to you and saves your life.

“Now tell me this never happened to you.”

Metaphors abound: What do a sinking body, a flaming doughnut (that’s the life raft) and a shaft of light represent? Whatever you want it to.
© 2021 Courtesy Lionsgate / placesjournal.org

All Is Lost was both a box-office and a critical success; it has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “After the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, Robert Redford reportedly received a standing ovation. Critics everywhere saw metaphors and symbolism, and universally praised Redford’s performance.

“My fellow sailing experts and I saw things differently, however,” Mary Alice Miller wrote in a 2013 article in Vanity Fair, perhaps speaking for a plurality of sailors. “To us, it was apparent that Our Man would have fared better if he’d avoided some rudimentary errors.”

You might be surprised to learn that All Is Lost writer/director J.C. Chandor is not a stranger to boats. “I grew up sailing; I had a background in it,” Chandor told the Nashville Scene in 2013. “I had done one open-ocean sail like this, but not alone. So I went on this trip, and then the last two days, we did get caught in something similar to this, and those fears and feelings stuck with me, and I don’t think I’d realized that there was this tremendous combination of claustrophobia and total openness.”

One commenter wrote on our Facebook page: “This was the … stupidest movie I ever saw. Robert Redford should be ashamed for being involved with such garbage.”

I disagree — I’m glad that J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford strove to tell the story of Our Man. Redford actually suffered permanent hearing loss during the shooting of the the storm scenes, where he was blasted with a fire hose over multiple takes. As fun as it is to disparage a film — far more fun than singing its praises — it’s easy to lose sight of the hard work, sacrifice, and personal passion that goes into making movies.

But please, consult a sailor! No, a movie doesn’t have to be 100% accurate to sailing, or whatever aspect of reality the story is rooted in. But a movie should have one foot planted in metaphors and symbolism, and the other in some adherence, however minor and perfunctory, to the rules of the real world.

9 Comments

  1. Mark Anderson 2 months ago

    I bought my current sailboat in 2014 in San Carlos Mexico in May of 2014. Left San Carlos 1 week after watching this movie and 2 weeks after Hurricane Odile. 62 hours to Cabo-82 hours to Turtle Bay. One of Enrique’s employees told me “Marcos, BEEG South wind manana.” I pulled up anchor and left. 10 pm outside Cedros the Raymarine autopilot wheel drive disintegrated. I hate giving up miles and cleared the North end of Isla Cedros and locked the steering wheel North by West and went to bed. 6 AM and I awake to 27 foot waves LONG train then the wind came. Hand steering till 6 PM….dropped the reefed main and tied my self into the bunk and out like a light. 3 am slide down a wave and BAM BAM BAM BAM…Out of bed and freaking-No Moon and overcast pitch black and I saw Nothing…. …..pumped the bilged and went back to sleep. 6 AM I unroll the Jib and return 100 miles to Turtle to order a new Autopilot. 5 weeks for the MAIL and was there for the Ha Ha and my old buddy Spindler parked right behind me…..In Mexico a SOUTH WIND means it is blowing TOWARDS the south-Lesson Learned. Auto pilot came FINALLY and 62 hours later I was in San Diego and 20 more hours to Ventura Harbor Boatyard where we found CHUNKS missing from my full keel exactly 8 feet center to center……SHIPPING CONTAINER,

  2. Jan Wigle 2 months ago

    Did anyone else think the hand at the end was God? I’m an atheist, but I thought since Our Man was already dead, that it was the mythical man in the sky that finally came to collect.

    • peter metcalf 2 months ago

      Fascinating interpretation. I should watch the whole movie.

  3. Bob Adams 2 months ago

    Did you ever stop to think that the reason he was single-handing was due to the fact that he was an incompetent sailor to begin with? It could be that prior to his departure, he contacted many of his sailor friends to see if they wanted to come along on the voyage and all respectfully declined.
    How many articles have I read in Latitude that talked about some sailor going out the Gate with more juevos that skills and had to be rescued in the following hours/days/weeks, etc? I think that “Our Man” falls into that catagory.

  4. Bob Walden 2 months ago

    I agree with the commentor who considers the movie an allegory on life. I look at it as a man who suffered some terrible loss, and is running from his life. He literally knows nothing about boats or sailing. That’s quite clear and is what makes sailors hate the movie. Imagine instead you’re a seriously depressed person who decides to run away in the first thing you see— in a plane, sub, spaceship—whatever, just something totally outside your sphere. That’s this guy.

    What IS bad about this movie is they wrecked 3 cal 39s making it but I still didn’t get to raid them for parts.

    Bob Walden
    Cal 39-3 “Sea Star”

  5. peter metcalf 2 months ago

    I went to another movie when I saw a couple unrealistic responses to the situation. But I want to emphasize Tim Henry’s observation: The audience at Cannes is far different (I am assuming) from the sailors’ perspective. They are definitely into the artistic side of film, or conversely, the realistic side. Sometimes (I suppose) we get both in one film. So, their focus is on character and relationships, not the technical backdrop to the drama. If I and others can accept this, just as in a staged drama nearly everything on the set is pretend, the film might have relevancy in one way or another. I’m going to try it again since reading Tim’s article and Jan’s interpretation.

  6. Christopher David Barry 2 months ago

    One minor note; many years ago Lat 38 published a little article on watertight subdivision for sailboats based on real accidents, it was updated a good deal more recently in Professional BoatBuilder and an article in the SNAME sailing yacht area (see https://www.proboat.com/2013/03/the-unsinkable/). Watertight subdivison (yes, like Titanic) is readily feasible for most sailing yachts, at least for new construction, and might be worth considering.

  7. Chris Johnson 2 months ago

    I found “All is lost” to tell the story of a man, that actually does occur, in boatyards around America. I often recommend this movie as a teaching movie. It is a textbook case of what not to do and you can see in the photography some of the deficiencies of an old boat that should have been attended to before going offshore.

    Not often, but every few years in my travels (around marinas and boatyards, by water and by land) I do come across that slightly unhinged gentleman who quite apparently had a successful past but for whatever reason found a bad transition into a retirement without any family. He’s got some style but is by himself and away from his family that he worked hard for and paid for as they grew up. For whatever reason suddenly, he has nothing except for some side money. He does the math, buys a boat and lives at the dock drinking and thinking about his situation and after a while decides he’s lost it all and he’s just going sailing, no matter what.

    I know this is a different insight and I didn’t critique the plot or the nautical nature of the content, but this is what I saw, the first time I saw the movie. (I did see it for free.) I’ve spent my life sailing and coming and going from docks and boat yards. Not all of them get to the final stage of the “big sail”, but they all turn out to be interesting characters whom I’m better to have known and am pleased when our paths cross once again.

  8. Robert Temple 2 months ago

    Sure, there were some errors in making this film but it looked great on the big screen. As a sailor, I’m glad they made it. Most of the filming was done at Baja Studios near Rosarito, MX, where they have world’s largest water tank for film making. In the past the studios were open for public tours but this halted over 10 years ago. If they ever re-open, don’t miss it, especially if you are a fan of Cameron’s “Titanic”.

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