Perhaps we lose sight of the lonely power of the ocean.
We live in an era of 12-story cruise ships and city-sized aircraft carriers, seemingly unsinkable by mere wind and waves. And even on a small scale, every year brings fresh tales of folks who've successfully circumnavigated the globe by themselves. In 2012, 16-year-old Laura Dekker became the youngest person to sail around the world. The year before, Minoru Saito, at 77, became the oldest.
But the sea still should not be thought of as obedient, at our beck and call. It is not tame, not friendly. It can be beautiful, yes, but countless people have succumbed to its salty kiss and foamy embrace. It can and will kill, unmindful of both the weak and the strong, the smart and the stupid.
We don't know why the seafarer known only as Our Man takes to the ocean alone in his small yacht, the Virginia Jean. We don't know where he's going. We don't know, really, who he left behind. All we know is that, one fateful morning, he finds himself ankle deep in water and the corner of a shipping container poking through the hull of his boat.
Of all the lousy luck. A whole ocean at its disposal, and this random container just happened to smash right into Our Man's yacht.
The Virginia Jean's puncture wound is located right above her computer, electronics and navigation equipment. Everything is shorted out, it seems—from the lights to the radio. And the Virginia Jean is as smack-dab in the middle of nowhere as it's possible to be.
Now, it's not like this is Our Man's first voyage. He knows accidents are bound to happen at sea. So his vessel is well stocked. And he is a creative captain. After a day or two of hard work, he manages to patch the hole and pump the water out of the hull.
But then Our Man sees clouds building on the horizon.
In All Is Lost's opening scene, we hear Our Man read the letter he writes near the end of his struggle with the sea—one that he feels will end with his death.
"I fought to the end," he says. "I'm not sure what that's worth. But know that I did."
He does indeed. As the ocean throws a baker's dirty dozen of calamities at Our Man, the courageous captain perseveres—patching whatever leaks spring, bailing whatever water floods in. He's incredibly inventive when it comes to keeping his craft afloat, constructing pumps and devising devices to collect fresh water condensation. Even when things look horribly bleak, he stoically pushes on, never laying blame, rarely sinking into despair. For Our Man, this ill-fated voyage becomes an illustration in pragmatic survival: It must be pursued one step at a time.
In his letter, we see glimpses of the man underneath all that gumption. He tells his loved ones that he knows he failed in so many ways. That he wasn't as strong or as giving or as loving as he should've been. That he's very sorry. The regrets he shares speak of a love he didn't really understand until the raging sea showed him the truth. And it's a reminder to us all to not wait for our own shipwrecks before we begin showing our appreciation for the people who love us.
If most of us were in the same predicament as Our Man, we would cast our eyes to heaven and say a prayer or two or three. But if Our Man prays at all for divine guidance or comfort, his words are silent: We see no sign of them.
The sea, as stated, can be incredibly destructive—and it lays a serious lick on Our Man. During a storm, he is thrown into a column in the ship's main cabin, knocking him unconscious. When he wakes up, there's a bloody, painful-looking gash on his forehead. Later, he tries to sterilize the wound by pouring alcohol over it (causing a good deal of wincing) and holds the skin together with butterfly bandages.
[Spoiler Warning] It seems unavoidable at one point that Our Man will die as he lets himself sink down in the water. And he's not alone in this. Storms torque the Virginia Jean in a hundred different directions and finally rip the main mast right off. Eventually, the damage is such that the yacht—the only other real character in this film—sinks to the bottom of the sea. And fire consumes a life raft.
A fish gets caught, then eaten by a shark.
Crude or Profane Language
Our Man rarely speaks—but one of the few words he does utter is a prolonged and angry f-word. He also seems to mouth a "g‑‑d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
As he struggles with keeping both his boat and his spirits afloat, Our Man cooks and eats dinner, chasing it down with large glasses of liquor. We see bottles of booze in the cabin.
Other Negative Elements
During a squall, Our Man throws up in a sink.
All is lost.
This sorrowful sentiment isn't unique to sailors alone on the open sea (though few, perhaps, feel it as keenly). We all can be susceptible to despair. Perhaps we've lost a loved one. We can't find a job. We see our children suffer or go astray. We watch as the loves of our life are pulled inexorably away from us. We try to fight through it, but it can be so hard sometimes. We can feel as if we too are lost at sea. Alone. Powerless. Destined to float, aimless, forever.
Our Man fights like crazy against that kind of despair, and his struggle to survive is admirable, inspirational. He does everything he can to live.
And though All Is Lost is not a Christian movie, there's something spiritually profound in the fact that, for all of Our Man's laudable efforts to save himself, in the end he needs help, someone else to save him—a hand from above, reaching out to pull him from his isolation and disaster.
As Christians, we believe that that saving hand is ultimately God's. But it can come from people around us too, as it does here. We can't live this life alone. We need community. We need help. We need friends and family to pick us up when we're down—sometimes very literally.
All Is Lost is an intense movie, even without offering quantities of content (one f-word, a minimum of violence, no sex). But all is certainly not lost in this deep tale of a man and the sea. As harrowing as the film is, it's equally encouraging, filled with creativity and courageous action.
It is as Our Man says, "I fought to the end." And then that helping hand.