Some Ramblings - All is Lost (2013) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Oscar Bait
Fall...trees start turning their colored coats inside out and eventually shed their old wear and gear clearing out their warehouses in what becomes their final blowout season... Coincidentally, it is also time when movie studios bring their artsy features out of the closet, ones that they have held out until the hoarse-y summer's din died down. So snuggle up in the fall jackets and settle down for the Oscar fare where the sensitive battle it out with the subtle, where strong stories stake their ground out in the fertile land of varied imaginations....

Every season brings along with it the timely change in the natural order in the environment, only to be promptly followed by a string of calamitous news, natural and man made, that glues people to the updates dispensing outlets that chart the course of the catastrophe with a voyeuristic horror. Winter sets in, snow pours on copiously on mountain peaks and the invariable news of mountaineers trapped at high altitudes holding on to their dear lives till help arrived. The onslaught of summer and its scorching temperatures cannot pass into the record books without the mention of vacationers caught in deep woods surrounded by raging brush fires. Rainy season, quirky wind patterns, surfers and sailors caught in harms way. Coast Guard, Fire Tenders, Helicopters pressed into service rescuing people from their miseries, all broadcast live. There was that (in)famous case, from an year ago, of fishermen who ventured too far on a frozen lake unable to make it back on their own on account of ice breaking because of the wind drifts, and therefore had to be airlifted to safety on an all expense paid Helicopter excursion, courtesy the tax money of John Q Public. And tales of unfortunate trekkers caught in snow blizzards, avalanches, crevices, found themselves with insufficient supplies of oxygen during the annual pilgrimages to Mt. Everest are literally countless. Apart from the general anger on part of the rescue authorities and general public for having to foot the bill, and for sometimes getting themselves in the line of fire in the rescue missions, the first question on everybody's lips hearing about the news the first time would always be some variation of 'What were they thinking!!'. How can waging against nature, which can play the waiting game better and pounce upon at the most inopportune moment, yield any dividend at all? Don't they know, on a protracted time scale, the house always wins?

'All is lost' cannot be any more minimalist, be it in the name or the proceedings. The movie stripped off any back stories, characters, motivations and even dialog, is simply about a sailor stranded in the open waters in the Indian Ocean in his sinking sailboat. It starts off with the hull of the boat developing a gaping hole because of an accident at sea and the rest of the movie is the sailor buying time trying to delay the inevitable. All these lone survival stories have their roots in the famous Hemingway story 'The old man and the sea', which is about an old fisherman battling it out with a large fish in the middle of the sea finally dragging it out to the shore only to find his big payday eaten away by the sharks. What makes each of these stories - 'All is lost', 'Gravity', 'Life of Pi', 'Cast Away', '127 Hours' etc - work is their ability to put on display the perseverance of the characters to fight for that one extra breath of life without calling it quits. In 'Lost', to hoist the ante even higher, the lone character in the movie is a 70+ year old, whose radio equipment is damaged in the initial accident and whose yacht happens to cross the path of a multiple storm system. Robert Redford brings out his full bag of tricks essaying the lone sailor role playing it with all the wisdom and weariness of an old deck hand. That this fictional story could be all real considering that there is a real life account of an adrift sailor who survived a 76 day ordeal at sea on dwindling supplies and sapping strengths. What is it they say about most people dying in such tragic events, that they die more of shame than of the tragedy itself. And this is a sailor who holds on to his last shred of devices trying to find a way out of sticky situation. As the 'stripped down to the bare essentials' style of film making proves, does it really matter (to the protagonist or the audience) how he got himself in the mess in the first place, while he is battling away for life with time and space closing in on him by the second, because when 'All is lost', it matters not a bit.

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