All is Lost (spoilers)

A thought came to me while watching the movie:

Many of the actions of the protagonist are foolish if we presume he wants to live. However, if we presume that he has a terminal illness and wants to give himself a more meaningful, aesthetic death by “fighting until the end” against the ocean rather than dying from disease in a hospital bed, it makes perfect sense. All he has to do is put himself in situations where he runs the risk of dying then fight all he can to live. If he dies, then he fought until the end. If he lives, then he puts himself in another situation where he runs the risk of dying. Rinse and repeat.
The two container ships that pass him by were likely hallucinations from dehydration. Just like the boat with the light he swims toward at the end is him “going toward the light”.

I’m not sure about the container at the beginning. It seems to have a metaphorical meaning relating to what befell him. As for what would have literally happened within the story of the movie, it seems far-fetched that he would have located a container, T-boned his own ship and then gone to sleep but that’s the best I got.

You must have watched a different cut of this movie than I did.

How do you think his actions make sense, then? Why do you think he was alone on a small boat in the middle of the Indian ocean? Why did he make no effort to steer away from the storm? That he took his time fixing the hole in the beginning and even casually listed starboard which let water in?

Plenty of people sail solo without planning to die. It’s not the safest thing, but it’s hardly a death sentence.

I don’t remember this part specifically, but a sailboat his size has a hull speed of maybe 6 knots. Storms can easily be hundreds of miles wide and move much faster. You can’t steer away from a storm on the open ocean any more than you can run away from an earthquake.

He was being methodical. So what if he let some water in? Everything was already wet.

Yeah, I don’t see how you can call any of the protagonist’s actions “foolish.” If anything, he showed extreme preparedness and ingenuity in surviving. He was really unlucky, but he stayed calm and solved problems one at a time as they came up. It was kind of like “The Martian” but at sea.

I don’t know why you think the cargo ships or fishing boats were hallucinations. There was no indication that they were, and no reason for them not to have been real.

Not even that both of them 1) passed improbably close and 2) showed no reaction to lights or flares?

As we all know, every good death plan starts with “ram into a abandoned container full of sneakers”.

A cargo ship not reacting to a flare is almost a cliche in lost-at-sea movies at this point.

It’s based on reality. Those ships are huge, they move quickly, they have a minimal crew and they mostly use radar and automated systems to avoid running into stuff. The chance that an actual person is looking out to sea in the direction of your flare during the ~1 minute it’s visible is pretty small. No one’s looking out to sea. There’s nothing for them to look at.

Really very few of the actions of the main character are foolish. He does the right thing at almost every turn, but the sea is a force to be reckoned with.

Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

  • Attributed to Sigmund Freud

I quite enjoyed this movie and struggled with it at the time too. I decided that the character was supposed to be smart and resourceful and that any errors he made were those of the filmmakers.

I have a little movie club with my brother and friend. From my review at the time:

The movie has one major defect. I believe it was the intent of the filmmakers that Redford be an experienced sailor. His confidence and sure-footedness on the boat certainly suggest that. Unfortunately, they made numerous errors and had him do a lot of stupid things. I myself would qualify as a novice to intermediate sailor, and even I noticed mistakes. I’ve since learned on IMDB that this has given rise to a whole bunch of debate as to his experience level. Was a fool in over his head as his actions suggest, or was he an experienced but unlucky man who had a sequence of events set in motion by his initial collision with the shipping container? For me, it’s a better movie if it’s the latter – I can just overlook the errors and pretend they didn’t happen. However, for many, they can’t overlook the errors and must conclude that the man was a fool and thus somewhat deserving of his eventual fate.

I think Louis CK commented on this in his interview with Terry Gross, since he knows a little bit about sailing. His general point was “don’t watch movies about things that you know about”, because the errors will be frustrating. As a software engineer I can certainly relate. I’m sure airline pilots have a similar experience.

Anyway, having seen this movie I agree with the posters who suggest that it was the filmmakers intention to portray him as experienced, careful and competent. The errors that he made were likely filmmaking errors.