Before J.C. Chandor would go on to direct All is Lost, he made Margin Call, his first film. At first glance, the films seem entirely dissimilar, though it’s possible there is a certain degree of thematic overlap in the two films. Margin Call is a very ‘talky’ picture that deals with some of the events leading up to the great (and ongoing?) financial crisis of 2008. It doesn’t really get into the specifics of how all that stuff actually went down, but it does illustrate, conveyed through Paul Bettany who makes the point from the leather driver’s seat of his Aston Martin, that we are all very much complicit in the quest for wealth and its consequences. I guess he simultaneously makes the point that it’s not that bad when you’re managing very well to stay on the right side of that equation. All is Lost, on the other hand, has a completely silent Robert Redford at the helm of a sailboat, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, trying to survive a series of disastrous events. Over at Quarter to Three, they jokingly posited the theory that both films were part of the same ‘universe’ or ‘story’ and Redford was one of the stockbrokers who is now trying to get away from it all by sailing his vessel around the world.
Interesting theory. Though it has two holes in my opinion. First, his boat looks just a little too beat up and old for it to belong to an extraordinarily wealthy individual. And second, Redford is altogether too stand-up a guy to be selling bullshit stock over the phone. But, the theory has merit and Redford is enough of a mystery to have you guessing at his origins. Especially given the message he writes (and bottles) when he’s at the end of his rope:
13th of July 4:50 p.m. I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried. I think that you would all agree that I tried. To be true. To be strong. To be kind. To love. To be right. But I wasn’t. And I know you knew this in each of your ways and I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body. That is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration. It’s inexcusable really, I know that now. How I could have taken this long to admit that, I’m not sure, but it did. I fought till the end, I’m not sure what that is worth, but know that I did. I always hoped for more for you all, I will miss you. I’m sorry.
Think of that moment in First Blood, where Stallone treats his own gunshot wound in the middle of a forest. And Brosnan, setting all sorts of traps for his pursuers using nothing but a simple bowie knife in Seraphim Falls. Or that scene in No Country for Old Men where Brolin just manages to blow all the water out of his pistol before shooting a dog that chases him. This is like one hundred minutes of that and it’s fascinating. A capable individual figuring out how to stay alive in thoroughly sticky situations. And it’s easy to view Redford’s message in light of his nautical nightmare. It’s like the man said, he ‘tried’. However, there’s expressions in that message that carry different connotations. And I guess that’s where comparisons to Margin Call come into play. Both films are about sinking ships after all. Albeit one in a more literal sense than the other.