Lessons Learned: Story Structure and Being Clever

Mike and I watched All is Lost, a movie written and directed by J.C. Chandor. The only star is Robert Redford, and the movie theme is about man versus nature. If you intend to watch the movie and don’t want to know the ending, here’s my spoiler alert. You may not want to read the last part of my blog.

All is Lost

For me, I was intrigued how the movie had little dialog. Only two scenes had dialog: the narrator (Mr. Redford) spoke in the beginning of the movie and then when calling for help. I thought it clever to film the story without words, and I was drawn to how the story structure unfolded. I think my husband nailed it when he said that it was like reading a book in scenery form. Books are all about detail to help form the story and setting. This story had both.

The first turning point of the movie begins when the man wakes to find that his sailboat is taking on water. His boat has hit and is stuck to a shipping container that’s floating in the middle of the sea. Who would have thought of that!! The container has left a huge hole in his boat. We watch as he painstakingly detaches from the cargo container, patches the hole, pumps out the water from inside the boat, and dries everything off. This includes watching him fix his radio that briefly works again.

The change of plans or the second turning point arrives with a rainstorm. The good news is the patchwork holds up. The bad news is the antenna on top of the mast gets disconnected. When the storm is over, the man climbs up the mast to reconnect it and sees another storm heading in his direction. This storm is a knockout. His sailboat capsizes and manages to upright itself with him inside the boat. It capsizes again when he’s out on the deck. Back on the boat, he now inflates the life raft, jumps aboard, and rides out the storm. When the storm breaks and he wakes, there is little left of the sailboat—the point of no return.

After taking food and water from the sailboat, he now has to survive on his raft. The elements are harsh as the days go by. The emotion is raw when the man sees two ships pass by and neither one, even with flares, stops to rescue him. The last turning point of the movie, the major setback, is when the man builds a fire out of pages from a book to draw attention to another ship off in the distance. The fire gets out of control and the raft burns to nothing. The aftermath or spoiler alert is when the man floats in the ocean with nothing left for his survival. As his body sinks into the sea, he looks up and sees a rescue boat and a light searching the water. The man swims up and reaches for the rescuer’s hand.

I liked how the ending was left to the imagination. The viewer could either believe that the man was actually rescued (the happy ending) or he was being drawn to the light in death. I’m not sure if that was the original intent of J.C. Chandor, but I thought it was clever.

My lesson learned is how you can take a simple story, one that’s been told before, and make it unique. Be a little creative, be clever, and you’ll have a story that pulls the reader/viewer in. This movie was good. We had to fast forward in a few places, but it’s still one that I’ll remember.


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