Help Barbara understand All Is Lost

All Is Lost

Please note:  This blog contains spoilers.  If that doesn’t bother you, read on.

I’m talking, of course, about the new Robert Redford movie, All Is Lost.  Which I loved.  But then, I’ve always loved Redford.  I loved him with Jane Fonda in Barefoot In The Park and loved him with Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were.  I loved him with Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, loved The Sting, loved All the President’s Men.  I could go on, but you get my drift.

Now All Is Lost. Redford isn’t with anyone here.  Literally.  There is no other actor in this movie.  It’s just Redford, all alone on a sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean in increasingly dire straits.

He.  Is.  Amazing.  And I don’t say that because I admire the guy.  I say it because he tells a story of fortitude, regret, fear, relief, pain, and resignation without uttering a word.  Seriously.  Not a single word.  It’s all about facial expression and body language.

Part of what makes this amazing is that the guy is 77.  He looks and acts it in this movie, but is so subtle and articulate and real here that I was in awe.  Some movies I’ve seen lately pour in on a little heavily about the age thing.  Not Redford in this one.  You see a man who is what he is as he fights to survive, calling on every bit of his knowledge of boats and the sea, even struggling to learn about celestial navigation and a sextant.

Now for the ending.  Having read rave reviews that said nothing about this, I was unprepared.  Oh, as I watched the movie, I wondered whether our man would survive.  Then the ending came, the white light appeared, and the credits rolled.  My husband said, “So amazing.  He lives!”  And I said, “Oh no.  He dies!”

We went back and forth at dinner afterward, even searching blogs on my cell phone, which was when I learned for the first time of the controversy surrounding the ambiguity of this ending.  My husband even woke up this morning with another argument for his side, which of course I rebutted.

I believe with all my heart that Redford deserves an Oscar for his masterful performance in All Is Lost.  I don’t want to hear argument about that.

But the ending?  If you’ve seen the movie, what do you think?  Did our man live or die?

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  1. jan ongaro on November 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I have not seen this movie but like you I love anything with Redford in it or directed by him. Thank you for your blog .. I may have missed it otherwise

    • Gareth pietroboni on March 25, 2014 at 1:21 am


      To me.. This is story is Robert Redford’s acceptance of death, and the lonely struggle that he, or anyone goes through, as their age strips away lives of other people that are also their age, and also tears away the world that comforted them as they grew up, until finally, they are alone and also dying. In the movie Redford only has one moment that his emotions get the best of him. Throughout the rest of the movie he is calm and just repairing the damages the best way he can until finally, his life ends. The first part of the story, Redford expresses regret for having not been the perfect parent. This again is a thought he probably ponders as he sees his life fading. As the story progresses it seems that Redford relates his characters end to be sort of a parallel to Hemingway’s, “Old Man And the Sea”. Even to the extent of losing his fish to the sharks. The story does not end in a Hemingway storyesque version which, even though the story line strips the old man of his life catch, gives him a reprieve by letting him reconnect to a friend who still believes in him. In Redford’s version everything is slowly destroyed. And even when he sees a boat passing what is left of his life at that moment becomes so insignificant that it goes unnoticed by a passing ship of life. Again, Redford probably sees his life and people his age experiencing the loss of their boat of life, and life dwindling down to a life raft that keeps getting damaged until it can no longer be repaired. The fire on the boat is symbolic of the death of the Phoenix burning up and then rising from the flames.

      All the aging character actors De Niro, Pacino Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Hopkins, seem to be engaged in doing their own versions of death acceptance “bucket” movies. They most often go out living up to Dylan Thomas’, proclamation, ” Do not Go gentle into that good Night”. This movie was Redford’s version. True to his character, he decides to go out alone, and for the most part silently.

      • erin on March 31, 2014 at 12:47 am

        Very nicely put.

        • erin on October 21, 2014 at 10:23 pm

          me think so too 🙂
          Erins must think alike 😉

          • Lynda on November 10, 2014 at 12:16 am

            Yes I thought it was boring and dull too. Then , I found myself intriqued at this guys patience and fortitude to think clearly to try to survive . especially when so many people give up so easy with everything these days. When it is difficult they give up …….divorce , leave a relationship, quit a job, quit school , or just give up ending their life. Quit quit quit …. But not this guy!

            I think the movie is kinda interesting with a greater thought provoking message , perhaps what film used to be many years ago . For example , black and white films and no talking was available. The silent films yet brilliantly beautiful to leave a viewer thinking . this is what I found nice about the movie that I went from bored to intrigued. My mind began to think what is this movie trying to show me and actor what is he going thru , learning and doing? It was kinda like reading a book. you know we start to think instead of the screen just going from one fast moving special affect to entertain us. Well done in a different creative style. More like art then a movie filled with special effects .

    • Janeen Taylir on April 10, 2024 at 10:30 pm

      That’s Gods hand reaching for him.

  2. Ben F on November 11, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Chandor’s official line is that the final scene is in the hands of the viewer — which I’m sure you know since you’ve done some searching. If I had to make a case for death, it would be this: Chandor frames the shot with Redford so far down into the water–a depth it would be difficult to swim up from in clothes and shoes–to signify that Redford and his hopes for survival are sunk. At that point, Redford sees a light, and he swims toward it. Maybe I’m assigning a cliche where I shouldn’t, but “going toward the light” is quite specific in its meaning, not to mention the hand (of God?) reaching down from above. I think that Redford’s note in the bottle, which is as important as anything in the movie, says that he “tried” in the past tense, as if in his mind the trying was over.

    On the other hand, there’s one major part of the last scene that I can’t pin down (not that I have the other part pinned down!). He’s swimming up (either in reality or in his soul’s reality) toward the light, and he can swim toward a circle of fire or a shining white light. He pretty clearly veers toward the flaming circle, then cuts back to the left to go toward the light/hand. If the two outcomes were hell (flaming circle) or heaven (white light), I can’t understand why Redford would be choosing between the two; it’s not like at the moment of death you get to choose your fate of heaven vs hell (at least not in any interpretation that I’ve ever heard).

    So, in paragraph one, I feel like there’s a pretty good case that shows Chandor has his character die, but leaves the outcome vague to let the audience decide for themselves. In paragraph two, though, my interpretation for the flaming circle is (tentatively) that by quitting–letting himself drown–Redford would have committed himself to hell, but by making it back up to the surface, he avoids the fiery afterlife. Do the occurrences from paragraphs two mean that he lived and avoided hell or died and avoided hell? I can’t say, mostly because I can’t figure out why he swam toward the fiery circle for a few seconds before turning away from it.

    • Tracey Donnelly on January 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm

      You know Ben, I hadnt even realised that it was the light or the fire, heaven or hell. I noticed that he veered suddenly to the light. I thought that strange but now realise the symbolism of that. Through my research with EVP (electronic voice phenomena) and ghost investigating, I have come to the conclusion that yes you do have a choice at death. You can choose to go to the white light or you can choose to run away, frightened by your own guilt and fears and remain in a type of limbo or earth bound spirit existence, that can be your own personal “hell” if you make it that. I base these comments on my own personal experience & tangible evidence.I have one EVP of a male spirit(ghost) in a an old disused steam train tunnel, saying quite clearly “I AM IN HELL” We visited this tunnel on many occasions and had rocks thrown and were touched and witnessed rocks being thrown (caught this on video) This place is reputably haunted but by one female ghost only. I happened to find an old newspaper article of a male body found in that tunnel in the early 1900s but his identity is unknown. The article says he was hit by a train and limbs severed. I believe he committed suicide and that is why he is still there . Some think suicide as an ultimate sin and if you think this, then you would expect to be punished and be in hell. That is why I think he says ” I AM IN HELL” He couldnt go to the light because he was guilty and thought he should be punished. Its his hell.Hence, I think we have a choice at the end. Sorry if got off track here but was trying to explan why I think what I do.

    • Celeste on May 2, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      In Zen Buddhism, an enso is a circle drawn with an opening in the circle or a closed circle. One thing the enso symbolizes is absolute enlightenment. I interpreted the scene as the man’s death as he moved toward the light of absolute enlightenment.

  3. b. wood on November 16, 2013 at 7:46 am

    I believe he lives. When he looks up through the water, he sees a finite beam of
    light, and the burning ring of his life raft. He is looking…as I see it…at the real world he was
    about to leave and that calls him back.
    I also believe in his survival because of all the seventies and eighties movies I sat through
    where ‘survival’ in its purer form, or as a happy ending, were considered outre, definitely not art.
    That ended for me, most happily, with Alien, where I knew Ripley was doomed; after all it was 1979, everything was
    doomed. And then she wins in the end!
    I can’t tell you the burst of exhiliaration I felt, and with it the thought “The Seventies are over!”
    I do hope they don’t bring them back.

    • homersplace on December 25, 2014 at 9:18 am

      The 70’s and 80’s had the best films when writers and directors really cared about the story from beginning to end, and they never thought of just using any old actor to play the same character for sequels.

      Now we get stories that have no real content and only show flashy effects and ho-hum endings and now we have different actors playing the same part from one sequel to the next. No one cares anymore in hollywood, cause people keep paying for this crap.

      If they had ever changed the actor to play Ripley back then, would you have accepted that? I say no damn it! : )

      • Jane on January 29, 2017 at 4:28 pm

        He did survive. The source of light was not obscure but a definite search light. Also there was a bout and a rescuer´s hand. Even if we would like to think about enlightenment and sort of going towards light, why would there be a boat and a torch? He was saved. I too felt ambiguous about the ending, because I made interpretations. Then I looked up on google and came accross someone telling the facts about the end of the film. I then agreed, yes, that´s what I saw, too, and that´s it. He was saved.

        PS I personally was more touched by the film Castaway.

  4. Tony on December 19, 2013 at 12:17 am

    It was clear to me the moment the white light appeared, and the hand reached for him in the water.

    “Our Man” was going to heaven.


  5. Anna Black on December 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

    I interpreted the ending that Our Man was actually saved. The light that shone in the the ocean was clearly a searchlight from a ship and you could see a ship sitting next to the flaming raft. If it was meant to be interpreted that he was swimming to God to enter the next life, we wouldn’t have seen a ship and searchlight. Never in the film are esoteric symbols used, so why suddenly would a ship and searchlight be symbols for God? No. The hand that reached for Our Man was that of a flesh and blood human being coming to save him. I think the ambiguity of the ending is simply to drive home the point that doing everything we can to survive is what’s important. And Our Man did everything to survive, right up to the ending when he swam back up. I thought it was interesting he had to destroy his ONLY means of security (the raft) to actually get saved. Little lesson for us all in life. Sometimes we have to let go of the one thing we think we need, to get what we really need…

    • homersplace on December 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

      are you saying that only certain things can be symbols for God as film content? Weird.

      Also, saying it was his entry into heaven with God pulling him up is just some peoples interpretation.

      So if you want to ignore that one idea, couldn’t it still be in his own mind as he is fading away into death, that he is hallucinating that he is being saved at the very last minute by a guy in a boat? Complete with a flashlight and everything!

  6. Dee on January 6, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Hi. I’m interested in knowing why you think he died and what you make of the light and hand?

    Some people say the ending symbolizes God/Afterlife but that doesn’t seem to fit at all with the rest of the film where no religious symbolism was apparent, nor spiritual reference. Someone wrote somewhere that it’s an illusion he sees in the delirium of drowning. The strongest argument for dying that I see is the length of his descent and return. Seems hard to think he could last underwater that long. Additionally, he looks before he sinks and there’s no sense he sees the boat coming.

    I found the film repetitive, boring, uninspiring. I think one of the reasons is that I just couldn’t relate and sympathize–why would I care to–with the travails of a rich man on his yacht. Perhaps if the movie developed his character in some way I would’ve cared about this guy. The credits list Redford as Our Man I think, but he’s not my man, not like me, far from it.

  7. pat bryant on January 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    What doesn’t square for me about the ending is that he doesn’t even try to swim toward the boat/light before he sinks down into the water. This is a man who simply does not have it in his make-up to quit. And yet, fairly quickly he just lets himself go down.

    As far as dead or alive, the literalist in me says that a man cannot sink as our hero does without letting out all the air from his lungs, in which case it would basically be physically impossible to swim back up from the depth he was at when he saw the boat/light again.

    Both of these things have been bugging me since I saw this wonderful movie.

    • Judy H on January 31, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Just saw this on DVD, and had the same thought as you, and yours is the only response I saw that mentioned this…

      The one thing that simply made no sense to me was that after all that dogged persistence, that clear habit he had of not giving up, of trying absolutely everything possible, he would choose that moment — when a ship finally sees him — to simply give up and sink.

      He had to know that his burning raft was not only his last chance, but his BEST chance, creating such a huge bonfire that it couldn’t be missed in the pitch dark. So why in the world would this die-hard give up at the moment hope has arrived?

      If he had looked exhausted, it would have made sense to me. He could have just run out of energy. I still wouldn’t like it, but it would seem realistic. But he looked very alert and intentional, eyes wide open, when he began to descend. At first I figured he was just trying to get away from the fire and intended to pop back up more quickly. It almost seems as if they dragged out his descent, and purposely made the ending ambiguous to spur discussions like these!

      • Jane on January 29, 2017 at 4:34 pm

        PS I replied further up. I agree, the ending was not good. However, I prefer to take it at face value. there was a torch and a boat and a hand. He was saved.

    • Vickie on November 28, 2023 at 4:48 am

      The strength of the human spirit that God gave us is capable of extraordinary feats. I do believe he lived at the end!

  8. CeeCee on January 24, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    I respectfully disagree with Dee regarding the lack of symbolism–religious or otherwise–in the movie. And he’s on a SAILBOAT not a YACHT…big difference. We have zero clue if “our man” is wealthy & somehow less capable of true suffering. The fact that he’s sailing alone in the Indian Ocean indicates to me he’s probably a pretty insightful, spiritual man who’s comfortable being alone with his thoughts. It doesn’t have to be full of religious symbolism to be a movie with many spiritual metaphors each viewer is free to interpret for themselves. But I saw many but won’t go off point…

    I’m with Barbara on this one: Redford dies–as evidenced by the sheer depth to which his body seemed to sink–but his soul swam to the light and the hand of God. If you notice, just before he goes under in the pivotal scene, he seems to smile slightly and looks towards the heavens as if to say to God–like he said in his note–I fought to the end. And he made his peace (in my opinion) with God & was ready to surrender–all in that brief smile & nod to the heavens. Once that gesture was made (so perfectly by Redford’s unbelievable acting) you have to believe he did not survive. His soul swam to the light when it left his tired, worn out body.

    But anyway you look at it–this movie was not boring.

    • Tracey Donnelly on January 29, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      Totally agree

  9. Brandon on January 25, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I think it was the hand of god pulling him into heaven

  10. daveb on January 26, 2014 at 10:46 am

    though the movie was terrible, anyone who sails, (including redford) would have had an epirb, a response beacon, once activated would pinpoint with gps. he went up the mast for no reason, he tried to fix the gap in the boat after he had a shave and only because a storm was imminent, with a ridiculous compound (you would patch up your boat like that when you were in harbour), when the washboard and cushions would have been more suitable, he left a floating container, which he could have ,used as a platform to fix the boat. he didn’t use a mayday, or any other emergency protocol.
    he left the liferaft with the cord still attached to a sinking boat

    i could go on but lost interest after 10 minutes, hoping against hope that it would get sank, just like his yacht.

    he even set fire to his liferaft. for gods sake hollywood or wherever made it, at least spend money to make it reality…ish

    • Ava on March 24, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      @daveb: Check out imdb for this movie, the “goofs” section. If I remember correctly, he climbed up the mast to fix the antenna–after realizing it affected his inability to use the radio. I know nothing about boating/sailing, but a few who do found similar problems and inaccuracies, including his speaking into the wrong side of the radio’s mic! (By the way, I just watched the movie on March 23-24.)

  11. Tracey Donnelly on January 29, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    I believe he died in the end because first of all the name ALL IS LOST implies that. He lost his fight for survival in the end and gave up. His letter he wrote also signified his acceptance of death. He quietly let himself go.He was under water too long and eyes looked dead. Then the light from the boat shining through the water for me represented the light at the end of the tunnel. He swims up then turns towards the light. The hand reaching out was from the other side and then the bright intense light often described in near death experiences. In this case though, I think he died. Hence, all is lost, including life.I think his vision transcending into the afterlife was about him being rescued. He was rescued, but to the other side. I’m not religious by the way, but I am a ghost investigator and have tangible evidence that life after death exists so there was no problem in me seeing the end of the movie this way. I love this movie and Redford showed all the qualities of a true star.

  12. Ric Dube on February 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    This is a cautionary tale of the current path of American industry. Who is this man, how did he earn his living and why is his final message so apologetic? My guess is that he is a major American industrialist, possibly someone who has benefited from the growth in Eastern imports — and ultimately the widening of the gap between the upper class and everybody else.

    Ironically his ship sinks because of a stray shipping container, and the trade lines have become so dehumanized that no ship on the trade line even notices him when he’s standing right there. When he becomes an individual and has individual needs, he finds the world he has helped create can not help him.

    He regrets the way he has conducted his business and writes a sincere apology, which he puts in a jar and casts out to sea. This redeems him when he drowns. It’s a spiritual ending to a relatively straightforward story about big business biting itself on the rear end.

  13. Sunk on February 22, 2014 at 2:08 am

    Its so clear that he died. He was down too far, he followed the light, he reached out to the heavens, flash of white light at very end(not the flashlight). Same thing with the sunset earlier in the movie. Symbolic of setting/ending of something. Only thing that would tell us otherwise is everything was soooo practical in the movie up to that point- there were no visions and to switch it at the end is pretty lame from a viewers perspective.
    Lookit, there is a way to leave an ending open to interpretation and then there is a way to confuse viewers and this movie wasnt fair in the end and it leaves you feeling like a cheap lady of the night.

  14. wes on February 25, 2014 at 9:18 am

    I wasn’t impressed with the ending, but the rest of the film was great. I didn’t want it to end with a hocus pocus go into the light scenario. But it seems that what the writer desired. Had he not sank so far below the surface, I could have just went with the idea that he was rescued. But if we follow this film realistically (which up to this point, the movie was realistic) we would know that a guy would not just sink so far below in salt water unless his lungs were full of water. So, yeah, he was dead. I didn’t want him to be dead, but he was.

  15. Ava on March 25, 2014 at 12:23 am

    I believe the ambiguous ending was intended to be so by writer/director, JC Chandor. And I saw three possible interpretions: (1) Our Man was rescued, despite the logic of the depth of the water. He saw the outstretched hand just in time and, just as he kept trying to survive after his boat was damaged by the shipping container, his strong will to survive led him to swim up and grasp the hand. (2) Our man died. The light and the outstretched hand were delusions, seen as his mind & body were nearing all loss of oxygen. (3) Our man died. The light and the outstretched hand symbolize his “entering the light,” the afterlife.

    (I have to admit that I did not see Our Man swim toward the burning ring of his life raft and then make a conscious decision to, instead, head toward the light and the hand. Had I noticed that I might have come to another conclusion about the ending.)

    “In an interview with Television Without Pity, Chandor spoke about what the fade to white means to him:

    There are 21 frames of white right at the last moment that I put in there and that’s a little unusual because it lights up the theater in a weird way. But in my mind, it was a way of cementing the end of the film and locking it in your mind, so it’s your film. I’m handing it over. Hopefully, you’re learning something about yourself and starting to think about that.

    As with the similarly-minded ending of The Sopranos, if you can’t personally choose one interpretation or the other, you just have to accept the mystery. There’s no universally right answer here.” From SLATE, Oct. 18, 2013

    Regarding the entire movie, my task is to see how, and if, the story is connected to my personal struggle during the last 18 months to cope & survive my separation and divorce and how to move forward. Having just finished watching the movie earlier today, I’ll need time to “sort it out,” to think about the various scenes, the letter in the bottle, the various possible symbols, as well as the ambiguous ending. It may or may not speak to my personal situation; that’s not something I can force. But reading the replies to your question, Barbara, has certainly given me more to chew on.

    • Geoff on March 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      If I consider this as a realistic portrayal of events, then I wonder about the number of small mistakes and erroneous decisions the character makes. Why didn’t he turn on his bilge pump when he first awoke? Perhaps it would have worked! He could have sent a mayday out right then too. Why didn’t he drop his sails when he found the wind blowing him against the container?

      That said, in the end, the damage to the side of his boat was not what killed him. With every setback he methodically and calmly took the next logical step. He obviously was well-prepared, had a lot of equipment to help survive the events, although perhaps not exactly the perfect thing, but certainly so many things to avoid or resolve so many contingencies.

      This is the reason why I think the entire movie was symbolic, and not realistic. I agree with the comments that suggest this is a story metaphorically of the end of life. In particular, I think it is about calmly proceeding from one crisis to the next, not thinking that “this one Is the really serious one”. You got a resolution and can continue, not with the same capabilities as before, but sufficiently to remain calm. I think of my parents in this way, as they face one age-related health event after another. No outright catastrophe, just a series of individually minor setbacks, with mitigations applied to make progressing possible, but never, ever, returning to a state equal to that prior to the onset. Then while taking the steps most logical, time just runs out. The last and final crisis comes, you go all-in, but to no avail. It’s just time for the end to come. Remaining calm, trying what you can to continue, but everyday falling farther away from the world.

      My two cents…

      • terracotta on November 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm

        Yes, everyone struggles in life. Does anyone realize, that we are totally dependent on God? I am nothing without him. It is through suffering that we are made pure.

  16. rick on April 6, 2014 at 5:32 am

    I think the fact he didn’t try to swim is reminiscent of ancient Mariners who never learned to swim as it would take longer to drown. Technology had failed him (radio etc) and he was forced to adopt the ancient ways (celestial navigation). The message in the bottle reinforces this. I get the feeling he had never embraced the new ways either and was stuck between the old and new. A man without a home. It’s never explicitly mentioned but he had no emergency transponder unless I missed it which would strengthen the implication. When he sees the light he hesitates but rejoins the modern world

  17. tom on April 6, 2014 at 11:12 am

    He lives. On the 8th day, when he writes his message in the bottle, I believe that this is the message that he narrated from the first part of the movie. He gives up in the message, believing he is going to die. He tried, and that is all that mattered. But it isn’t over yet. Some people have been saying its impossible (or just too hard) to swim up from that deep, but he hadn’t given up in his soul. Although his mind thought he was dead and wrote the note thinking he would die, his soul recognized that he might of had one more chance. The adrenaline forced his body upward, and he gave it one last try. He knew somewhere deep in side that he couldn’t be justified in saying he tried if he gave up at the end. So he swam up and up and up and grabbed on to the hand. I am arguing that this hand is literal, not figurative. It is the hand of a real person who is trying to save him.

    Now if this hand is figurative, then he must of already died. When did he die then? He is clearly still alive as he is falling off his raft, and he sinks for a long time. Here, is where he must of died if the hand is just a metaphor. But as he is falling, the boat appears. The boat has to be real, because he was signaling it with the fire! If the boat is fake, then why in the world would he try to signal nothing? So now that I believe the boat is real, the next step is to understand his actions. He sees the boat, and the light searching for him. He is dying, and quickly. But before he gives up entirely, he must think: I kept trying the past days to survive, and now there is a boat trying to help me survive; if I gave up now, as soon as I am getting help; what would that mean? So he find energy he didn’t have a moment ago, and Our Man swims up, knowing that giving up is worse than dying while trying. And he grabs on to the hand, which must be real, and the white screen appears. Now I’m not going to try to explain the meaning of the light; I would be guessing to what the light means. But I think when he finds the energy to grip the hand so tightly, he knows inside he has survived against the elements of the sea.

    So it is my opinion that the boat is real, and obviously there has to be someone on the boat, so the hand is real. He survives.

    On a side note; I think in the first part of the movie, he is apologizing to someone who is alive- and I say this because he says something like, “know that I tried.” If he was apologizing to someone who had passed away, I don’t think he would’ve mentioned the “know that I tried” part, because it doesn’t fit. So I think after he survives, he goes back to the person he is apologizing to, and makes it up to them.

    I guess I just think that he lives because I wouldn’t know what to think if he died.
    I was in tears at the end of the movie, and I couldn’t bring myself to the notion that he died.
    He lived.
    Our Man lived.

  18. General P. Malaise on May 5, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I agree with you ..he dies and is welcomed by god

  19. Jack on June 9, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    This movie angered me. I went in expecting to see a “man against nature” film and was instead treated to The Rapture. I felt suckered. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all kinds of films. And I actually liked “The Rapture” with Mimi Rogers. But I knew what I was getting then and didn’t feel cheated. Let me explain further..

    There are many articles, videos etc..where the director and star (Redford) are saying basically stating “the ending is up to you! Whatever you think, that’s it!”. My response? Bull. There are only 2 choices the director gives us for the ending. 1. Redford lives and is saved at the last moment by a passing boat. 2. He dies and is grabbed by God and welcomed into heaven. Why does this bother me? There is no ending where he just dies. According to the director, if you die there is an afterlife – be it heaven or hell. Period.

    Once you understand this (and can only understand it at the very end) the entire movie becomes a parable about mankind’s entrance into heaven is only possible by struggle, pain, suffering and the confession of your sins.

    I want my money back!

    • terracotta on November 28, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      Jack, you wrote:
      Once you understand this (and can only understand it at the very end) the entire movie becomes a parable about mankind’s entrance into heaven is only possible by struggle, pain, suffering and the confession of your sins.

      This interpretation makes a lot of sense to me, why would a parable bother you?
      Also, the director was quoted as the film having three possible endings. The two which you mentioned or a third, where he does indeed die and the light and hand are a delusion.

  20. PHILIP WEGENER on July 29, 2014 at 1:59 am

    Of all the comments about what the end of this movie really meant, or what ‘Our Man’s’ struggle throughout the film meant, I think Geoff’s comments really resonated most with me. As he (Geoff) relates to the experience of his parents dealing with one setback after another until they just ‘run out of time,’ I also relate to my mother, who passed away in February 2012. She dealt with a series of medical/health setbacks rather calmly; Going to each doctor’s appointment, test, procedure, exam, treatment, surgery, with resignation that this was how to deal with it. She kept ‘trying’ until time just ran out.

    Okay, so all the above says nothing about the movie. My impression was that the ‘light’ was symbolic of Heaven, and that the hand was the hand of God, reaching out to ‘Our Man.’ To think he could have still been alive, and held his breath all the time it took him to sink and then to swim back up, is a stretch. Though it seemed longer than it actually was due to great editing.

    And I agree with Wes. He was dead. I didn’t want him to be dead either, but he was.

    But he did make it to the ‘other side’ … I prefer to believe Heaven. I didn’t even think of the juxtaposition of the ‘ring of fire’ of the burning life raft and the ‘white light’ as competing metaphors for Heaven and hell until I read through this blog.

    As for the inaccuracies, mistakes, lapses of judgement, etc., I too wondered about the absence of a transponder. No one ventures out into the open ocean singlehandling these days without one. But that would have been too easy. This was just a series of unfortunate events, beginning with a ‘one in a million’ bit of bad luck colliding with the freight container. Everything that followed was sort of a ‘Murphy’s Law’ tale of ‘anything that can go wrong, will.’

    It was a great piece of film making in my opinion. And an incredible acting performance by Redford. To convey such a range of emotions; pain, frustration, despair, anger, desperation, hope and finally resignation without dialog is testament to how great an actor he is. If Joel Grey won an Oscar for his non-speaking role in ‘Cabaret,’ certainly Redford deserved one for ‘All Is Lost.’ And Grey at least got to sing. All Redford got to do was shout “F _ _ K! I could really relate to that. No matter how calm, collected and patient you are, at some point you just have to scream an expletive at the top of your lungs.

    Great comments here, and a great film to comment about.

    • terracotta on November 28, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      I agree with all of your comments.

  21. Lucy on September 16, 2014 at 3:01 am

    I enjoyed reading all the comments on this site. Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments and to Barbara for hosting this site! I especially liked Tom’s final comments about the fate of Our Man which were so honest and touching (and matched my experience upon my first viewing).

    I just found out a huge clue to the original intention of the ending which I will reveal momentarily…

    But first I want to share this idea about Our Man’s character– I think his character title can also be construed as HOUR MAN, as in, he had previously been a person enslaved to the clock, to “getting things accomplished”, to “productivity” perhaps at the expense of relationships and emotional connections. During his journey at sea he looks as his watch several times- like a habit left over from his past life when he was in charge and on a schedule instead of now being at the mercy of the elements. Also, Hour Man suggests that one’s time is limited, the minutes are numbered.. And also, touches on the idea that at some point everyone encounters the moment when “their time is up”.

    The big revelation I had about the ending is… LOOK AT THE SCRIPT! :o) Yes, I found the script online and read the original version of it. There is a definite, clear ending to the story in the original version, that, although it was changed to become more ambiguous in the final presentation, I believe answers the underlying question of whether he lives or dies. Check it out and see what you think!!

    • Kerri on May 1, 2015 at 11:43 pm

      Interesting find here!

  22. Fred on September 27, 2014 at 12:14 am

    He lives. Here is the original script ending, which leaves no doubt:


    The view from under the raft is beautiful.

    The flames and the full moon and OUR MAN’S silhouette are
    something to look at.

    From this view we see out of the corner of the frame a object
    floating into the frame. We are not sure what it is.


    OUR MAN is treading water barely keeping his head above water
    looking at his raft burning.

    What has he done?

    His head drops below the water level.

    Then pops back up.

    Then, from behind him we see a dinghy with some fishermen in
    it motoring up to him.

    He turns around and can’t believe what he is seeing.
    He tries to wave his arm.

    They circle him.

    In the distance we see the larger fishing vessel coming
    towards them.

    The young man at the front of the dingy reaches out his hand
    towards OUR MAN.

    Their hands meet.


    • homersplace on December 25, 2014 at 8:59 am

      This is correct IF they actually stuck with the ORIGINAL script ending.

      Do you know how many times a script gets revised?

      Now if you knew for sure this was the “final version” of the script ending that they stuck with, that would be different.

      Most films will create several outcomes and make the decisions later as to what ending to use. Some of which is based on audience preview testing.

      Besides, nothing here states for sure that it’s real time events, or just the interpretation of what we see in his minds eye as he is dying under water. The script wording here doesn’t make it a solid “for sure” at all……..

  23. Linda on October 12, 2014 at 9:57 am

    My interpretation of the ending is that he is rescued and lives. When he wrote the letter at the end, he was saying goodbye because he knew the odds if his survival were against him. But, he promised his family that he never gave up trying. This statement is what makes me believe he lived. We see he did not give up after the letter because he was still thinking how to gain the passing ship’s attention. He had the will to live. He created a small fire on his lifeboat to create smoke hoping to be seen. He was still being calm,smart and resourceful, not a person who was giving up hope. He was continually thinking what to do next, so I think when the fire got out of control and he had to abandon it, he started planning his next move. Some people believe this is when he gave up. It doesn’t make sense to me that he would give up at this point, knowing there was a nearby ship. He lifeboat was now on fire and clearly visible to the passing ship. I think the option he took was instead of swimming away from his boat (he would have needed to because of the fire and heat), he purposely sank down instead never losing sight of the ring of fire. When he saw the other rescue light coming from the ship, he swam up using every bit of power he could muster. Thus, not giving up as he promised. He was rescued. The message is to never give up trying, and to hold on to hope until the very end.

    • Rick on November 22, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      I think when Redford lights the fire he thought this was his only chance for survival. If it didn’t work then it was certain death for him. Once the raft burned and the ship seemingly didn’t noticed him and continued on Redford assumed all hope was gone and there was no sense to suffer needlessly and gave up his live. As he started to sink he excepted his death as he excepted the ocean into his lungs. Looking above and seeing his last view sinking so ever deeper as his body and mind start to exhaust his remaining oxygen he saw the rescue boat above. With his body paralyzed his last thoughts transfers to his imagination now tries to survive just before he dies.

      To me this can mean that our assumptions and believes can hold us back from what we really want to accomplish.Don’t ever give up because doing so is a certainty that we have control over.

    • terracotta on November 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      This is a good interpret ion as many of the others were also.
      I think rather than focus on whether he lived or died, it is better to focus on what we all have learned about ourselves, our beliefs and what we can do to live our lives in a better way. And it would not hurt to be focused on what our relationship with God is or isn’t, or if a relationship exists at all.

      Thanks to all of you for sharing.

      • Ed Seas on November 30, 2014 at 4:04 pm

        Of course he’s dead (dying). The hand is obviously the Hand of God pulling him up to Heaven (see the Sistine Chapel ceiling – The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo) as is exemplified by the White Light. Its simple as puzzles go because only one question has to be answered – “When did he write the note he read in the beginning of the movie?” Its clear he never makes it to the surface…alive…

        • homersplace on December 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

          Remember when he wrote on paper and tossed the glass jar into the water?

          So the beginning of the film was his narration of what he wrote on that paper.

          Because it was right after this day of tossing the jar, that he basically got into that whole fire on board issue……

  24. homer on December 25, 2014 at 8:29 am

    He died for sure.

    there are several things you see in the end scene that tell you this:


    in this last scene, Redford is in his raft, the moon light shines behind him, the ship he sees in the distance is in front of him. The rescue boat we see came from the same side of the moon light NOT the opposite side where the ship was seen. Wouldn’t the boat have come from the OTHER side of the frame? Ok you could say the rescue boat made a very wide turn into the area.


    the rescue boat seems to be of one man in a small paddle boat! Wouldn’t the boat be bigger and have a motor if it’s from a huge ship? They don’t use little paddle boats for rescue do they?


    the rescue boat shows up WAY too fast from where the ship was. No way they could have gotten anywhere near Redford’s area that quickly even in a motor boat let alone a paddle boat.


    Redford who hasn’t eaten and has no energy left, somehow can hold his breath after falling so far under water to make it back to the surface? No way. He would have inhaled water, halfway back up to the surface in his condition at the very least. More likely he would have just drowned on his way down.


    The title is: “All is Lost” , not “All is going to be ok in the End”


    • homersplace on December 25, 2014 at 9:03 am

      I forgot to add to my first comment #1: “Ok you could say the rescue boat made a very wide turn into the area.”

      I wanted to add: but if they are truly there to resue someone, they aren’t going to waste time other than make a straight line to the burning area.

      Making a wide turn into the area would no doubt waste precious time to save anyone. So back to, why would a resue boat come from opposite side of where ship was to launch off of ? And only one man in a paddle boat???

  25. Damien Bart on February 14, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Our man’s body dies and his soul enters Heaven as symbolized by The Hand of God reaching toward him and lifting him into the white light. Notice that as he rises from the depths toward the boat and light, his head barely breaks the surface of the water line and then the white light flashes at us with an unworldly brilliant brightness rather than only filling the frame with a shine or light, and the movie ends. His body never made it back into life as his head never fully freed itself of the darkness and death symbolized by his sinking in the ocean.

  26. Marci on March 19, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    He is rescued and lives. I didńt even questioned it. Then I wanted to know a bit more about the movie and some movie magazine wrote the character dies at the end…..I was like WHAT? Not true…..I guess I do not get the other people who think he died. I’m an optimistic person I guess

  27. Claude V Marie on March 30, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Saw this very intriguing movie last night. Very disturbing, and that is an understatement when it is clear that he is looking up to the sky, and I imagine he is praying to God, Our Heavenly Father, as he makes the decision to ascend to his death. I have since watched several interview with the writer/director and Redford. Bottom-line. Based on the ending scene linked here, he survives. Those who say it is unrealistic that a man going through what he has (lack of nutrition, water, etc) would not have the oxygen supply in his lungs, nor the energy to swim back up to the surface. Well, they are not considering that it is possible, if God makes it so. If God wants to, He can make a way out of no way. He is the Way Maker! I know that the writer/director contrived to make this scene ambiguous. Given the acting and facts of the scene, he survives, at least long enough, to make it to the rescue.

  28. Jill currie on February 25, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Of course he lives, he’s about to give up, but then he sees the vessel above him, swims back up towards it and grasps the rescuers hand!! It’s pretty straight forward if you keep god out of it!!

  29. Jeffrey Ruzicka on December 13, 2022 at 7:47 pm

    I think he lived. There isn’t a supernatural element to lost. I think this is especially true because Redford describes himself as a naturalist who believes this live is all you get. He didn’t write the movie but it would be out of character for him to do this kind of movie otherwise.

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