EDWISE  - EDITOR AND EDUCATION CONSULTANT
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Eye of the Optimist-be alert to symbolism

I recently viewed the 2012 movie, "All is Lost". (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2017038/)  To me, it is impressive not only for Robert Redford's solo non-dialogic performance and the physical demands of the role on a 70-something performer, but for its rich symbolism. Reviewers of this movie on the imdb site seemed oblivious to the symbolism of the story. For example, one criticized it for technical mistakes or oversights with respect to sailing technology and know-how. Another critic thought the actor too old for the role, but I thought an elder as the protagonist was a deliberate choice. That kind of review appears to have missed the point of the movie.  For example, the story is faulted for the absence of a life-jacket, but I see this omission as deliberate.

To sum up the plot, a solo sailor in a small sailing yacht wakes up to find his vessel has been damaged by a container floating in the ocean. Without dialogue, the circumstances tell the story. He manages to dislodge and container and patch up his boat but his communication equipment has been waterlogged and heavy storms approach. The sailboat capsizes during a storm. He flounders in a raft after his boat sinks. Two gigantic freighters pass him by. He eventually drowns.

To interpret this story literally is a mistake. It is not a documentary, or a biographical dramatization, or a dramatized account of what it is like to be wrecked and drowned at sea. Reminiscent of the "Old Man and the Sea", also a story rich in symbolism, I find that the conflict is not so much the man-nature conflict, but man versus society because the sea is the ocean of global monopoly capitalism. The film is artistic.

Here is my interpretation. The container represents global capitalist trade and commerce. It trips up and damages a vulnerable individual irreparably. The old man on the boat represents vulnerable sectors of society, the aged and perhaps migrants. Though the sailor is skilled, the small sailing craft lacks the means to support its pilot. This circumstance represents the lack of societal resources and aids for many people. They are struggling for survival in a rough sea against all odds with insufficient means for survival. The lack of a life-jacket represents the lack of a social safety net. Around the boat, the big fish are eating the little fish, then the sharks circle below. Two gigantic sophisticated cargo ships pass by, heedless of the plight of the man and the little raft. This circumstance represents the disregard for human life on the part of the system. Despite his efforts, the man flounders and eventually drowns.

The symbolism of this film practically shouts at the audience; it is quite obvious, to me. The fact that viewers may overlook it is significant. Many observers mistakenly interpret what the media shows as the literal truth. They lack education and insight into reading the meaning and subjectivity of stories, be they journalistic or artistic narrations.

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