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The Quiet and the Storm

SilenceMedia

Forty-five minutes in an anechoic chamber, where sound levels are in negative decibels, is said to be enough to drive anyone crazy.

An anechoic chamber is a room designed to absorb reflections of sound — if a jet were taking off right outside you would hear little more than a whisper. In the absence of background noise, you become the sound, as you begin to hear the workings of your body.

In the entirety of the film All Is Lost, the only character speaks about 50 words. Yet the film is not quiet, as much as it is silent. While the lack of dialogue stands out starkly in the beginning, the background noise — the creaking of the boat, the swishing of the sails, the endless lapping of the ocean — becomes the sound.

All Is Lost (2013) is a survival drama about a man, the sea, and, for a bit, his yacht. Starring Robert Redford as the only cast member, it is writer-director J. C. Chandor’s foray into creating a purely cinematic experience. The film picked up various nominations and awards, including Best Actor, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Score.

It begins with a voiceover from Redford’s character (dubbed “Our Man”), who pens an apology letter to an unknown recipient, accompanied with panning shots of the vast, calm sea.

The film then jumps eight days backwards. Our Man awakens to find that his yacht has collided with a shipping container, leaving a large hole in the side of the boat. Our Man sloshes through the knee-deep water in his cramped quarters and manages to cover the hole with a makeshift waterproof layer. Yet he finds that this is just the beginning of his troubles, and the film follows him as he deals with a series of debilitating mishaps, all while coming to terms with his mortality.

The film is a testament to Chandor's dedication to keeping the film depthless, but the stunning use of formal techniques, as well as thematic content, leaves the viewer gasping for air. "[Chandor] has taken away the filters and barriers of dialogue, special effects, what have you. [The film] is a purely cinematic experience," says Redford of the daring movie.

Cinematographically, the goal was to bring the viewer as close as possible to what Our Man is experiencing. So, the shots are very close to Redford, and the movement of the camera creates the feeling that the viewer is present on the boat, but never acknowledged. Additionally, shots contrast between cramped, dark quarters and those of the endless ocean, never allowing you to get comfortable as you feel claustrophobic, and then helpless and insignificant.

The critically acclaimed score is a haunting melody that echoes sounds heard at sea — foghorns, wind, and the water. Alex Ebert, the composer, said, "This project was a dream — an open space to play in but also space to listen to the elements. Wind, water, rain, sun, are the story's other characters to me. I knew I had quite a task ahead of me: to at once allow the elements to sing and to give Redford a voice with which to, once in a while, respond."

Robert Redford gives a stellar performance, and it is difficult to envision another actor in his place. The movie showcases Redford's ability to hold the screen for 100 minutes, with no acting support, as the only other cast members are the boat, the sea, and the sky. Redford masterfully portrays the progression of his character — Our Man goes from a man blissfully sailing at sea, one who has perhaps prepared for disasters but never expects to face them, to one who has lost everything and come to terms with his mortality and approaching death. Redford’s acting is most striking in the bleakest moments, when the character struggles to come to terms with his situation, instead focusing on surviving the next hour or day. He portrays bleakness, hopelessness, and the survival instinct solely with his face and body; his acting is heightened by the background sounds. His age also lends immense meaning to the storyline of a man on the edge of mortality, refusing to give up.

The screenplay of the film is just 31 pages long, mostly full of prose descriptions. There isn’t much plot in the film — the character fights for survival when faced with a series of worsening mishaps — but the film engages the viewer completely, with the entrancing sound and battle for survival between an old man and the sea. Our Man lacks any backstory, but the viewer knows that he has some attachments to people, which is all of the dimension the character gets. This creative decision allows the viewer to experience the events with Our Man, in the present, allowing you to feel the fear, the pain, and most importantly, the overwhelming need to survive and be safe.

The most striking feature of the film is the silence. The lack of dialogue, coupled with the exaggerated sounds of the boat, the sea, and the wind, make this movie an experience. The little bits of dialogue during the film ( "This is an SOS call for Virginia Jean. Over.") stand out starkly against the noise of the elements, and make those calls for help much more hard-hitting. I watched the entire film at the edge of my seat, nervously trying to anticipate what Our Man would have to go through next. Redford’s character’s emotions were projected onto mine, and I experienced the fear, the determination, the choking desperation, the sudden meeting with mortality, and the hopelessness of the situation along with the protagonist.

Additionally, the silence contributes to the rawness of the situation, bringing out the most deeply rooted human instinct: survival. Chandor aims to make viewers think, and experience: How do we live when death is palpable? Just like thoughts come into our minds when we stand in the balcony at night, with no sounds except the winds and the distant honking of vehicles, silence in the movie provides that space for the viewer to introspect. "The goal of the film is a little bit of an emotional litmus test. Whatever you’re thinking at that moment teaches you about your view toward all these big issues that I’m talking about," says Chandor. Boedekker and his team’s masterful sound editing, which refers to the collection of various audio clips and their refinement, earned the movie an Oscar nomination for sound editing. Throughout the film, natural sounds are layered and greatly enhanced, to produce audio which is a powerful narrative force in the movie.

I give this movie a rating of 4.5 out of 5. The only drawback to the movie is the technical sailing mistakes, some of which can be made out by someone with little sailing knowledge. I watched the movie at full volume, with headphones on, and I recommend that everyone (above 13) watch it similarly. The experience of hearing silence becoming sound and sound becoming silence is unforgettable, and the movie will simply take your breath away.

Raavee is a 16-year-old currently studying at Rishi Valley School in Bangalore, India. She spends eight months at Rishi Valley, playing football and basketball and reading. In her spare time she also studies a bit. The remaining four months, when at home, she catches up with the world both online and offline, and spends her time writing, watching Netflix, and pestering her parents and sibling.

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