Redford plays a sailor at sea on his yacht, who must fight to survive when his boat is struck and badly damaged by a stray cargo container.
And that's pretty much the whole plot.
- Atomic F-Bomb: One of the times Redford talks is to let one of these out, when he discovers his drinking water is contaminated by salt water.
- Bottle Episode: Literally only one actor and almost no dialogue.
- Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. When trying to signal a ship with flares, he's shown to leave exactly one flare for later. Then at the end when he sees a light in the distance, he goes for the flare... then changes his mind and instead sets the entire raft on fire.
- Chromosome Casting: By definition, seeing as there's only one character in the entire film.
- Determinator: The man just does not give up. At least until the end.
- Deus ex Machina: The boat saving him.
- Excuse Plot: The script was 31 pages long, and the director stated it's more about the adventure than anything else.
- Fight to Survive: The whole plot is the man struggling to survive after his yacht is damaged.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: The last third could be seen as one long BSOD.
- High Concept: A man fights for survival after his boat is damaged.
- Hope Spot: Several, including the radio and the first cargo ship.
- In Medias Res: The opening monologue and ending take place eight days after the movie begins.
- Lost at Sea: And struggling to survive.
- Message in a Bottle: The man sends one when he thinks he's going to die. The message is the monologue that opens the film.
- Minimalism: There's a man on a boat. We don't know who he is, where he's from, why he's on a boat or if he has any friends or family. All we know is that he has to survive.
- Minimalist Cast: Taken as far as the trope can go: Redford is the only actor in the movie.
- Near-Villain Victory: The man finally loses his raft and very nearly drowns, but at the last minute he is rescued by a small boat.
- No Antagonist: The man has to fight with the forces of nature. There's no personal antagonist.
- No Ending: The film doesn't really have a definite ending. The man is saved by a passing boat and it's unclear whether the boat is real, a Dying Dream or Divine Intervention. And due to Chandor and Redford's respective Shrug of God, many interpretations of the ending exist, each one equally plausible.
- No Name Given: Redford's character is listed in the credits as "Our Man".
- Nothing Is Scarier: The quiet nature of the film gives a somewhat unsettling feel to it all.
- Silence Is Golden: There is virtually no dialogue in the film, except for the opening monologue that provides part of the page quote, a few abortive attempts at calling for help, and an Atomic F-Bomb.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The movie is somewhat in the middle about this, but what happens to the man at the end depends on where the viewers lie on the spectrum.