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.
- The Aloner: Due to being stuck out at sea, the man is isolated from anyone else. The only other person seen is a single hand at the very end, and their actor is uncredited.
- 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:
- The man is seen pulling his container of potable water from the ship when the lower deck floods. When he chooses to use it on the raft, he discovers salt water has leaked in. However, while the drinking water is all useless, the container still has uses to catch condensation and when lighting the fire at the end.
- 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 / Monochrome 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.
- 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.
- From Bad to Worse: It starts with a hole in his boat. Then it goes into a storm, and then another storm, and then the next...
- In Medias Res: The opening monologue and ending take place eight days after the movie begins.
- 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, why he went out to the Indian Ocean, or if he has any friends or family. All we know is that he has to survive.
- He does write a letter for people to find after he dies, but it's unclear who those people might be. He alludes to having regrets about how he lived his life, but he doesn't mention anything specific.
- 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.
- The Radio Dies First: The man's boat runs into a stray shipping crate while he's asleep. The crate pokes a hole directly behind the radio, flooding it with seawater and rendering it useless.
- 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.