“Adrift” is a harrowing tale of survival at sea after a massive hurricane wreaks havoc on a small sailboat. In 1983 there was Raymond, a hurricane in the Pacific that set two people adrift in the ocean with little chance to survive. The story of this against-all-odds journey is what makes “Adrift” ‘see’ worthy. All puns aside, this is a cross between the movies “The Perfect Storm”, “Cast Away” and “All Is Lost”. But there is a deep sense of love that is the driving force in this movie, and it calls out for careful viewing.
Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) is adrift in her own life, travelling around the Pacific and winding up in Tahiti. She meets a man with a fine sailboat. He is Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) and the two of them fall in love. Tami has no need to head home back to San Diego, but when an older couple offer Richard the opportunity to take their sailboat back – he must take that offer. There will be a nice payoff and a couple of first-class tickets back to Tahiti so that the two of them can start on their own adventures. Richard and Tami get everything ready for the journey out to sea.
It is all going so well, until Mother Nature intrudes and brings along hurricane Raymond. It is a monster of a storm and it rips the boat from stem to stern. The main sail is gone, and the radio is dead and there is precious little food and water. Tami wakes up in a panic. She was knocked out by the storm, and she cannot find Richard. Later, she sees that he is clinging to a lifeboat, and she swims out and drags him in. But things are not in good shape, as his ribs are broken and his leg is shattered. Even if she conserves all the food and water, there will not be enough.
They have no method to sail fast enough with just a small jib sail, so getting back to the States is impossible. She decides to change course and attempt to sail to Hawaii. But that will also take a great deal of time and it is also very risky. Tami is not an experienced sailor, but with encouragement from Richard, she is able to adjust the course and track the progress of the ship. But many days at sea can cause very weird things to happen, delusions and hallucinations are all too common. Tami thinks she sees a huge cargo vessel go right past her in the night, but she then thinks it was just a dream. Every past encounter with Richard is recalled and she thinks of all the love that they have, and it pushes her on to survive and make it out of this disaster. Richard will be her touchstone and her reason to overcome the obstacles.
There is a point in the movie that will redefine most everything that came before it, and it would be wrong to say too much. But the way the story moves up to that point, and the acting of the two lead characters just do a beautiful job to make it a very emotional moment. The writing does a great job to unfold the history of Tami and Richard’s love, and how they came to be soul mates. Shailene Woodley is very moving as Tami, with an emphasis on how this character grows into a much more capable and self-reliant being. Her soulful looks and painful eyes show that she is deeply affected by the trip. Sam Claflin is close to her equal, but his role is much more limited due to the difficulties that Richard has during the movie. Together, they make a very tragic couple, who can turn it all around and can find triumph.
The difficulties portrayed in “Adrift” are brutal, and look very realistic. You get a feeling that, at any point, the situation could change and become unbearable. But there are single moments that Tami clings to: an unexpected rain shower that brings much needed fresh water, the sky in the evening as the sun sets and how it lights up the clouds with so many tints of red, the bird that comes to perch on the deck – showing that land is nearby. These all make for mosaic that tacks left and right, into misery and then into beauty.
The love that Tami and Richard shared fueled the passion for survival that finally brought the crew in for a rescue. The overall story is sad, but there is another story of hope and struggle that shows how people can face adversity and come out on top.