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The Cornel West Reader, as regular readers know, serves as a touchstone for me. The good professor acknowledges being driven, in his philosophical and academic endeavors, to define three ideas — what it means to be human, modern and American — and the intellectual exercise, from the time I first read about it in his comprehensive collection of essays, has inspired me on my own path as a writer and critic.

Occasionally, a film seems to brush up against one of these ideas, enough for me to call upon the reference as part of my efforts to express the impact that the film had on me during and/or following the screening. J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, earns the unique distinction of triggering analysis across each notion. Our Man (Redford) stares down mortality, his place in the modern world and his status as a potentially fallen icon. What more can a film do for its audience? (PG-13) Grade: A