Directed by Baltasar Kormakur (Everest), Adrift tells the amazing true story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), who set out on a journey across the ocean in 1983 and sailed directly into a Category 4 hurricane. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. Stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no communication or navigation tools, Tami must find a way to save them both.
Written by Jordan and Aaron Kandell (Moana), the film alternates between flashback and the present situation, bringing a lyrical tone to the film. In doing so, the film wisely centres the drama on the characters’ love for one another, rather than the storm itself. While there are some who will demand more in terms of the visuals (though the storm scenes are quite intense), the real power of this film stems from the relationship between the two leads. As Tami and Richard, Woodley and Claflin have genuine chemistry that breathes authenticity into the film. Anchoring the film though is Woodley, who portrays Tami with both sensitivity and ferocity. In every scene, she manages to find a balance of her deep love for Richard with courage and strength in the face of overwhelming odds.
Despite the film’s structure as a survival drama, the story opts to emphasize the spiritual power of love through Tami’s journey. Beginning just after the storm, the film quickly rewinds five months to her arrival in Tahiti, where we learn that she is also adrift emotionally. Running from home, Tami has no future plans or ambitions. As a result, she moves through life without any ties to her past and refuses to think too far ahead. However, after meeting Richard, her life finally seems to find an anchor. A free spirit himself, Richard maintains a sense of purpose in his wandering. The two truly serve as soulmates in a way that brings wholeness to their lives and experiences yet it’s Richard who acts as both lover and spiritual guide. As Tami struggles to keep it together, he offers her encouragement in her darkest moments and gives her the strength to keep going. As she battles the storm, he speaks softly into her soul. Here, Richard becomes a Spirit-filled voice, allowing Tami the opportunity to be healed through both love and challenge. He sees beyond her hurt and history and shows her that there’s a future worth striving towards. This sort of Divine unconditional love not only offers Tami the power to continue on but also to be restored.
In the end, Adrift becomes as much about one’s spiritual recovery as it is about sea-faring survival. The authenticity of Woodley’s performance and the depth of Tami and Richard’s relationship keep the film afloat, even in moments where it sometimes hits troubled waters. As solid counterprogramming to superhero films and spaceships, the film is a reminder that love can offer salvation when we find ourselves adrift.