Movie Review: 'The Lost City of Z'

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Movie Review: 'The Lost City of Z'


To venture into the unknown has been an instinctual trait of humankind since we all crawled up out of the ocean. In modern times, man’s desire to discover who we are in an uncharted world continues, in spite of those of us who feel no need to go farther than our own back yard. What is it that calls some of us away from the comfort zone of what we think we know? This question is at the heart of the film “The Lost City of Z,” directed by James Gray (“Two Lovers” and “We Own the Night”), is based on the true story of British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared with his son Jack, while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

The film is set in pre-World War I England, beginning in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the aristocracy, where talk of savages and class dominate conversations. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) has just out-performed a pack of British hunters and their dogs, demonstrating right off the bat that he is more mentally and physically fit than the rest of the lot. However, at this social gathering he and his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) must attend, he is not to be introduced to the host because “he’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.” He is a hero without a home.

Unlike action adventures (The “Indiana Jones” films) and the mythical journeys of Herzog (“Aguirre, the Wrath of God”), searching for the lost city of El Dorado, promising discoveries of ancient cultures buried in gold and mysticism, or Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” exploring “the horror,” this film tells the true story. Not a fictional search for fortune, fame and power, this is a true story about one man’s obsession to explore the unknown. When offered a job to go into the Amazon jungle and chart a river, he takes the assignment, accompanied by mapmaker Henry Costin  (Robert Pattinson). When he stumbles upon a few pieces of pottery, he is reminded of the recent discovery of the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. He returns with the map, but now he must go back into the jungle to find something of much greater importance, and he has become a man possessed by the thrill of perhaps never returning to civilization.

Pulled back and forth, from home to jungle, a quest interrupted by years at war, Percy never gives up his search for The Lost City of Z. In spite of the unfit aristocrats that ridicule him or literally tip over his boat, he persists. Only his family believes in him to the very end. On his final journey with his son, Jack, neither of them returns. They have disappeared. But his wife Nina never gives up hope. The last image of the film is strikingly poetic. As she descends a staircase in a British courthouse, the camera follows her reflection disappearing in a jungle behind a mirror at the foot of the stairs.

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