culture by Philbert Dy

‘The Lost City of Z’ is Worth the Journey

This astonishing film asks big questions about the very notion of civilization.

NBHD movie 5 ticketsThe Lost City of Z introduces Major Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) as an officer of considerable talent but unfavorable parentage. In 1905 he is seeking military decoration in order to improve his station and raise the profile of his family. The Royal Geographical Society recruits him on an expedition into the Amazon in order to help resolve a border dispute. His journey there is harsh and difficult, but at the end, he discovers traces of an ancient civilization. And this lost jungle city becomes his greatest obsession, luring him back into jungle in spite of the life waiting for him back home.Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 2.54.11 PMPercy Fawcett was a fascinating man, by all accounts. He was, at the very least, a genuinely complex figure: a Don Quixote figure with seemingly progressive ideas that nevertheless exhibited all the worst qualities of Edwardian England. And the film seems to thrive on that complexity. This is a film that may be equal parts David Lean and Werner Herzog: embracing the both the lure of adventure while acknowledging the darkness and futility lurking within. And in telling this story, the film puts to question the very notion of civilization, and man’s need to achieve greatness.Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.02.36 PMWhatever else might be said about Percy Fawcett, it is clear that he drawn to greatness. The film’s shrewdest trick is showing exactly why. What’s interesting about this film is that it spends so much time outside of the jungle. This is as much about exploring the jungle of Edwardian England, particularly the upper class, treating their rituals and social mores with an anthropologist’s eye. It really studies the imposed ceremony of the society, and all the regressive ideas being held within. And it becomes to understand what it is that drew Fawcett to the jungle, the movie building a convincing psychology to his quest to find signs of earlier civilizations.Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.03.08 PMBut understanding Fawcett does not acquit him of his weaknesses. The film continues to build this complex portrait of man full of contradiction. His convictions could only ever go so far, and his pursuit of this mythical city, whether or not he was actually right about it, kept him from seeing his children grow up. Inasmuch as the film seems to be ultimately sympathetic to his cause, it never lets go of the sense of existential futility. Why must all this really be done? What is to be gained by receiving the acclaim of a thoroughly corrupt society? Just a hint of glory draws Fawcett back to a place of horrors. And Fawcett does not only doom himself in his obsession. It is something that catches, and causes more to suffer along the way.Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.03.25 PMDirector James Gray mounts a production of equal boldness and ambition. He magically binds together a story that takes place in Edwardian ballrooms, Amazon jungles, and the trenches of World War I. The scope of it is incredible, but Gray keeps everything at a powerfully human scale. Working with Darius Khondji, the visuals capture a strange loneliness in every frame. In the lead role, Charlie Hunnam delivers his most compelling movie performance. As Fawcett, Hunnam displays the intoxicating hubris of the character, conveying a studied weakness even in moments of triumph. Sienna Miller is excellent as Nina, Fawcett’s wife. And Robert Pattinson proves his worth as a character actor in a very quiet performance as Fawcett’s aide-de-camp.Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 7.02.10 PMThe Lost City of Z is genuinely astonishing. The film just covers so much ground, both narratively and thematically. And it does so with a sense of elegance so rare in this age of blockbuster excess. It glides with ease through scenes that take one man on a journey into a world of strange and terrifying wonder, driven only by a futile sense of ambition in a universe that ultimately cares little about legacy. These men are bold and brave and yet so fragile in the end. It is in this complexity that the film finds its soul, every scene designed to make one question the wisdom of their choices, even though their choices were made so long in the past.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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