The Lost City of Z (2016)

Film Review

October 2019

The Lost City of Z

What drove Percy Fawcett, 20th century British explorer, to his eventual disappearance in the Amazon? The Lost City of Z quietly seeks an answer.

Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) sets out determined to redeem his lineage. “He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors,” someone remarks of his drunkard father. Glimpsing the possibility of an ancient Amazonian civilisation, his intentions broaden—hoping to challenge the “narrow minded convictions” of the West towards South America. In light of recent events in the Amazon, these themes rang wonderfully true. What’s more, his wife (Sienna Miller on form) comes up against her husband’s own narrow-mindedness who forbids her, a woman, from joining him. The film smoothly sweeps through years as his drive distorts into an all-consuming obsession. The obsession, infectious, spreads to wife, son (played by Tom Holland who, though charming, is unable to stretch beyond the range of Peter Parker) and the whole world. The Amazon calls out to him with an irresistable gravity. Lost City’s strength is in its atmosphere. Through sound and image, the rainforest engulfs the viewer as it does the characters.

Gray’s film vaguely settles on the theme of predestination. As the raft drifts down the Amazon, Fawcett drifts through expeditions, fatherhood and a world war guided by forces beyond his control. He had no say in his ancestry, and neither in his life or death. Hunnam, in an understated performance, maps out the transformation from a man of doubt to a man of maddening purpose. The parallels to Gray’s latest film, Ad Astra, are obvious—mapping the unknown, filling the shoes of fathers, consuming ambition. And both share their roots in Apocalypse Now and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the way environment bleeds into psyche. Whereas Ad Astra finds impact in resolution, Lost City builds towards an inevitable anticlimax, either hopeful or terrifying. We’re left to decide. I can’t help feel let down by the reality. It is powerful, if a little frustrating.