“The Lost City of Z”

“Apocalypse Now,” “Aguirre, Wrath of God,” and “Fitzcarraldo.” James Gray’s latest, “The Lost City of Z,” stands out from these other Heart of Darkness-esque films by placing a focus on the natives of the story, specifically in making the natives to be a civilized group of people rather than barbarians protecting a mythical city. Consequently, “The Lost City of Z” becomes a film that grapples with its own period of history that arises from the various social struggles presented in the film. The story follows Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a soldier turned into an explorer after initially being hired to map out the Amazon and then becoming obsessed with finding the lost civilization he dubs “Z.” Fawcett hopes that in finding the city, he can prove to the British Empire (the story begins in the early 20th Century) that an advanced civilization existed before the English. While there are those that listen to Fawcett and even offer to help him by way of funding, the rest laugh at him and call him mad. But why exactly does Fawcett’s audience laugh at him? They laugh at him because of the threat the discovery of a civilization such as “Z” poses to the history of the British Empire. To acknowledge that their own empire may not be as advanced and pioneering as they believe it to be would also be to undermine their own imperialist power and history. Not only did another advanced civilization come before the British Empire, but an advanced civilization comprised by “savages,” the thought absolutely incredulous. Fawcett’s quest then becomes one of re-writing history by centering world history on more than just White imperial power. Fawcett’s quest, however, also has a more personal goal. In the beginning of the film, a conversation between Fawcett and his army superiors reveal that Fawcett’s father brought shame upon their family, thus making Fawcett somewhat of a social pariah. The quest to discover “Z” then becomes one of attaining not just personal glory but restoring the family name in order to climb up the social ladder. Gray paces the film with a reverence for time, understanding that to display Fawcett’s different times in the Amazon would require more than just big moments of drama, but the in-between of the trips where character motivations are revealed and explored, thus creating a film of complexity and surprisingly, fun.

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