The Lost City of Z (2016)

The Lost City of Z (2016), directed by James Gray, written by James Gray, based on a book by David Grann, starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattison, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland

Being an explorer is addictive. Imagine going somewhere, that is fully unknown to your fellow men. Imagine being the first one to step into a new culture that no-one has ever met, the first one to learn about their architecture, their culture, their religion, habits and customs. If you're the right kind of a person, something like that is addictive, it drives you more than any other thing. It drives beyond fame and glory or family.

The Lost City of Z is a biography of a British explorer Percy Fawcett (Hunnam), whose military career hasn't gone as he's expected, as things like medallions have always gone past him to other men. When he's given a task of mapping out uncharted Bolivia in order to alleviate diplomatic tension between Bolivia and Brazil and in the process prevent a war that could be destructive to more mundane matters as rubber plantations.

After a successful mission, Fawcett becomes adamant, that the thick, green hell of Amazonian rainforests are hiding more than people can ever fathom. He proposes, despite the sneers of the officials at the Royal Geographical Society, that there is a lost civilization, a large city, he names Z out there, which could prove that the natives of South America are descended from much grander stock than given credit for. This notion of the lost civilization is what Fawcett tried to prove through his life to his death.

While Percy is trying to prove his ideas, the housekeeping and the rising of the children is left on the shoulders of his wife Nina (Miller), who dutifully, but grudgingly, albeit lovingly, stayed behind. No matter if was the jungles of South America or the trenches of the first World War, she was at home, waiting for her husband to return, wearing the worst and hoping for the best. I don't know how close to reality some discussion in this movie are, but here she is displayed as a woman who would have been more than willing to take part on the expeditions as well, while now she was sidelined by the times despite she did have a hand in helping Percy finding the vital information he needed in order to prepare the journeys.

But in the end, The Lost City of Z is not about the private lives of the Fawcett's, it's about the all-consuming obsession of Percy's, his need to prove his ideas right, to find the lost city. There is a lot of pride in it for him, but there's also the need to prove that the natives are just as human as the Europeans, that they are something more than mere savages they are commonly seen as. Just like everyone else, Percy is a man with his own ideas and his own notions of what is right or wrong, but unlike many other people, he is willing to risk it all to make something to alter the status quo.

From his perspective, it didn't matter that this obsession ended up costing not only his own life but the life of his son as well. Together they disappeared somewhere in the Amazon during their final trip, but as the movie puts it, their deaths don't matter, as they have experienced so very much and seen more than most people will ever see. Everything that happens to them is meant to happen, so there is no need to fear the death. Those who are left behind might not see it like that, they might see it as more of a waste. But then again, what do the dead care about the worries of the living.

The Lost City of Z is a nicely directed and atmospheric portrait of an explorer. Like with any biography done after the fact and even during the fact, the truth of what kind of a person Percy Fawcett really was might be somewhere in the middle. Gray even romanticises him a bit, presenting him as a kind of a fable-like character, who just was unable to leave his dreams to go. In a way, it's an interesting way of presenting a man like Fawcett, as in a way, he walked his life chasing dreams of some kind or another, be it his family, his military career or in the end his voyages.

As the movie states, Percy and his son Jack (Holland) didn't find their way back home from the green inferno. Their bodies were never found, but just as the movie suggests, I do want to believe they ended up in the Lost City of Z. It is, at least, poetic that way, to get lost in a city once lost.