“The Lost City of Z” a Masterpiece in the Jungle
By Skip Sheffield
“The Lost City of Z” sheds light on a legendary British explorer who is otherwise little-known outside of England.
The explorer was Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam.
Fawcett was the very picture of intrepid, fearless explorer. In 1906 the Royal Geographic Society enlisted him to map the uncharted territory bordering Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Fawcett responded with gusto, earning the approval of the Geographic Society and interesting the world press. In 1911, despite the fact he was happily married to Nina (Sienna Miller) and had two sons, he returned to the jungle with a new sidekick, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). In the depths of the jungle, Fawcett found shards of pottery and other clues there may have been an advanced society where “savages” now dwelled.
After volunteering for service for World War I, Fawcett returned to South America with Costin and a wealthy patron, James Murray (Angus Macfeyden). Murray proved no match for the jungle and its hardships. Fawcett sent him packing on his last surviving horse, prompting controversy back in England.
The back story of “The Lost City of Z” is as dramatic as the original. New York writer David Grann became obsessed with the story of Fawcett, who disappeared without a trace in 1925, along with his son Jack (Tom Holland). Grann tried to retrace Fawcett’s route. With additional research he had the basis for a feature he published in New Yorker magazine in 2005. He expanded it into a book in 2009.
Director James Gray caught the fever too, and proposed a shoot in the jungle using 35 mm film rather than digital. Fawcett’s route had been ruined by lumbering and development, but Gray shot in the still-pristine Colombian jungle.
At its core “The Lost City of Z” (the Brits pronounce it “Zed”) is a story about obsession. Obsession can border on madness, but it can accomplish miracles. Joseph Conrad explored such an obsession in “The Heart of Darkness,” set in Africa in 1899. “The Lost City of Z” is a “Heart of Darkness” for our time. It is a gorgeous, old-fashioned epic.