The Lost City of Z (2017)

Viewed May 9th

 

The true story of Percy Fawcett, a 20th century English explorer who became obsessed with finding a lost city in the Amazon.

Just when Fawcett thinks he's getting somewhere in the Amazon, he has to return to civilization, but he always has an eye on getting back to the jungle, to the unknown. In order to tell this story, writer/director James Gray is able to work with juicy themes but the back and forth structure proves surprisingly troublesome. He has to imbue all of the scenes away from the Amazon (the domestic scenes, the scenes at the Royal Geographic Society, the scenes in World War I) with enough tension to keep us engaged. Like Fawcett himself, we miss the danger and the color of the jungle, we want the film to return there. In order for the conceit of the movie to work, those scenes away from the Amazon should feel pregnant with desire. We should feel the world expanding into two clear hemispheres--the unknown world and the civilized world (as Terrence Malick does in The New World), each fully rendered and continually spinning us into its worldview. But that's not quite what we get here. Things stop spinning. In the first half, there's a philosophical investigation pushing through the scenes, but, in order to have the story more or less match the actual events, that Conradian philosophical tone gets muddled and we are instead presented with a lot of historical information. This happened. And then this happened. And that's why this happened. But by then we're not enough absorbed into the overall world of the film to appreciate the beauty and depth of the stunning final image.