There are times during James Gray’s The Lost City of Z – the closing night film at this year’s New York Film Festival that tells the true story of English explorer Percy Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam) – that reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie. Before you scoff, I just want to specify that I mean specifically the scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark of Indiana Jones teaching, leading explorations, and engaging foreign cultures in native languages with compassion and intrigue. (You know, all the kind of things that might be deemed “boring” by today’s action-craved blockbuster audiences.)
Taking place over the course of 20 some years, we follow Fawcett has he travels to the Amazon for three different trips (and a tour of duty fighting in France during World War I) – his obsession growing each time in an effort to find an advanced civilization deep within the jungle. Frustrated with his military service (Fawcett openly laments he has no medals), he volunteers for an expedition to Bolivia (financed by an organization run by a man played by Ian McDiarmid – a great reminder of one of the few bright spots of the Star Wars prequels).
There are also hints of The Mosquito Coast to be found in The Lost City of Z, the questions of what happens when the outside world invades established, unexplored cultures. The big difference here is Percy Fawcett isn’t a crazy person like Harrison Ford’s Allie Fox – and Fawcett certainly isn’t under the impression that anyone in the Amazon needs to be saved by white explorers. It’s the opposite.
On Fawcett’s first expedition, an exploration of a river for mapmaking purposes, he discovers advanced pottery. When he returns to England, his claims of a possible advanced civilization are dismissed. To them, the locals in South America are just “savages,” but Fawcett wants to prove his world wrong.