From Ireland to Amazonia, James Gray takes us on an epic journey following Percy Fawcett on his obsessive quest to find The Lost of Z. But James Gray isn’t a director who simply permits you to voyeuristically engage in the life of his subject, simply follow an expedition for some famed lost city, NO! If James Gray is taking you on an expedition, it is one that encompasses the entire essence of human journeying towards his dreams. The Lost City of Z’s illusive nature could fit the fantastical texture of a dream on its own, its beauty incomprehensible and its reach far beyond our grasp yet not necessarily unreachable. If a man truly commits to the compulsive obsession he strives for, that which he calls his “dream” or “goal,” he is more than capable of achieving it. The Lost City of Z is the story of a man questing for the completion of the one thing he is devoted to accomplish in life, fulfill his dream.
Initially, Percy Fawcett is simply sent to Bolivia to settle a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil that’s really a fight over rubber on a territorial gray-zone. The Royal Geographical Society has promised him the opportunity to regain his name, the very surname his father tainted as he drowned it in alcohol, “He’s been rather poor in his choice of ancestors,” a bigoted aristocrat warns his friend just as he’s about to invite Fawcett to dinner with them. Fawcett begins by desperately desiring medals, medals his father’s reputation as an alcoholic has negated him, medals signify self-worth and as of that moment all Fawcett wanted was to gain respect in order to overcome the prejudiced view people had of him, then again, they’re just medals aren’t they. The quest to Bolivia starts as an adventure by which Percy can prove himself to be a true independent man, he even threatens his companion, Mr. Costin (played by brilliantly subtle Robert Pattinson that barely elevates his voice beyond a groan), that the success of this expedition will reflect on his success as an individual and that he’s willing to sacrifice all he’s got for success. But, this early period of Fawcett’s life could almost be considered a prelude to the man Percy Fawcett shall become, it’s not until he comes back from Bolivia that he’s fully formed as a man. His aspirations finally extend beyond what he deems other want from him and are finally a fabrication of his own motives and not silly justifications for the reputation his father destroyed.
He found something in Bolivia, he found his dream and although a crowd of Englishmen hoot and holler at his ludicrous belief of “Z,” he’s determined to find the city, not to prove the crowd of arrogant aristocrats wrong, but to settle his soul’s desire at rest as he brings completion to it. What starts as the sudden discovery of pottery in the jungle becomes two expeditions into the feverish hell that is Amazonia, searching for the mirage like “Z.” Must we not forget, Percy Fawcett, like any man, is a man of pride and although he’s done away with concerning himself about what others think of him, he will still supply his dream with a larger symbolic meaning to rub it in others’ faces. Suddenly, its not just about finding “Z,” its about respecting and bringing equality to the Amazonian native, proving that human ingenuity is universal and not simply a European quality that lends to the oppression of the native, then again does Fawcett actually believe this or is he simply justifying the senseless texture of dreams.
It is for this reason that I praise Charlie Hunnam’s performance as the undeniably complex character that is Percy Fawcett. He’s a man devoted to completing his dream, but he’s calm, way too calm. He knows how the world works, his place in that world and he will wield the knowledge he has of it to propel himself towards “Z.” He’s a man that avoids mistakes at all costs but if inevitably thrown into one will accept it and learn from it. He may never display the feverish insanity of Fitzcarraldo’s determination, but we know its in their and that he will wield it accordingly if necessary. He’s also not the type of man that’ll go mad traversing the Amazonian river, on the contrary, he’ll recognize the madness and fight against it with his calculated composure. The comparisons between Herzog’s work in the jungle, whether that’s Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo, as well as Coppola’s Apocalypse Now will undeniably surface, but this is an unquestionably pure work of James Gray that presents itself in said fashion in tone, setting, and character. Its a natural amalgamation of his talents that unravels beautifully towards a finale that perfectly encapsulates the central theme, dreams and finality.