Skip to main content

Lost City of Z

This movie exceeded my expectations by a wide margin and the more I think about it the more excited I become of what the film's director could produce in the future.


I read the source material for the movie -- an eponymous non-fiction account of Percy Fawcett's early 20th century explorations of Amazonia and the lost civilization he was certain lay hidden within its depths -- a few years ago. The book stuck with me for three reasons. Firstly, the descriptions of the "Green Hell" of the Amazon rainforest, where every creature from microbe on up to man actively sought the explorer's destruction, are vivid and terrifying. David Grann, the author of the Lost City of Z, was very successful in convincing me I don't want to go into a rainforest. Grann was also, to move to my second point, adept in pointing out the many paradoxes and complexities of Fawcett's search for his city. Described as one of the last great explorers, Fawcett's efforts drew significant attention but also controversy. The book detailed how Fawcett sacrificed great swaths of his life to this quest and the terrible burden he placed upon his family and acquaintances. The third thing I remembered from the book was the ambiguous reward for all of that sacrifice. Fawcett's fate is disturbingly vague, as though he not just bodily disappeared into the jungles of South America but the jungle was somehow able to swallow up his name, identity, and history. But it is possible that he was on to something. The book spent time detailing a real lost civilization of Amazonia that may have existed in the area Fawcett surveyed, existing beneath the very ground upon which he trod.

So, I'm hoping you get a sense of a story, as described by Grann's book, that has a lot going for it but also has simply got a lot going on. The source material is wide-ranging, complex, and ultimately ambiguous. I did not read this book and immediately think it would make a good movie. And yet, the director of this movie, James Gray, was so seized by Fawcett's explorations that he spent years in development hell to bring this vision to the screen.

A lot of the reviews I've read mention how The Lost City of Z feels like the kind of movie which doesn't made so often anymore. The story is epic and spans decades, while remaining tightly focused on the life and times of a single man. One might be reminded of Lawrence of Arabia which covers a similar time period and themes. Gray employs a stellar cast to the task of bringing the story to life; Fawcett is played by Charlie Hunnam, and major roles go to actors as well-known as Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, and Ian McDiarmid. This is a movie convinced that if you throw enough talent and heart at a complex, unfilmable story it will eventually relax into something coherent and lovely.

It helps that this film is indeed beautiful. There is no scene that doesn't contain some unlikely, unexpected bit of genius. From the way a horse and buggy are filmed to almost glow in ultraviolet hues with the early morning of a departure, to the motif of objects of desire fleeing and disappearing in the wash of time, to the dreamlike devastation of Somme during World War One, this is a movie unafraid to look beyond the events of a story to find what each moment might contain just beyond the next bend in the river.

James Gray has made a few movies, none of which I've watched, sadly. I intend to correct that oversight as soon as possible. His next movie, though, is a hard sci fi movie starring Brad Pitt called "Ad Astra," which Gray described as a "Heart of Darkness" at the outer reaches of the solar system. It occurs to me that I've never wanted anyone to try bringing that concept to life as much as I've wanted James Gray to.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

In Defense of Brevity

As a writer of short speculative fiction, I am also a reader. I was a reader first and my love of the genre leads me to want to write short fiction. I think one of the most important things a writer can do is read contemporary's work. If nothing else, you're likely to be entertained - there's a great amount of stupendous short fiction available out there for exactly nothing. But it also tends to helps to develop craft. 
Long-time readers of this blog know I write up recommendations of a few short stories each month I really enjoyed. "Sic Semper, Sic Semper, Sic Semper by Carl Wiens" was my favorite story of the year. The first line of this story pretty much sums it up: "The time traveler set up a studio apartment in Abraham Lincoln’s skull in the frozen moment before Booth’s bullet burst through and rewired history," but I also enjoyed "The Girl Who Escaped from Hell" By Rahul Kanakia and "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," by Brooke Bol…

What I Watched in 2016

For my second year-end post, I'd like to talk about movies. There are five movies that stuck with me this year, perhaps not the five best movies, but certainly good ones that meant something to me. From my limited perspective as a routine movie-goer the gap between blockbuster movies and "quality films" continues to grow each year. Are these even in the same genre anymore? While certainly the basic technology employed by movies and films is the same (except when it isn't) the point of films seems to be diverging. The point of a movie like Marvel's Captain America: Civil War is to serve as the vehicle for cathartic spectacle while the point of my favorite movie is something closer to communication - the passing on of knowledge to the audience. In principle, I enjoy both modes but I wish they would cross-pollinate a bit more. It is the rare movie, (The Lord of Rings Trilogy, Star Wars, and Interstellar come to mind) that seems to want to do both: to create a grand…

"The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY" is now available!

My new story, "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," is now available in the current issue of the Electric Spec magazine. I'm very proud that this story is getting published at Electic Spec for the simple reason I've been reading the magazine for years, dreaming of the day I might get a story published there. Well, it's finally happened.

The story of "Yuru-chara" is pretty simple: a young girl wakes up to discover that her old virtual friend, a seven-foot-tall yellow monster named Tama Bell, has come to life. While navigating through waves of other virtual creatures released through a world-wide hack, the young heroine tries to come to grips with her responsibility to her forgotten friend and the losses inherent to growing up.

I hope that you enjoy my story and that you give the other stories a try. They're awesome!

Thank you for your continued support.