The Lost City of Z—or The Lost City of Zed, as our British hero calls it—tells the true story of the early-20th-century explorer Percy Fawcett. While on a surveying expedition in the Amazon, Fawcett uncovered what he considered to be evidence of a lost civilization, the proverbial city of gold. He took his findings back to England, where he was met with not just skepticism but outright derision—how could civilization like this exist among the savages of South America? And how, as Fawcett suggested, could it even predate the great civilization of Britain?
Not surprisingly, or we wouldn’t have much of a story, Fawcett made it his life’s work to uncover this lost city, returning to the Amazon multiple times despite the danger of disease, all manner of treacherous animals, and potentially unfriendly Amazon natives. And while The Lost City of Z does have echoes of Apocalypse Now and a handful of Werner Herzog’s films, it’s not about a man driven mad by obsession. Fawcett does become obsessed, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s more like he falls madly in love with the Amazon and its people, wanting to prove not just that this city exists, but that the natives were every bit as capable of civilization as the British.
And maybe more civilized. Fawcett’s travels get sidetracked by the utter devastation of World War I, and he nearly loses any ability to return to his beloved Amazon. Now, this being a true story, everything else that happens is already known, but in case you’re not familiar with the rest of it, I won’t say a lot more here, except that this becomes as much a spiritual journey for Fawcett as an adventure, and our discovery along with him of the wonders of the Amazon is breathtaking in its scope and visuals. The cinematography is stunning, the lighting is nearly perfect, and the sweat and grime of the jungle are palpable. And what happens to Fawcett, and how it happens, would never have been written by Hollywood, and could only come from the truth of the story that inspired this beautiful, beautiful film.