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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
The hero is Percy Fawcett, a British soldier who journeyed up the Amazon at the start of the twentieth century and, like other questing souls before and since, became obsessed. He was convinced that the remains of a forgotten civilization lay concealed in the rainforest, and it is generally assumed that he lost his life in pursuit of that belief; he and his eldest son, Jack, were last seen venturing into the jungle in 1925.
We first encounter Fawcett, suitably enough, on another hunt—on horseback, racing across the Irish countryside on the trail of a stag. Here, as in a later scene at the Battle of the Somme, we gather at once that Fawcett is bold, impatient, and chafed by recklessness. He lusts for glory, but only his own, and a mass of wounded feelings is encased in his tough hide. A dull run of military postings has left him with no medals. Summoned to the Royal Geographical Society, and asked to survey an unmapped region of Bolivia, he says, “I was rather hoping for a position where I might see a fair bit of action.”He need have no worries on that score. It is not long before arrows are thrumming toward him from the banks of the Amazon, fired by the indigenous people into whose land he and his men have drifted. Still to come: white-water rapids, an inquisitive panther, and a surprisingly cheerful sojourn with practitioners of cannibalism.
Everywhere you look is jungle, and it’s both fitting and pitiful that what Fawcett picks up near the Amazon, and brandishes back in London as evidence of his theories, is not the bright gold of Eldorado but a handful of broken pots, the colour of old earth.
Z, for him as for other explorers, is what you dream it to be, and Fawcett, in turn, is open to transformation. “We shall not fail,” he declares, pompously and—as it turns out—inaccurately. “Mankind awaits our discoveries.” “The Lost City of Z” is beautiful, mournful, and measured. But the tale that it tells cries out from madness.