Featured image of post _The Lost City of Z_
Episode 35

The Lost City of Z

Film poster for
James Gray
Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller
21 April 2017

British soldier Percy Fawcett is contracted by the Royal Geographical Society to chart a river in the Amazon. During the journey he encounters remnants and stories of a lost city in the jungle. The experience leads him to embark on a series of expeditions to find what he has called The Lost City of Z.

You may want to watch the movie first and think about:

  • How is the Amazon depicted?
  • What does the movie make you think about the Amazon and the people who live there?
  • How does the movie make you feel about the Amazon and the people who live there?

Depiction of nature

  • Amazon is a backdrop

    • Not much time spent on details of the environment.
    • Does not give much sense of the biodiversity
  • The green desert

    • Uniformly, endlessly, green
    • Yellow hue throughout gives sense of unreality
    • No animals, fruit, or flowers
    • Despite being in a rainforest, the explorers are initially unable to find any food on their own
  • Amazon as a barrier

    • Begins as wild, impenetrable
    • Becomes less hostile on Fawcett’s subsequent visits
  • England and tamed nature

    • Image of a rural idyll
    • English country garden echoes images of a Garden of Eden
    • Despite the beauty and calm of the landscape, Fawcett seems to yearn for the wildness of the Amazon

Relationship with Nature

  • Economic resource

    • Exploration is for economic value. Faucett maps river so rubber plantations can be established
  • Challenge to be conquered

    • Fawcett wants personal glory
    • European desire to push boundaries
  • Barrier to civilization

    • Begins as a “green hell”, inhospitable to ‘civilization’
    • Over the course of the film Fawcett starts to see amazon as a home for people and, he suspects, a civilization
    • Remains of city has since been found in the Xingu river basin, now called Kuhikugu

Relationship with amazonian peoples

  • Fawcett begins with British colonial views of Amazonian peoples’ as primitives/savages. His views are depicted as changing in subsequent expeditions
    • Impressed by their fishing techniques and their ability to cultivate the jungle
    • Argued against interference in their lives, against violence towards them
    • In reality Fawcett was more conflicted about Amazon peoples
      • Theorized that ‘white indians’ from Europe had crossed the Atlantic and civilized them
* [The hero of The Lost City of Z was no hero](https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/04/12/the-hero-of-the-lost-city-of-z-was-no-hero/) \- The Washington Post - article
* [Cannibalism and the politics of bloodshed](https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/making-of-an-imperial-polity/cannibalism-and-the-politics-of-bloodshed/D4D05AE81BBADD074FBCDC09504605D3/core-reader) \- The Making of an Imperial Polity - book chapter
* [What is the white saviour trope](https://shadowandmovies.com/what-is-the-white-savior-trope-green-book/) \- ShowAndMovies.com - post

Problematic points

Rethinking what is ‘civilized/civilization’

Rethinking what is primitive

  • As fellow humans peoples of the Amazon have been on Earth just as long as anyone else, and have history just as long as any other.
  • ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ : Change is often in response to changing needs and/or environment
  • Behavioural and physical technologies can be effective though they may not look ‘modern’


  • Many of us are taught to think of history as progression or advancement

    • Tend to view practices and technology which appeared earlier in our history as being less advanced
  • Useful analogy is the concept of ‘living fossils’, plants and animals which appear to be largely unchanged from their fossil ancestors

    • Doesn’t mean there have been no changes
    • The physiology is just as suited to survival and reproduction today as it was for the now fossilized ancestor
  • Related reading

Thinking about present relationships with indigenous peoples

  • Still colonial/extractive

  • Cultural tourism can often still be colonial. Takes important practices and reduces them to an experience for personal enjoyment. Often separated from meanings, history, and significance for the people.

  • What has changed for these people to now require money from outsiders?

  • Related reading

The role of women

  • Does little to challenge Fawcett’s exclusion of his wife from his expeditions
  • Contemporary with Marianne North, who went on similar expeditions on her own
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