Lost City of Z (2016). Directed by James Gray. Based on the 2009 book Lost city of Z by David Grann.

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

Problematic points

Rethinking what is ‘civilized/civilization’

  • Film does little to challenge the western/Eurocentric view of ‘civilization’ as tied to material culture.
    • Fawcett uses pottery as marker of civilization worthy of exploration and ‘discovery’
    • What Fawcett recognizes as cultivation of the rainforest, is monoculture plantation agriculture.

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 

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?

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


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

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