There are very few surprises in The Lost City of Z. (That being said, mild spoilers for the true story ahead.)
Charlie Hunnam is still really, really attractive, in a slightly grittier way than his Hollywood peers (who are all named Chris). His character Percy Fawcett spends a lot of time in the jungle, looking sweaty, courageous, and yes, a little lost. Barely dressed “savages” make it rain arrows from the brush of the Amazon (ugh). And Percy’s wife Nina (Sienna Miller) remains dutiful to her husband, who leaves her and their children behind for years at a time on his obsessive search for proof that white people aren’t the only ones capable of civilization (double ugh).
But there was one moment in the movie that sent my jaw to the floor. My stomach dropped, my mouth went dry, and frankly, I was scared. It came during the final credits, when suddenly there it was, spelled out in black and white.
Robert Pattinson was in this movie!?
I panicked, but tried to act naturally as I filed out of the screening room. We’re all professionals here, I thought as I stepped into the elevator and started sweating. Stay calm. Surely, I would go into work the next morning, explain that I had failed to recognize RPatz for an entire two hours and 20 minutes, and prepare to clean out my desk. If my editor didn’t fire me, I’d resign on the spot. It was just too embarrassing.
In my defense, the former Twilight star sports a hefty beard for the role that obscures half of his once-razor-cheeked face. (As a bearded dude myself, I’ll admit this is a flimsy excuse for my brain lapse.) Pattinson plays Henry Costin, a British corporal who accompanies Fawcett into the Amazon. Costin is quiet, brave, and even a bit stoic. All of these clues should have tipped me off to the fact that, underneath this sidekick’s sun-kissed glow and gnarly facial hair was the pale, pale visage of a one-time vampire.
However, Costin is just one among the handful of scruffy British men who make up the main cast. There are no razors in the jungle, nor does there seem to be soap. Underneath all that scruff, grit, and perspiration, it’s no surprise that a bunch of generic thirty-something actors start to blend together, particularly in the tedious haze of another white savior narrative under the hot sun of the third world.
Writer-director James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is based on a nonfiction book of the same name by New Yorker reporter David Grann, who himself ventured deep into the Amazon to investigate Fawcett’s fate. The details surrounding the explorer’s 1925 disappearance are fascinating, no doubt, and it’s not pop culture these days if it doesn’t involve an unsolved mystery. Fawcett made several journeys into the South American wilderness, initially to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia, and then to uncover details about previous settlements there.
But this is a movie that includes such revelatory gems as, “I might be a little too English for this jungle,” “We are not savages,” and (I’m paraphrasing here), “OMG, look! The wild, wild natives figured out how to grow food! How arrogant we’ve been.” The Englishmen acquire a guide who speaks in cryptic premonitions and wears what amounts to a burlap thong (as all the indigenous people in the film do). The explorers stumble upon a tribe of benevolent cannibals. Fawcett is shocked to find fragments of broken pottery, proving that life on Earth exists beyond where white men have been before.
All this is the stuff of history, of course, cringe-worthy though it may be to watch in 2017 over popcorn and Skittles. Maybe it’s precisely because I was more interested in the stories that weren’t being told — the lives of the brown faces all wearing the same “what are you doing here?” expression — that I didn’t pick out Pattinson’s grizzled mug from the pack of imperial interlopers.
My blindness had been selective, willful even — how else to explain it? If it will help me get to sleep at night, and redeem me in the eyes of Team Edward fans around the globe, I’ll take it.
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