A friend invited me to see The Lost City of Z
on a chilly rainy afternoon. It's overlong but it held our attention well enough. It's also "based on a true story", which is Hollywood-speak for "a complete pack of lies from start to finish". Seriously, almost nothing it tells us about the central figure (described by the real Amazonian explorer
who provided a lot of source material as "a nutter, a racist, and so incompetent that the only expedition he organised was a five-week disaster") is true. Amusingly, he himself was apparently pretty honest about how little he achieved but for some reason an American journalist wrote a ridiculously exaggerated account
of his exploits which the filmmakers simply took at face value.
He's portrayed as so impossibly noble that my bullshit detector was pinging throughout, but it's interesting to see just how far from the truth the characterisation of him is and why. As you'd expect of British army officer of his era, he's a racist bigot and a chauvinist, but because he's the hero the movie makes out that the major obstacles to his success are class bigotry and racism. And, as this article
ably summarises, it tries so hard to contemporise his martial relations that it almost breaks the film.
To paraphrase a scathing review of my college roommate's debut film, "I know white people have to keep making films, but why do they keep having to make this
film?" As a number of critics have pointed out, if you want to make a movie about a heroic explorer, there's no shortage of interesting people who really accomplished something. Others have pointed out that nuanced films about obsessive failures are often more interesting that movies about people who actually succeeded. But no, apparently what we all want is to see ourselves as saintly tragic figures. (I swear, there should've been a halo around his head in the death scene.)
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons