ByRicky Derisz, writer at
Staff Writer at MP. "Holy cow, Rick! I didn't know hanging out with you was making me smarter!" Twitter: @RDerisz.
Ricky Derisz

*Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Lost City of Z*

Percy Fawcett was a man befitting of the term "larger than life." The British explorer, who became obsessed with finding a mythical, ancient civilization, lived a life fit to pepper the pages of the most gripping work of fiction. In adapting David Grann's non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z, director James Gray was both blessed and cursed by the outlandish nature of Percy's exploits.

Grann's book is a masterpiece, a tale of adventure that will strike a chord with anyone with even the mildest case of wanderlust. In diving down the rabbit hole of the mystery of Fawcett's disappearance in 1925 with all the obsession of his subject, Grann transformed historical archives into a story that, in a way, almost contains too much of the good stuff to fit into one movie.

Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam in 'The Lost City of Z' [Credit: Amazon Studios]
Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam in 'The Lost City of Z' [Credit: Amazon Studios]

Gray succeeded in producing an enthralling depiction that feels as if it were made in a golden era, creating an action-packed two and a half hours that still leaves the audience wanting more. But is accurate to the book? Although Gray did consult with Grann while producing the film, there were still a number of differences. The result is a mixture of a few key omissions, metaphors to fill in the blanks, and some hard-to-believe scenes that really happened.

Raleigh Rimmel: The Lost Character Of Z

Those who watched the film as fans of Grann's book may've been scratching their heads at the significant omission of Raleigh Rimmel, while those who haven't read the book have probably never heard of him. That in itself is a shame as Raleigh also sacrificed his life in pursuit of Percy Fawcett's mysterious lost civilization.

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Raleigh was best friends with Jack Fawcett (played by ) and the pair were inseparable. On the fateful expedition, Raleigh struggled to keep up the pace with Percy and Jack, and after he was bitten by a tick, he developed a nasty, ulcerous infection on his foot which severely hindered his speed. However, such was his loyalty to his friend, despite his precarious state, that he refused Percy's order for him to return home.

Raleigh is missing from scenes with Percy and Jack Fawcett [Credit: Amazon Studios]
Raleigh is missing from scenes with Percy and Jack Fawcett [Credit: Amazon Studios]

Considering he was at the very heart of the story's most crucial moment — the disappearance — it's surprising Gray decided to cut Raleigh out of The Lost City of Z. Perhaps he felt that there wasn't enough scope to fully flesh out the character, and to explain his motivation to join Percy and Jack, within an already beefy runtime. It would've also changed the dynamic of the ending. Either way, it's a significant deviation from the truth.

The Compass Sent To The Royal Geographical Society

Most of the coverage of Percy's wife, Nina Fawcett (played by ), is accurate to events in the book, with an added cinematic sprinkle of symbolism for dramatic effect. Near the end, there's a mixture of truth and fiction. When Nina is reflecting on Percy's disappearing, the quote is picked directly from the book:

"My heart is lacerated by the horrible accounts I'm obliged to read and my imagination conjures up gruesome pictures of what might have happened. It takes all my strength of will to push these horrors out of my thoughts, the brutal wear and tear is great."

However, there is also a bending of the true events. In the film, Percy tells Nina that if he makes it to his elusive destination, he'll send her a compass as a sign that he made it, a sign that only the two would fully understand. In one scene, a member of the RGS tells her that they received the compass — sent without any return information or sign of who sent it — in a clear insinuation that, reading between the lines, Percy was sending the cryptic message.

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett [Credit: Amazon Studios]
Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett [Credit: Amazon Studios]

Along with The Lost City of Z's ambiguous ending, it only adds to the mysticism. And there's an element of truth; in real life, the compass appeared not long after his disappearance. However, in an interview with CinemaBlend, , who plays Percy, explained his sombre theory on why some of his belongings appeared:

"The theory I subscribe to, or personally believe, is that it was the white man followed him into the jungle and killed him for his equipment. Because his compass did show up quite soon after his disappearance. His ring that he never took off, that was a gift from his son was found in a pawn shop several months after he disappeared."

The Fate Of Percy, Jack And Nina Fawcett

As the fate of Percy and Jack is still unknown, Gray opted for a conclusion drenched in metaphor, showing the pair lifted into the air in a celestial, almost transcendental moment. That aspect of The Lost City of Z ending has been explained, but what about Nina's story arc?

The final scene of the film shows Nina leave the RGS office, where she seemingly fades into the Amazon jungle in a symbolic depiction of her state of grief and belief in her husband's journey, and the suffocating effect it has on her. The metaphor is fitting as Nina at one point wanted to join Percy on an expedition.

Percy and Jack depart for their final expedition [Credit: Amazon Studios]
Percy and Jack depart for their final expedition [Credit: Amazon Studios]

However, in real life, she spent the rest of her days obsessively investigating Percy's disappearance, discounting accounts that she believed to be falsified. All the while and as late as 1950 (some 25 years after their disappearance), she believed that her husband and son had been captured by Indians and was convinced that one day they would return.

Some Surprising True Elements In 'The Lost City Of Z'

The threat of tribes is certainly not exaggerated; thanks to realms of indigenous people who had been massacred or enslaved, the attitude toward outsiders was understandably hostile. Fawcett himself was obsessed with the different tribes, and in understanding the best way to interact with them, often opting for a more conciliatory approach than other explorers.

In one of the standout scenes in the film, Percy — along with Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) — is travelling along the river when they are suddenly under attack by a flurry of arrows that puncture the side of their boat. Rather than retreat, Percy makes the bizarre decision to ask Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley) to grab his instrument and begins singing as he approaches the tribe.

As far-fetched as it appears, this did happen — and it worked. In Grann's initial article in The New Yorker, he explained:

"Once, when his expedition was ambushed, Fawcett had his men stand and play musical instruments, singing 'Soldiers of the Queen' and 'Suwannee River' as arrows rained upon them."

After bravely marching toward them, Percy pacified the threat and befriended the tribe. The scene makes for a breathtaking, accurate depiction, befitting of The Lost City Of Z. But, for some — including Hunnam — Percy's ability to communicate peacefully with the tribe suggests that his disappearance wasn't at the hands of the Indians, as long suspected.

Have you read Grann's The Lost City Of Z? If so, what differences did you notice in the film?

[Credit: Amazon Studios]
[Credit: Amazon Studios]

(Source: The New Yorker, CinemaBlend, Wired)


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