Some Cold Takes: The Lost City of Z and Ghost in the Shell

The Lost City of Z

Patriarchy’s one hell of a drug innit? Percy Fawcett can just go off to Bolivia, searching for his lost city, neglecting his wife and children who carry on in England without him. Whiteness is toxic. He tries to disrupt paternalistic eurocentrism by searching for civilisation in Southern America, yet neglects to properly respect and investigate the many societies he encounters upon his search, because he has no context for ‘civility’ outside of western imperialism.

Charlie Hunnam’s actually pretty attractive as the character, at least he’s done something now for me to actually remember his face. His exploration of the character is perceptive, you get a sense of how he move through the world. We open on a gala, for all his bluster his is embarrassed by his unadorned chest, his assertive wife. We in the early 20th century now, she’s probably a suffragette, he demands that she not wear trousers to a public function.

When asked by the government to map an Amazonian river, in order to assist in more accurately drawing a border between Bolivia and Brazil, the result of which, the British government hopes, would be to quell the rising tensions that threaten war in the area, Fawcett sees an opportunity to reclaim his lost masculinity. Assisted by Robert Pattinson’s Henry Costin they go on a journey to find once again their masculine essence; that trapped in the pages of Verne’s classic voyages. They almost die.

Upon returning home, claiming to have discovered evidence of this civilisation, Z, Fawcett sets about fundraising for another journey. He argues in front of the Royal Geographical Society, his wife is not permitted attendance. In his unctuousness and resolve he becomes man incarnate to those willing to fund him; one demands a place on the next voyage, he, also, almost dies. His suffering though, deemed to be unmanly, forced home before the expedition came to a close, he sets about suing, recompense for the masculinity he feels he was missold.

Contradictorily Fawcett’s voyages also become the tool of his emasculation. Apart for so long from his wife, from his children, he finds no power in the house he wrongly assumes to be his. A wife accustomed to life without his presence, playing the apologist for a husband unwilling to face the present; children who have no respect for a patriarch they never knew. So he returns to the Amazon, time and again. It’s the 1920s now, and masculinity sure ain’t changing, as ever is the case, but femininity is. Sienna Miller plays Nina Fawcett, a thundercloud constrained, it’s this amazingly human role, considering how she has so little time to express it all in.

It a film with a lot of feels to it. Got that King Kong feel, that Aguirre, Wrath of God feel. The beauty and majesty of nature contrasted with the suffering of humanity. The Lost City of Z, takes its lens back, the men on the rafts aren’t the only ones in pain. There are American slavers in the jungle here, there are those trapped drawn into events against their will. We can feel for the men who choose to put themselves in these positions, but, as its final image reminds us, the suffering also belongs to those who had no choice in the matter at all.

Image courtesy of Studiocanal UK

Ghost in the Shell

Two thirds of the way through here the film makes its dumbest decision. Like, until that point it had been pretty, if pedestrian, then it fucks up so bad.

The core of the problem is the whitewashing of the whole joint. Which, is a whole big deal and has been discussed far better by people far more qualified than I. Seriously, read this Hollywood Reporter roundtable on the whole affair, it’s so good. They were tripping over the potholes they dug themselves last year too, remember Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange? Yeah, we got more of that shit.

‘Cos a film being written and directed and produced by white guys, is it any surprise that they don’t really got any idea how to integrate the specific cultural identifiers of the original? It’s always nice to see Beat Kitano on the screen, he one of those directors who manages also to be a proper captivating on screen presence, but the film wastes him in a role which deliberately isolates him from the rest of the action, probably because they couldn’t convince the rest of the cast to learn the language so that a proper conversation could happen.

Then, after an asinine mystery, one which it’s hard not to stay two steps ahead of, one whose conclusion will be blindingly obvious if you’ve say consumed any media over the past 20 years. It’s revealed that the bad guys, as a part of their evil plan, took the brain of a person of Asian descent and housed it in the body of a white woman. And this is played without irony, without cynicism, without comment, and it lands in the cinema with a dull thud, as everyone wonders if they could possibly have been that stupid.

They are. And then they just double down as we’re treated to a scene of Scarlett Johansson and Michael Pitt realising their true names, Motoko and Hideo, and the awkward tension in the screening room makes you want to fold yourself up and store yourself someplace safe.

If you’re thinking, ‘Why is this being made such a big deal of? It’s not that important.’ One, you’re wrong. And two, it maybe has not been impressed upon you how boring everything else about this film is. Like, it’s so, so, so, so, banal. And for all that it looks expensive, we gotta remember that anime aesthetic has been codified into American cinema since the Wachowski Sisters made that shit mainstream in 1999. Watch The Matrix again now, it will still feel more exciting and revolutionary than what being projected today.

When I was writing about Life earlier this week, I wondered to myself what exactly it was about the derivation in that film that still made it functional and exciting, and why Ghost in the Shell fell flat. I think I settled on the fact the Life, synthesised its influences. Sure, it took ideas from everywhere, but it knew what those ideas meant, it knew how they could be wrestled into supporting its own discourse.

Ghost in the Shell has no discourse, and so, bereft of ideas of its own, it reads like the Sparknotes version of itself. It’s their own fault that the longest, and most detailed, and best referenced part of the analysis is on whitewashing, it’s the most interesting thing here.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

2 responses to “Some Cold Takes: The Lost City of Z and Ghost in the Shell”

  1. […] finally caught up on my backlog with The Lost City of Z and Ghost in the Shell. Two films in which white people don’t quite grasp foreign […]


  2. […] Hunnam, who managed to actually be compelling earlier this year in The Lost City of Z, flounders in the boots of a guy so wise even Statham couldn’t have played him without […]


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