Is Less Truly More? James Gray’s Lost City of Z: A Masterpiece of More Cinema.

Lost City

Saw this at a press screening last week and I still don’t know what to make of it exactly. I marveled at its scope and ambition, the brilliant match cuts, the striking cinematography by Darius Khondji, and its naked honesty in revealing human emotions, relations, and flaws. Like all of Gray’s films, Z picks apart the human condition while foisting it upon unassuming action. The subtext runs deeper in this film than perhaps anything before in his filmography, and yet it is perhaps the film’s multi-faceted framework which causes a certain disconnect between Gray’s inherent truth seeking and the viewer’s capacity to realize this truth. It’s like a diamond in the rough whose brightness will be reveled only by those willing to dig deep.

Bluntly stated, The Lost City of Z is James Gray working in a far more opaque, subtle, and provocative manner. His previous films, beginning with Little Odessa–a heartfelt tragedy with narrow scope but much emotional depth–take place in New York and focus inwards on very particular happenings to very particular people whom the audience comes to empathize with. Driving human emotion with consequence is Gray’s signature move, and while this is more subdued in Z, it is certainly present.

The Lost City of Z conveys much more drama, much more plot, and quite simply has much more to offer than any of Gray’s previous films. There are more characters and perspectives, a wider narrative, and many interests—from the political to the psychological to the historical, social, and beyond. This is at once a blessing and a curse. Some would argue, using perhaps Bresson or Mizoguchi or even early Gray as examples, that simplicity is a filmmaker’s finest virtue. And yet here we have a magnificent epic, one which holds so many ideas within its two and a half hour runtime that it will surely open itself to criticism sheerly for its lack of simplicity.

Less is more perhaps only because less leaves little to critique.

This is Gray’s The Thin Red Line. For James Gray, The Lost City of Z is more; there is more here to critique but also more here to acclaim. There is more to discuss with this adaptation of true events than there is with his poetic New York elegies, but through discussion perhaps we as viewers can realize that inherent truth of the human condition which Gray imbues all his films with.

I am going to need to see this a few more times, but to me it’s already a masterpiece and can only move up from here.

90/100 – Amazing.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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