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Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis is a mania of extreme self-indulgence that cannot be separated from its origin. Over the course of years, costing him $120 million and capturing footage after 9/11, it both disappoints and captivates to an equal degree often at once. A science fiction tribute to modern America and ancient Rome with a tinge of farce, obliqueness, strangeness and verbosity; the Godfather director’s story about love, time creation and empire rise/fall combines elements from both cultures. Mixing histories, myths as well as many movie styles, he makes something unique out of this that is personal in essence for better or worse. It is a film that sometimes seems like it would rather have you brainwashed into unconsciousness than enjoying the experience but which can also make you think differently about yourself.

To attempt following Megalopolis through the lens of its plot can make one dizzy around his head. Much of its 138-minute runtime is more metaphor than drama – sometimes spoken in Latin, sometimes through direct quotation of Hamlet. Adam Driver plays Cesar Catalina (or “Caesar Caesar”), a utopian architect hailing from 23rd century who has the power to stop time; however this sci-fi concept doesn’t function so much as a driving force for the narrative as much as it is some kind of backdrop object. He becomes instrumental in Julia Cicero’s life who happens to be Natahalie Emmanuel because she knows and wants to learn how to use Cesar’s abilities since she loves him despite being born by his father political enemy too. But there are further complications: various characters – played by Giancarlo Esposito among others like Jon Voight or Shia LaBeouf –whose main motivations are all centered on getting or keeping power over New Rome.

H.G Wells inspired retro-futuristic city-state combining Roman antiquity and New York art deco with a golden glow of tyranny in chintzy digital vistas. Megalopolis, despite its high cost, looks too cheap and two-dimensional, but it exposes (or “strips naked”) the disgusting lives of its main characters who are all rich bourgeois. Mihai Mălaimare Jr., the cinematographer allows the camera to stand still almost all the time providing exact composition within a TVish 2:1 aspect ratio that feels like an HD TV set in cinematic wide screen. Furthermore, Cesar’s scandalous affair with Platinum Wow (Aubrey Plaza), a news anchor interested in ratings makes television as a medium seem attractive but eventually this deformation is abandoned by the movie showing that Coppola still respects cinema as an institution. This remote civilization about to crash is seen through the lens of far less optimistic perspectives towards our present technologies such as iPhones or touchless QR codes which are also aligned with some other technological hot-button issues of today like deep-faked videos feigning public figures.

However, one technology that stands out in the movie is Megalon, a glowing, amorphous and endlessly versatile non-substance; it is made from Cesar’s dying wife’s DNA and is what the architect wants to use in constructing his perfect city – Megalopolis. It is a dream-like substance that gives form to semi-physical (though largely ethereal) representations of creativity. But while Megalopolis the film might be construed as an unbroken string of metaphors, Megalopolis the city is a very intimate vision of Cesar, something that his critics brand as wishful thinking – territory that Coppola knows well since he has been continuously blocked his entire career.

Megalopolis contains at least two characters named Francis but among them all it is Cesar who most closely resembles Coppola himself with all his idealistic endeavors for filmmaking using the new, alternative or improved methods. The old and new collaborators make up his cast but Talia Shire (who once played Connie Corleone) appearing briefly stands out. Shire seems like she should be speaking dialogue back from an era where movies were honest and her message to her brother about finding some semblance of humanity amidst all the chaotic freedom projected by this work feels more intense than anything else in this movie.

Consequently, there are so many ideas packed into Megalopolis that Coppola eventually collapses under their weight through an act of controlled demolition which at first confuses but ultimately leads to an explosive shattering of the screen. The film also portrays Hollywood system as empire (or its oppressive extension) hence becoming not only warning about demise of empires themselves.

Coppola used Megalon to allow Cesar build like how Coppola did in collaboration with Lucas George, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spieliberg during “New Hollywood,” 1970s: boundless imagination which transcended conventions. However, Megalopolis does more than reference these and other American film booms. In advocating such idea of a relationship, Coppola necessitates the return to the medium’s origins with silent film techniques that include blue tints or iris shots when Cesar remembers his deceased love, or when he meets with his new partner for the first time. It is through these flashes of exuberance that the motion picture’s rather flat surface gains some texture. This adds humanity to the otherwise mere concepts as love and creativity becomes undeniable forces of salvation as Megalopolis grows less naïve by indulging in such thoughts, which initially seem simple but are based on simple facts. However, America has always been an obsession for Coppola and now he has concluded that it is over (in Godfather talk). Thus, he raises a rallying cry against this backdrop and muses about whether it might still be saved.

These personal musings can be viewed from both sides of the coin. In this way, Megalopolis is read not as film but as a tale of its own making and represents within it a number controversies. However, Coppola does not seem interested in seeking a truce with these behind-the-scene issues. He’d rather have us know how he sees his movies as an expression of distinctness, erudition, and sometimes silliness- all combined into one desperate cry for acknowledging our deeply flawed political systems by their seventeenth – century-eighty year old wine maker (octogenarian-millionaire-vintner) . The famous filmmaker is never afraid to employ extremely obtrusive political slogans; nevertheless he disapproves of being called an activist.

Eventually, his pleas are just as esoteric as his warnings and take genuinely odd but ground-breaking forms. If you thought Megalopolis was going to fall off into unearned sentimentality about at any point – the most heartfelt one throughout since One From The Heart in 1982 – he would stop being concerned with existing limits of cinematic creativity and go beyond them altogether). It was when at Cannes that suddenly there appeared an actor in flesh right next to on-screen Cesar who asked him questions and answered him again. What better way could anyone find to wake up a sleeping audience, even if its momentary boredom or the general malaise that comes from too much easily available studio product set out by committee? I believe none.

How Megalopolis’ fate will change during its run on IMAX is unknown so far , but this single move demonstrates change physically for everyone who watches it like Cesar himself does. At this point onwards it becomes difficult not to become involved in what Coppola is doing. It actually marks the shift from verbose, Shakespearean comedy where themes are stated explicitly to an open reflection on boundaries of cinema, physical space and politics.

Cesar’s vision of the new world begins to unfold in kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional imagery that defies and literally destroys any traditional use of the screen. Images flap, ripple, fall in on themselves and stretch out. As Cesar’s drawings emerge against each other into triptychs , the sharply focused reality of Megalopolis comes back into view. The camera is getting closer to the drama which becomes more personal. When traditional cinematic flourishes like telephoto portraits are juxtaposed with the increasingly confusing digital backgrounds, they are at once baffling and hypnotic. It is impossible dream come true by a man who has lived through time and shows us contradicting visions of the future that may be if we save it and if not then will definitely happen.

At the center of this all too frustrating and bountiful vision is love. (One of the recurring themes in reviews of Cannes’ leading films this year – although that was not my perception of Furiosa.) And not just love as an abstract concept, but family love, mutual understanding love, creative partnership love. Eleanor, who was Coppola’s wife and long time collaborator on his last finished film Megalopolis died only a few weeks before its world release. This is fitting tribute in retrospect that comes at the end with an on-screen dedication to her while also being eerie as it represents that moment when a movie achieves perfection by turning into itself: that of an artist in his twilight years who loves dearly and fulfills the dream of stopping the relentless march forward while seeking to imagine (and thus spiritually communicate) a brave new revolutionary transformative future. It’s something you have never seen.


A decades-in-the-making magnum opus from Francis Ford Coppola is inherently frustrating yet irreverently cinematic. And ultimately, what does it mean? A profound personal vision for both good and bad that begins with intricate metaphors and ends with mind-blowing metamorphoses into one long run-on sentence. The argument over artifice gets fought out like a Roman epic set way ahead in time 23rd century.

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