Although last year brought us major works from master directors Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, and William Friedkin, there’s one auteur passion project we’re still waiting on: Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, a long-aborning magnum opus from the 84-year-old helmer of the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Megalopolis is a sprawling story about an ambitious young architect aiming to recreate New York City in the wake of a tragedy, loosely inspired by a Roman coup d’état called the Catilinarian conspiracy. Adam Driver stars as Caesar, the architect, alongside an eclectic cast featuring Aubrey Plaza, Forest Whitaker, Talia Shire, and Jon Voight, among others.
The history of these sorts of passion projects is mixed. For every one that pans out, like Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, there’s an ambitious misfire like Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote or Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. But even these projects are usually compelling additions to their creators’ bodies of work. Below, to the best of our ability, is what GQ knows for sure about Megalopolis, which is guaranteed to be one of 2024’s most fascinating films.
So…what is Megalopolis actually about?
Coppola’s passion project, which he began writing roughly 40 years ago, has rightly generated headlines for its starry cast, the iconic filmmaker at the helm, and its unconventional funding situation, but there’s still a great deal of uncertainty as to what the movie is actually about. Per Deadline, the film’s logline is as follows: “The fate of Rome haunts a modern world unable to solve its own social problems in this epic story of political ambition, genius, and dangerous love.”
That’s a pretty vague explainer; other descriptions that have been shared focus on the partner of Driver’s character, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, who is torn between her lover’s progressive and ambitious beliefs about rebuilding the world’s most famous city and the more conservative ideas of her father. Filmmaker Mike Figgis, who has been shooting a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Megalopolis, has described the movie as “Julius Caesar meets Blade Runner,’ which suggests an intriguing synthesis of futuristic urbanism and the classical Roman roots at the heart of the plot. Combining romance and drama with a futuristic sci-fi bent is an intriguing proposition for Coppola, who has explored these genres individually, but never in a combined capacity like this.
What is Megalopolis based on?
It’s an original screenplay by Coppola, not an adaptation of a preexisting work. But in a July 2023 Instagram post, Coppola shared several books that “strongly have influenced Megalopolis and my view of the ‘society we live in.’” These books included a trio by influential left-wing academic David Graeber and The Glass Bead Game, the future-set final novel by Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse. A few days later, he shared a second set of books that influenced the film, which “are about a time before there was writing.” These included The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama (about the creation of the modern political system), The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt (about the importance of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura on contemporary thinking), and The War Lovers by Evan Thomas, which focuses on Theodore Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and other key figures of 19th century America.
Lastly, in a September 2023 Instagram post loosely tied to the “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” social media trend, the writer-director wrote that he had been thinking about the Roman Empire quite frequently as it “served as the example for my country America and its institutions, and was the inspiration for [Megalopolis].” (We here at GQ cannot recommend following Coppola on IG strongly enough.)
Who’s in the Megalopolis cast?
The movie’s unsurprisingly stacked lineup of stars includes many prominent young actors who have never worked with the legendary filmmaker before, including Driver, Aubrey Plaza, Emmanuel, and Jason Schwartzman. Rounding out the cast are Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Voight, and Dustin Hoffman. Megalopolis also marks an exciting reunion for Coppola and his sister Talia Shire, whose terrific work in The Godfather trilogy netted her an Oscar nomination in 1974.
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