Megalopolis: A Deep Dive into Coppola's Ambitious Odyssey

19 May 2024

"Megalopolis," directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, is a cinematic enigma—a film that defies traditional categorization and elicits a spectrum of reactions from awe to frustration. Decades in the making and financed largely through Coppola’s own means, this $120 million epic amalgamates elements of modern America with ancient Rome in a retro-futuristic narrative. The film, brimming with intellectual and philosophical undertones, presents a medley of themes such as love, power, creation, and the cyclical nature of empires. 

While "Megalopolis" stands as a testament to Coppola’s unwavering vision and passion for filmmaking, it is also a deeply polarizing work that oscillates between brilliance and bewilderment.

To navigate "Megalopolis" through its plot is a head-spinning exercise. 

At its core, the film follows Cesar Catalina, portrayed by Adam Driver, a charismatic architect with the ability to stop time—a power that serves more as a thematic device than a plot driver. Catalina’s vision of a utopian city clashes with the political ambitions of Mayor Franklyn Cicero, played by Giancarlo Esposito. The narrative is further complicated by Catalina’s romance with Cicero’s daughter, Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), and his entanglement with the manipulative news host, Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza).

What kind of name is Wow Platinum?

wow platinum aubrey plaza megalopolis
Wow Platinum

The film's setting, New Rome, is a retro-futurist metropolis that merges Roman antiquity with art deco aesthetics. This bizarre hybrid, while visually intriguing, often feels disjointed and inconsistent, much like the film’s storyline. Supporting characters, including Jon Voight’s Hamilton Crassus III and Shia LaBeouf’s Clodio Pulcher, add layers of political intrigue and ambition, yet their motives and arcs remain underdeveloped.

Cinematographer Mihai Mălaimare Jr. employs a 2:1 aspect ratio that straddles the line between cinematic widescreen and television aesthetics. The film’s visual language is characterized by meticulous compositions that, paradoxically, evoke a flat and chintzy appearance. The digital vistas, drenched in dictatorial gold, convey the bourgeois decadence of New Rome’s elite, but also appear incongruously cheap for a film of such grand financial scale.

Coppola’s use of technology within the film oscillates between critique and celebration. The futuristic element, embodied by the adaptable material Megalon, is contrasted with a scathing view of contemporary technological phenomena like deepfakes and QR codes. This duality is reflected in the film’s overall tone, which fluctuates between earnest philosophical musings and farcical absurdity.

"Megalopolis" is Coppola’s meditation on creativity, power, and the human condition. The film’s protagonist, Cesar Catalina, embodies Coppola’s idealistic pursuit of artistic innovation and utopian creation. The narrative’s central conflict—Catalina’s visionary project versus Cicero’s pragmatic governance—mirrors broader societal tensions between idealism and realism.

The film delves into the nature of time and memory, often through metaphorical and surreal sequences. Catalina’s ability to stop time serves as a poignant symbol of the human desire to preserve fleeting moments and defy the inevitable march of time. This theme is underscored by the dedication to Coppola’s late wife, Eleanor, which adds a deeply personal dimension to the narrative.

Adam Driver delivers a compelling performance as Cesar Catalina, capturing the character’s internal torment and visionary zeal. His portrayal is nuanced and multifaceted, though occasionally hindered by the film’s erratic script. Nathalie Emmanuel brings depth and sincerity to Julia Cicero, providing a grounding counterpoint to Driver’s ethereal architect.

Giancarlo Esposito’s Mayor Cicero exudes authority and pragmatism, but his character’s development is somewhat limited by the film’s sprawling narrative. Aubrey Plaza’s Wow Platinum adds a satirical edge, though her character’s motivations remain opaque. 

Coppola’s "Megalopolis" is a mosaic of cinematic influences, drawing inspiration from H.G. Wells, Fritz Lang, and even his own past works. The film’s retro-futuristic aesthetic and narrative structure evoke Lang’s "Metropolis" and Ayn Rand’s "The Fountainhead," while also incorporating silent film techniques like blue tints and iris shots.

These stylistic choices serve as both homage and critique, reflecting Coppola’s ambivalence towards modern cinema. The film’s ambitious narrative and thematic complexity recall the experimental spirit of the New Hollywood era, yet its execution often struggles to match the coherence and impact of Coppola’s earlier masterpieces.

"Megalopolis" is a film that embodies the duality of artistic ambition—its capacity to inspire awe and induce frustration. Coppola’s latest opus is an audacious exploration of utopian ideals and human frailties, rendered through a labyrinthine narrative and a visually eclectic style. While the film’s disjointed plot and inconsistent aesthetics may alienate some viewers, its thematic depth and visionary ambition demand recognition.

We suspect this film is destined for cult classic status. 


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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