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    The unlikely literary inspiration behind Francis Ford Coppola’s new film.

    Brittany Allen

    April 4, 2024, 11:51am

    Fellow travelers and cinephileslook sharp. Solidarity may really be upon us. Word on the street is that Francis Ford Coppola’s much-anticipated epic, Megalopolis, about an idealistic architect with utopian dreams for New York City, is inspired by not just one but three tentpoles of new left theory. 

    The books in question include two by the late, great critical anthropologist, David Graeber (Debt: The First 5000 Years, Bullshit Jobs) and one by David Graeber and his longtime intellectual collaborator, archaeologist David Wengrow (The Dawn of Everything). On his Instagram, Coppola also shouted out a fourth source of inspiration for his passion project–Herman Hesse’s “unfinished tetralogy,” The Glass Bead Game.

    You have questions. I have questions! Such as: how might any moviemuch less one being billed as a “sci-fi drama”–get into the finer points of economic and social theory promulgated in these fairly dense books? And, how to square such heady inspiration with reports that Shia LaBeouf is a leading cast member in the film, and his costume apparently looks like this?

    But wait, there’s more; according to Esquire, “Megalopolis [also!] takes inspiration from the Roman conspiracy between senator Lucius Sergius Catilina and Marcus Tullius Cicero. Driver’s character [yes, Thee Adam] will reportedly be named Caesar, while [Forest] Whitaker will play New York City Mayor Frank Cicero.” The film has been described by some baffled early viewers as a mix of “Ayn Rand, Metropolis, and Caligula.” Others have offered briefer notes, calling the project “unflinching in how batsh-t it is.” 

    High concepts often get lost in translation. And in other hands, I might have serious doubts. But Coppola has notoriously been working on Megalopolis since the 80s, and claims to have maintained his eponymous winery for years mostly as a means of funding this very “batshit” project. Also, his adaptive inspirations have often skewed literaryand I’m not just referring to the gun-leaving-cannoli-taking obvious. He once told Time that he’d love to adapt Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Because I guess he has a thing for tetralogies. (And a real quibble with materialism.)

    I also have to admire any vehicle that’s riding for Graeber’s body of work. In both Bullshit Jobs and Debt, the late author interrogates how money structures our lives. He’s given many a baby socialist an intellectual entry-point via his nuanced but accessible theories on the spirit-killing toll of white collar work and the scam of a debt-based economy. And given that Coppola’s already made masterpieces interrogating the crisis that is capitalism, perhaps this is a more natural form and content match than first looks suggest. 

    But before the film’s first screening last week, the filmmaker shared an additionally mystifying message: “If I could leave you with one thought after you see my new film, it would be this: Our founders borrowed a Constitution, Roman Law, and Senate for their revolutionary government without a king, so American History could neither have taken place nor succeed as it did without classical learning to guide it.”

    Huh.

    All this is truly fascinating, and could go so many ways. We’re left with breadcrumbs. I note that The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse’s opus, purportedly examines where reason and knowledge fail society. I note that Coppola seems especially excited by the concept of a matriarchy. And I pray that Ayn Rand isn’t really in the mix. In any case, our ability to glimpse this Megalopolis all hangs on distribution. Which Coppola is still chasing.

    David Wengrow pretty much summed up the whole state of affairs in an awe-tinged tweet

    “Jesus.”

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