With one caveat: “Goncharov” is actually a meme — or, to be more precise, the work of hundreds of people across the world who collectively developed the backstory and all the plot elements of a movie that, well, has never existed.
“This became almost like ‘Argo,’ ” said Jamie Cohen, a media studies professor at CUNY Queens College, referencing the phony sci-fi film CIA agents used as a front to free hostages in Iran in 1979. “But this is a bit more complex because it’s creating some sort of widescale fan fiction — almost with the idea of manifesting a movie into reality. At the same time, it’s also a bit of a collective joke or prank.”
Goncharov was inexplicably ahead of it time and it’s contribution to cinema is remarkable. Rarely does a film tell as many diverse-yet-interconnected stories.
Hard to imagine so few ppl have seen it. https://t.co/mKY6Ydya4U
— tumblr dot com the website and app (@tumblr) November 20, 2022
Like “Girl Explaining” and “Distracted Boyfriend,” the fake Scorsese flick falls under the strict definition of a meme: “something that’s digital, made online with awareness of other memes and allows other people to replicate it or remix it,” Cohen said. But at the same time, “Goncharov” is not just a still image being shared with new text overlays; it’s a digital storytelling cacophony, mashing up fan fiction with audio and visuals.
In other words, “Goncharov” is a meme on steroids. And its origins go back to a years-old post of a shoe with a weird label on Tumblr, a microblogging-focused social media site founded in 2007.
In 2020, Tumblr user zootycoon posted about a pair of “knockoff boots” purchased online that referenced a “nonexistent” Scorsese movie. The tag read: “THE GREATEST MAFIA MOVIE EVER MADE, MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS GONCHAROV, DOMENICO PROCACCI PRODUCTION, A FILM…ABOUT THE NAPLES MAFIA.”
A year later, the post was reshared along with a screenshot of a sarcastic reply that read, “this idiot hasn’t seen goncharov.” As of this week, hundreds have piled on with plot ideas, scene scripts and even music for a movie that followed Goncharov, a Russian man trying to shake off his hit-man lifestyle by retiring to Naples in the ’70s.
The plot goes as follows: In his quest for normalcy, Goncharov falls in love with his sworn enemy, Andrey “The Banker” Daddano. At the same time, Goncharov’s wife, Katya, has a fling with a woman named Sofia. In the midst of it all, there’s an ice-pick-wielding villain. And, spoiler alert: Most of the characters ultimately wind up dead, including Goncharov, who’s not only killed but betrayed.
How a shoe label inspired a internet-fueled fake film is still a bit of a mystery. However, Tumblr user @dogsuffrage posited that “Goncharov” was probably a misspelled version of “Gomorrah,” the name of a 2008 Scorsese-supported film.
Regardless, the film’s cult following eventually spilled onto Twitter and TikTok — to the utter confusion of some users, who initially thought “Goncharov” was a real deal. That’s how it became a running joke that even Scorsese himself seemed to acknowledge in a TikTok video posted Saturday by his daughter, Francesca.
“Yes. I made that film years ago,” Scorsese texted back when Francesca asked if he’d seen the news about “Goncharov.”
More than an attempt at gaslighting the world with a fake movie, Cohen said “Goncharov” represents the culmination “of interesting pieces of internet ephemera from the 2010s” — a decade marked by the proliferation of fan fiction and fan art. It also underscores “a new sort of Tumblr revival,” as the social media platform gains new users amid Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.
“Tumblr has always been good at those threaded, stacked replies where people build off each other,” Cohen said. “It was the perfect space for this to go viral, especially as people are migrating away from Twitter’s chaos.”
tumblr has been talking about a martin scorsese movie called goncharov and i was getting really into it, really looking forward to watching it, and then it turned out they made it up completely
— d🔶 (@davemakes) November 21, 2022
Yet, like so many other memes, Cohen said “Goncharov” might be nearing its internet peak.
“When memes become mainstream, the lure, secrecy and the internet ownership goes with it,” he said. Nevertheless, “Goncharov” has been a bright spot for social media — a sparkling example that the digital world can actually be a fun place.
“For all the nastiness and chaos, this is at least one of those moments that give you hope because it’s a participatory, positive experience in which people find joy and don’t get hurt,” Cohen added.