• Perspectives

Goncharov—Making a Modern Myth

Can an internet meme transcend its origins to become a multifaceted creative megaproject? That’s exactly what happened in 2022.

In this article, we’ll look back at the journey of Goncharov, and what it reveals about the current state of media, community, collaboration—and the evolution of storytelling.

Written by
  • Rex Mizrach
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Shadows on the screen

An unseen masterpiece.

Goncharov (1973), an overlooked but enigmatic gem of post-war Mafia cinema, has finally achieved cult status. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the genre-defining—and defying—film is a rich tangle of intrigue and moral ambiguity, as beautiful as it is brutal, mirroring (and arguably eclipsing) the grandeur of "The Godfather” with a Shakespearean intensity, plunging the audience into the depths of human folly and redemption.

Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Gene Hackman, the plot revolves around Goncharov (De Niro), a Russian mob boss exiled to Naples, entangled in a tumultuous relationship with his fiancée, Katya (Cybill Shepherd), and a complex bond with confidant-turned-rival Andrey (Harvey Keitel).The narrative, non-linear and richly textured, pieces together a fragmented puzzle, a vivid world of loyalty and betrayal, with themes of masculine aggression laced with homoerotic undertones, and the struggle for authentic human connection.

But in a twist, Goncharov came not from the mind of a single auteur, but burst through the collective imagination of the internet—a spontaneous, globally crowdsourced story with a thousand coalescing narratives; the collective fever dream of inventive Tumblr users who managed, for a moment, to fool the world.

And then they created it, together.

Misprint to mythos

"Maybe the real Goncharov was the Fandom we made along the way."

Goncharov was born in 2020 when Tumblr user zootycoon purchased a pair of knock-off boots with a label that inexplicably read—

The Greatest Mafia Movie Ever Made

Martin Scorsese Presents


The name “Goncharov” seemed to be a misprint by way of AliExpress of the 2008 Italian Mafia film “Gomorrah,” which Scorsese had promoted in the U.S. Gomorrah’s poster also used the tagline “the greatest Mafia movie ever made”—though why Ivan Goncharov, a 19th-century Russian novelist, would be subbed in for the film’s title is anyone’s guess. "this idiot hasn't seen goncharov," user abandonedambition reblogged, igniting the spark of a creative bonfire that would eventually spread from the depths of Tumblr to major magazines and newspapers around the world.

Goncharov's genesis.

Two years later, user beelzeebub designed a poster depicting the impossibly iconic main cast (photoshopped from other films) with the tagline: "Winter Comes To Naples." Supporting characters, like Ice Pick Joe (embodying the cycle of doomed masculine violence), and Sofia, whose interaction with Katya at a fruit stand hinted at subtextual romantic tension, emerged. Thus began the improvisation game, a whirlwind of posts and fics and art that solidified most of what would become Goncharov in 24 hours; where the only rule was creativity and the only limitation was "yes, and—.” But it was just getting started.

Goncharov's poster by Tumblr user beelzeebub.

November 2022—year of the vibe shift. Twitter had begun its slow-motion implosion, and creatives found themselves seeking a space of refuge. Tumblr, the internet's designated home of the weird, seemed like a good enough fit. After many sellings and resellings and its own exodus over “female-presenting nipples,” it retained the unpolished charm of marketing failure that echoed older, beloved, defunct fandom hubs—LiveJournal, BBS message boards, GeoCities “shrines” with a singular focus, drawing in true believers eager to share their obsessions. For many creatives, weirdness is to be treasured, because someday, someone will saunter into your neighborhood and erect a glossy new office building where the old community hall once stood—or carry a sink into the lobby, ushering in some of the worst people imaginable. Un-gentrified social spaces are increasingly rare in a digital landscape dominated by enshittified media corps, but Tumblr managed to retain that purity (also, the porn had returned).

For Tumblr, Goncharov was a perfect gatekeeping device—a symbol of resistance in preserving that creative freedom; not excluding, but welcoming those who could dive in and play along. Users started Gonchposting—writing, debating, GIF-ing, drawing, synthesizing, and asking—do you get this?

Do you belong?

Fandom and the art of the impossible

For most of human history, storytelling was a communal activity, a way to make collective sense of the world. We've shifted from campfires to the pale glow of laptop screens, crossing geographical and cultural boundaries, but the essence remains the same. Collaboration is not just the foundation of fan fiction—it's its lifeblood. Fan works emerge from a deeply engaged dialogue between original IP and fan writer, and travel through myriad paths as characters, settings, plotlines, are collectively re-envisioned and expanded to wild new territories, redefining how stories are told and engaged with, inhabiting a uniquely collaborative, participatory ecosystem. Each work influences, references, and reinforces others in dynamic synchronicity, part of an interconnected whole, and taps into our innate yearning to participate. Fan writers not only consume stories, but engage in their creation—an authentic, organic, connective approach in the face of increasingly distant, over-engineered and interchangeable mass media IP.

But though Goncharov echoed the behavior of fandom, its material was wholly original. And as the minutes ticked by like the film’s omnipresent clock, Gonchposting began to feel less like a meme or an act of collective role-playing, but something more substantial, even profound—a thousand pieces of text and art, layered with interpretations and theories and narrative strata, like fragments from an ancient myth, joined by a magic circle of believers.

"People literally HAVE spent millions and millions of dollars trying to force this stuff. they have tried to carve this out of people. This kind of genuine engagement. People hire teams to work for years to make a tiny fragment of this happen and they cant bc it always feel false???
And! This! Just! Happened! Spontaneously!"
—Tumblr user striving-artist

Because no one made Goncharov, everyone was its writer, director, critic, fan.The more content appeared on the dashboard, the richer the lore became—having no set script and no attributed owner gave writers the freedom to explore and branch out into new storylines. The fannish desire to dissect fleeting glances and unfulfilled gestures heavy with unspoken queerness (it was 1973, after all) saw Goncharov and Andrey sharing a cigarette moments before disaster, like a farewell kiss. Katya’s character played on the role of the femme fatale with a nuanced, complex agency and duplicity, navigating her own relationship with Sofia with subtle intrigue (and guns). What may have started as a piece of Weird Internet ephemera scavenged from the dumpster of throwaway culture was deepened with lines like "The clock will strike for everyone, even you, Goncharov." Goncharov’s “promising young writer,” Matteo JWHJ 0715, reportedly died just before the film’s release in a tragic Ferrari accident (or by falling backwards from a window while playing a mandolin, depending on the source)—the literal death of the author. Since nothing was real, anything was possible.

In an early scene, Goncharov is seen reading a book of poems by the Russian poet Aleksandr Blok, reciting to Katya: “Go on and live another quarter century—nothing will change.” Meanwhile, on AO3 (Archive of Our Own), things were changing fast—the brand new Goncharov fandom had racked up more stats (790 works) than the biggest, most expensive blockbuster ever gearing up for its latest release—“Avatar: the Way of Water.

Tumblr greeted the trailer with a collective shrug, and kept on Gonchposting.

From niche to notoriety

And like all great myths, the texts assumed a life of their own. Rumors of long-lost film reels began to circulate. Time-worn VHS tapes were uncovered in the corners of languishing small town video stores. Obscure clippings from critics were exhumed from the archives. Journalists sniffed fresh phenomena on the wind and went to Tumblr to sift through thousands of posts, writing articles to the fans’ annoyance, without engaging the work or the community (beyond some comparisons to TikTok pranks or fake news). And in a twist even more unexpected than the film’s finale (no spoilers), things reached a surreal pinnacle with the legitimization of none other than Scorsese himself.

Scorcese's "fake" film.

The film’s haunting final scene closes with an empty train leaving Naples, accompanied only by the ticking clock, Goncharov’s leitmotif of loneliness, and the characters’ inescapable debt to fate. For a project shaped by so many voices, Goncharov’s themes were particularly ironic. The true story was the shared journey, and the vibrant community it brought into being; the fast-dissolving boundaries between creator and audience, the collective creativity of thousands of storytellers creating something meaningful in a fragmented world.

More than that, it was a reminder of the potential of stories to unite, now more than ever—leaving us wildly optimistic about the endless possibilities where imagination and community converge.

Let's be pen pals.

We'll be in touch!
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