Armageddon Time: A desperate and delicate film set in the Queens of the Trump family

In recent years, several prominent directors have decided to go personal and take a look at their younger selves, each according to their own style. In 2018 there was the vivid social survey of Alfonso Cuarón, Rome. Belfast last year was sentimental, a natural way for the director Kenneth Branagh. In 2022 Steven Spielberg will present his memoir (his first time as a writer), The Fabelmans. I guess you can expect an American dotted with darkness.

To beat everyone is Armageddon Time from James Gray, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Gray’s last two films took him into space and into the depths of the Amazon jungle. But Armageddon Time brings Gray back to the gray and grainy New York of many of his previous films, analyzing crime and its aftermath from a new perspective: his own.

The protagonist of Gray’s semi-autobiographical film is called Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), his family’s surname was changed (like Gray’s) at some point in the past in an attempt to hide Jewish origin from potential employers. He is an 11-year-old middle-class living in Queens in 1980; at school he is a bungling dreamer who prefers to scribble and fantasize rather than listen to the boring teacher. Paul’s parents, Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong), they are affectionate but stern, and he has a special bond with wise old grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). On TV we see Ronald Reagan heading for the presidency, while a classmate speaks with amazement about the moon landing – which took place only 11 years earlier – which he is too young to remember seeing.

That classmate is Johnny (Jaylin Webb), one of the few black boys in Paul’s class, who has a lonely domestic life, entrusted to the care of his sick grandmother. The two boys discover their wishes of rebellion they adapt well to each other, and their antics escalate to a tragic disaster. Such as Rome, Armageddon Time is perhaps above all an expression of sense of guiltan examination of the inequities that Paul and his family, the Grays and so many other white Americans have committed in complicity, working their way through the structures of authority and opportunity.

Armageddon Time it is a painful moral drama that dialogues with the complex issues of race and class. The Graffs, liberals, with the annihilating memory of the Holocaust and the perniciousness of anti-Semitism in America looming over their table, find themselves somewhere in the middle of this country’s difficult hierarchy, trying to make a career, while being aware of the people struggling under them.

Gray’s film is no panacea for this guilt. In one scene, Aaron gives Paul a quiet, emotional little speech about how to stand up for others marginalized when they are attacked, but right moments like this, intelligently, are in short supply Armageddon Time. It’s a desperate film, albeit not in a way that feels like an ostentatious public scourging. It is a modest film, which cleverly illustrates a ‘conservative ethics which allowed who is relatively privileged to look away from sensational injustices.

In this sense, Armageddon Time it is probably the more political film by Gray. He takes sides firmly and directly against the trumpism. Old bastard Fred Trump (John Diehl) even appears in the film, as does his daughter Maryanne (Jessica Chastain), who speaks in the luxury and racist private school Paul is transferred to when his misadventures in the public school prove intolerable to his parents. The fact that Donald himself both invisible and unspoken is a strong point: his worldview and that of his feverish acolytes did not form out of the blue during his political ascent. She was already, of course, well established in America, breaking into school gyms and, with the victories of Nixon and Reagan, the White House.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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