Cannes 2022: Armageddon Time
James Gray returns to his New York City roots with Armageddon Time, a coming of age film set in 1980s Queens
Following an ambitious set of films that have traversed everywhere from the Amazon rainforest (The Lost City of Z) to Neptune (Ad Astra), James Gray returns to his New York City roots for the semi-autobiographical Armageddon Time. As a sentimental family drama, it’s much lighter fare for the director, but the film is no less critical of humanity’s depravity, observing racism and prejudice through the eyes of an oblivious child.
Growing up in 1980s Queens, Paul (Michael Banks Repeta) daydreams of becoming an artist, much to the chagrin of his parents (capably played by Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong). Struggling in school, Paul’s doting grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) reminds him of the lengths their Jewish family went through to escape the Nazis in Ukraine and venture out to Ellis Island. But when he befriends a Black classmate named Johnny (Jaylin Webb) and the pair land themselves in trouble, Paul is forced to attend private school to learn some discipline.
While Armageddon Time considers the weight of generational trauma, the film also subtly interrogates privilege. In a surprise cameo, Jessica Chastain appears as Maryanne Trump to give a rousing speech at Paul’s school about how you have to earn your success. Never mind that these kids are already three steps ahead of the rest by virtue of attending an all-white preppy private school.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t go all the way in reflecting on Paul’s own privilege, despite the clear advantages he has compared to Johnny. “Be grateful when you’re given a leg up,” his grandfather tells him in the film’s closing minutes. It’s a strange note to end on, as if the lesson to be taken from this story is that we should stand idly and accept the world’s imbalance, instead of making an effort to level the playing field.
Armageddon Time had its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival