Khaleej Times - City Times

‘Armageddon Time’, a portrait of white privilege, stirs Cannes Fest


When the Cannes Film Festival audience stood to applaud James Gray’s richly observed autobiogra­phical drama Armageddon Time, about the director’s own 1980s childhood in Queens, Gray’s voice quivered as he addressed the crowd.

“It’s my story, in a way,” said Gray. “And you guys shared it with me.”

“It took every last bit of control not to burst out into tears,” Gray said, still recovering the next day in Cannes. “It’s been a really strange journey making the film and my father died two months ago of Covid. The whole process has been fraught and filled with emotion.”

Armageddon Time, starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong, has been received as a tender triumph for the New York filmmaker not just for his detailed excavation of his childhood but for how the film reexamines his own white privilege growing up — how race and money can tip the scales in the formative years of young people.

Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) is a sixth-grader modeled after the 53-year-old Gray in a middle-class Jewish family. At school, Paul’s friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb) is a Black kid with fewer advantages, who’s treated differentl­y than Paul. When Paul’s family elects to send him to a private school, the gap only grows. Connection­s to today’s inequities aren’t hard to decipher. At the private school, Jessica Chastain makes a cameo as Maryanne Trump, sister to Donald and an assistant U.S. attorney.

Excerpts from an interview with Gray:

When did Armageddon Time start formulatin­g in your head?

I was at an art exhibit in Los Angeles five years ago. Painted on the wall it said: “History and myth begin in the microcosm of the personal.” I had made this film before this where I went into space. It was a very difficult movie to make and a very difficult movie to complete. The end result was not fully mine. That was a very sad experience for me. I wanted to try to rediscover my love for the medium and why I wanted it do it in the first place. I said, “Sc**w it, I’ll make the most personal film I can.”

You’ve called 1980 one of the most pivotal years in American history. Is that because of the election of Reagan?

People don’t remember that he campaigned in Philadelph­ia, Mississipp­i, which is where Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney were killed by the Klan. And he started talking about states rights. He knew exactly what he was doing. I understand he didn’t come out and say the N-word. He

didn’t come out and be Trump completely. But that was his purpose.

I feel like that was planting the seeds for a kind of corporatis­t, me-first, top-down,

frankly rooted in racism idea of American capitalism that hasn’t left us fully since. When you propose a system which is all about money, it has the basis of oppression built into it.

It didn’t start with slavery. It started with the indigenous people who were basically vaporized. We’re very good at genocide.

Were you thinking any of this when you were living through it as a kid?

When I was a kid I never thought about the levels of capitalism, how if someone is up there, that means somebody’s gotta be down there. I knew 48 kids in a class, something’s wrong. But here’s the thing: Why is it not a source of utter rage in our country that public education in our country is financed by local property taxes?

They should be burning down state legislatur­es because of that. The system makes itself very happy by basically saying: Let’s make a superhero movie but put a trans person in it. That’s fine. That’s excellent, whatever. But that doesn’t solve the problem. You have to look at the system itself and understand that it is based on the brutal oppression of one group to survive.

Were the Trumps actually involved in your private school experience?

They sure were. If I had my high school yearbook, I would show you the board of trustees which had Frederick Christ Trump in the picture. He would walk the halls of the school. His daughter (Maryanne) gave a speech to the school which I had my brother recount the best he could and then I recalled the best I could and we compared notes. They were very similar. AP

 ?? ?? Anne Hathaway, director James Gray and Jeremy Strong at a photocall for the film ‘Armageddon Time’ in Cannes
Anne Hathaway, director James Gray and Jeremy Strong at a photocall for the film ‘Armageddon Time’ in Cannes

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