Director James Gray's nostalgic work is a devastating family drama and a moving portrait of a young friendship.
by James Grayarmageddon periodis a film about his childhood in Queens, New York, inspired by that of the filmmaker. It's the 1980s, and Paul (Banks Repeta) is an artistically inclined red-headed student, born into a working-class Jewish family and raised by charming, flawed parents (played byana hathawaymijeremy stark) and a Holocaust survivor he adores (Anthony Hopkins). He is a good boy who means well. He listens to his grandfather's stories with sincere curiosity. He arouses the anger of his father, but he knows how to repent.
armageddon periodIt mainly follows what happens after Paul befriends a black classmate, Johnny (Jaylin Webb), and the two boys forge a complicated friendship that is plagued by their respective races, class backgrounds, and the times and places in those who both live. mandated. This is the Reagan decade. Now is the time for the countryside (and especially the city) to emerge from the dark days of the 1970s. It is time for a nation to try to convince its citizens that everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper. One of the tragedies of the world, thearmageddon periodIt shows in a sense how willing some people are, given the country that it is, to take the bait.
So there are things thatarmageddon periodhas nothing to say Johnny lives with his grandmother and comes from a family that doesn't have a lot of money. Meanwhile, Paul's family is trying hard to make it up to them. The money is the responsibility of Paul and his brother, who are expected to attend school and get excellent grades, if only to ensure the kind of future in which it would be worth surviving on the efforts of their parents, and therefore therefore, also of the grandparents of their children. all the profane mess of the 20th century - have acquired meaning. It is the job of the children of immigrants to make their parents' sacrifice worthwhile.
While it is the job of adults to understand the world in a way that children cannot. One of the powerful but silent tensions at the heart ofarmageddon periodit is the gulf between the pathetic understanding of an adult and the impulsive immediacy of a child. The film is full of shame, a shame that is easily mistaken for mere white guilt. But something even more desperate is at stake in Gray's conception of this story. White guilt can occur when you take the privilege of your race for granted. You handled it without thinking. You didn't deserve it, you didn't know you had to earn it. The shame in the heartarmageddon periodMore than that, it is the shame of an adult lost in memories of the past, who now sees all the flagrant evidence of a whiteness that had to be carved out of the misfortunes of others, in this case, boys like Johnny, who was never. I promised to begin with.
armageddon periodThe drama is simple on the surface. Paul gambles, gets into trouble, gets away with things he shouldn't do among the spectrum of parents who seem concerned about the recklessness of his children. They are trying to get a bright future out of this boy, which means, among other things, ending his dream of being an artist, sending him to a "better school" and turning him into a boy who carries a briefcase and combs his hair back. The film is many things, but most intense is a dive into the racial upbringing of a Jewish teenager. Working somewhat autobiographically, Gray understands what Paul doesn't. He knows how things will end when Johnny loses his place to live and Paul, who simply wants to help a friend, lets him stay in the shed behind his house without telling his parents, leading to one of the scariest scenes. of the movie. . And he knows what happens when Paul is sent to an essentially all-white private school (yes).Becausehow white the school is) from parents who could also plausibly say they don't have a racist streak in their body.
Here is a mixture of the obvious and the nonsensical, the sentimental and the nonsensical. No one can miss the irony of Paul and his new colleagues as they sit down to give a lecture on the success of powerful people who call themselves Trump. But the real point of this scene is to alert us to all the ways that the noxiousness of this political logic was incredibly attractive to certain people at one point. Even demanding.armageddon periodit deals precisely with these ruptures, with these decisions. The decisions that a Jewish family makes because they feel they have to; the people who are left behind when they do.
This is not Gray's first study of white ethnicity in New York.little odessa(1994) is set in Brighton Beach;playgroundssin Bronx;the immigrantHe took us to Ellis Island. Gray was born in Flushing. It can be sentimental, which is the danger of classically designed melodrama. And he's no stranger to the risk of nostalgic feelings. Family is one of the strongest anchors in Gray's films. The same is true here, not only because the ideas of the film are incredibly personal to the director, but also because of his actors. Much has been said of Jeremy Strong as a strict father whose severity serves a purpose: he is born out of fear but also, given the film's ideas, the aching despair of a stranger. Hathaway is also good and compelling as a father whose toughest decisions don't have absolutely sure answers. Hopkins shines like a grandfather who always has a twinkle in his eye, a man capable of loving anything despite a world wanting to erase that love.
But the lead role here belongs to Jaylin Webb in a role that has been criticized for being too spare, a criticism that's not unfounded, but one that risks confusing screen time for depth and not doing enough to reflect on. how much of the depth of a role belongs to the actor and not to the script. The stark and uncomfortable fact is that neither Johnny nor Paul are white and privileged enough because they are black and Jewish. They both feel it. The person has the ability to do something about it; the other becomes collateral damage, punished for making a friend. What's moving about Webb's performance is that his Johnny is a kid tired enough to know what's going on, but kid enough to act naive. He does things he "shouldn't do," not because they're terribly wrong, but because the stakes aren't the same for him as they are for a guy like Paul. The movie makes you wish Johnny lived in a world that gives him the right to make mistakes.
armageddon periodit works because it hurts, not in spite of the pain. The shame behind the camera is hyper-present. It's unsettling how firmly the film unfolds, playing out a well-crafted and fully conceived family drama, right up to its final act, where its politics become inevitable and the pain of identity becomes apparent. Privilege, as this film explores, is really about leverage. People have denied that leverage will only keep you more in control if you try.armageddon periodIt's not a movie about good or bad people. It's more impactful because it's more mundane: it's a movie about people. It does not justify people's choices. But you know you can't change them.