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Home > Armageddon Time (2022): A Review

Armageddon Time (2022): A Review

Armageddon Time (2022): A Review

How the Coming-of-Age Drama Captures the Complexities of Growing Up Differently

Armageddon Time is a harsh yet beautiful coming-of-age film inspired by the director James Gray’s childhood. The film premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2022 to a standing ovation. Armageddon Time follows Paul Graff, played by Banks Repeta, in 1980 in Queens, New York on his first day of 6th grade at a public school. Paul is a dreamy and creative kid from a financially stable Jewish-American family who befriends Johnny, played by Jaylin Webb, a Black classmate who wants to work for NASA and has been held back a year. When Paul and Johnny goof off in class, it quickly becomes clear that Johnny is punished more for the same behaviors. Paul feels at odds with his family; however, he is close with his grandfather, played by Anthony Hopkins, who is the only one in the family who encourages his grandson’s ambitions to become an artist. 

Despite Anthony Hopkins’ character not receiving the most significant amount of screentime, the moments he shares with Paul are arguably some of the most important in the film. It is clear that Paul feels differently about his grandfather than the rest of his family, being able to confide in him in ways he doesn’t feel he can with anyone else. His grandfather imparts his wisdom on Paul in a way only those with mutual respect and care can.    

Authenticity 

Perhaps the greatest strength of Armageddon Time is its writing. The plot is well-distributed, even if drawn out at moments. It is clear James Gray also wrote and produced the project with subtle details and specifics reminding the audience the fictional story is based on the director’s lived experiences. The film doesn’t shy away from what New York City really was like at the time, subway graffiti and all. It is also worth noting that the film contains many references to art and pop culture of the time, most notably borrowing its title from the song “Armagideon Time,” which was covered by The Clash and featured as the B-side to their infamous “London Calling”. The song can be heard throughout the film as a subtle “if you know you know” reference.

Armageddon Time (2022): A Review

Complex Characters 

Every character in Armageddon Time felt well-casted, particularly Paul and Johnny. Their interactions throughout the film felt genuine and chaotic. Armageddon Time doesn’t force Paul and Johnny together, making the plot feel too constructed. Unlike many films centering a white protagonist with a black friend, Armageddon Time provides some space for Johnny’s story. He anchors to Paul as Child Protective Services come looking for him. Despite this, there are still key things about Johnny that are simply made known to the audience, such as his last name.

Anne Hatheway and Jeremy Strong as Esther and Irving Graff change in disciplining and educating their son. Paul, like many children of a certain level of privilege, believes his parents will take care of anything that might go wrong. Paul doesn’t realize that just because Esther is on the PTA, she doesn’t ultimately decide what happens to him. He has an unrealistic view on what his parents have control over. Paul undoubtedly feels pressure from his parents to stay “on track.” Paul is afraid of his parents, particularly his father, which becomes evident during an intense scene where he hides from him in the bathroom, leading to Irving knocking the door down and hitting him with a belt, leaving Paul hysterical. The acting in this scene by Strong and Repeta is captivating. 

Atmosphere and Reception

Armageddon Time is steeped in nostalgia, from the way it was shot to the references it makes. Even the poster reads “The End of An Era. The Beginning of Everything.” The film marks a new beginning in the life of Paul as he exits a big part of his childhood and innocence. 

Building tension is something that Armageddon Time does well. While the film is not a thriller, there are moments when Paul’s decisions change everything, leaving an on-the-edge feeling. There are moments of clear lessons, mainly from Paul’s parents and grandfather, however, they feel perfectly in place in the film. Never do the moments of lessons feel forced. James Gray acknowledged that while the film is considered a “box office failure,” only making six million dollars on a fifteen-million-dollar budget, this has become a trend in the film industry as a result of changing attitudes towards more artistic and avant-garde films. This phenomenon has been receiving more attention in recent years as the film industry reexamines what makes a film “successful.”

Final Thoughts

Armageddon Time is worth a watch, especially for those with memories of the Reagan years and childhood in the early 1980s. The beauty in the story, however, is the universality of growing up and inevitably coming to understand that the world isn’t “fair,” something Jeremy’s father utters in the film itself. Armageddon Time is both tender and extremely harsh, demonstrating some of the limitations of love and childhood friendship in the complex world we live in. It is difficult not to become emotionally invested in Paul’s life and trajectory. The film leaves the viewer with many questions, such as what has Paul learned from his time with Johnny, and will they ever meet again? As with many films centering around adolescence, it is common to want to see what becomes of the characters and the path they will chart in their adult life. However, without a sequel anywhere in sight, it doesn’t seem viewers will get that closure. Perhaps that is the way James Gray wants it. Growing up is messy, and we aren’t always supposed to know what happens next.

Armageddon Time (2022): A Review

Armageddon Time Official Focus Features Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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In addition to writing for Dead Talk News, Stella has also been published by The National Organization for Women, The Aurora Philosophy Institute, Phase Zero Magazine, and more. She has loved film since she was little, particularly old and obscure films. Stella currently attends The New School in New York City.