Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time ★★★★½

Expectation enacts a violence on children that only draws more spiritual blood when suffered with blows dealt from the weapon of privilege. 

James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” has one of the most unexpected jump scares in cinema this season; a sudden appearance by Fred Trump, father of the one-day U.S President. Taking the podium at a prestigious prep school, he gives a speech assuring its khaki uniform-wearing prodigies of power that they will one day run the world. Like the long prophesied Armageddon, he foretells of a fate that we brought upon ourselves. 

Gray’s Queens-set coming of age drama begins in a familiar family setup that wouldn’t be uncommon to works of Neil Simon. Based on Grey’s own 80s-era childhood, the director moves with grace between a retrospective sentimentality that is at turns sorrowful, or sweetly nostalgic. The foundational moments of growing up are captured with elan by Gray; loss of grandparents, school rebellion, and the sacred bond of best friendship. 

But beneath these conventions, however tenderly they are filmed by Gray, is an undercurrent that makes “Armageddon” not just a period piece, but a political one that carries forward to times past its own. That is, a particularly American commentary on the preciousness of privilege. “Armageddon,” appropriate to its title, revolves around loss. With every part that is taken away from us; be it person, object or opportunity, there is an instinct to horde those that remain with even more desperate greed. 

And eventually, this accumulation of material and immaterial protections against forfeiture becomes wealth. And with it, the expectation that the greatest hedge of all, one’s children, will continue to guard and grow its sum. But, a child is not so easily shifted around as one’s financial assets. 

Where the most iconic work of cinematic childhood, François Truffaut’s “400 Blows,” centers around a rebellious boy who suffers from a lack of subsistence and love, “Armageddon” makes for a fascinating counterpoint. When, youthful rebellion is not a necessity sought out of class-derived desperation, but instead, purchased, with knowledge that it is impermanent, erasable, and therefore permissible. 

But a child of privilege is still that, a child, and sees assets mainly in the immediate calculation of what they can buy now, or get them out of, now. To the often violent repercussions wrought by their parents, they do not plan for the future.

Children of a certain means have no expectation except for — the meeting of their expectations. And this, becomes the psychological labor that they will carry; the ever expanding and weighty load of their parents’ materialism. It is what, over the course of their growing up, will keep their heads forced downwards, unable to see the Armageddon that is impending.

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