A new film set in 1980s New York in which Donald Trump’s property mogul father Fred and high-achieving lawyer sister Maryanne appear as characters is a direct attack on late-stage capitalism, according to its cast and lead director.
Armageddon Time, which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival and stars Succession’s Jeremy Strong alongside Oscar winner Jessica Chastain as Maryanne Trump in a cameo, is set during the lead up to the election of Ronald Reagan for president and examines the layers of privilege that determine the future of children attending different schools in the same city.
Its writer-director, James Gray, said: “I think we have serious problems. The story is very complex, but there are inflection points every few years and this moment in the 1980s was one of them.
“These private school kids are going to run it all and they know it,” Gray said. “There is something ossified in a system that keeps the same people at the top. Why don’t we look at this system that requires a level of oppression to work? I was trying to show the layers of this system and this idea of privilege.
Strong, who plays aspiring global mogul Kendall Roy in Succession, said it was possible to “find the genome” of “terminal decadence in the United States” in the film.
“You can find a thread connecting those two worlds,” said the actor, who plays a version of Gray’s angry working-class father in Armageddon Time. “Succession didn’t exist for me when I was in the world of this film, but it’s true that the fault lines that we see beginning to crack in this story widened and became the divides political and social that we see now.”
While Armageddon Time focuses primarily on the hopes of members of a struggling Jewish family, the larger story depicts the period in American politics that Gray says led to racism, inequality and muddled morality. of today.
The director was 12 years old when he shot his film. As a fan of Muhammad Ali and the Beatles, Reagan’s election in 1980 coincided with Ali’s in-ring loss to Leon Spinks, the assassination of John Lennon in Manhattan, and the renewed threat of nuclear conflict. . The rise of free-market dominance, coupled with the end of the adventurous “new Hollywood” movies that Gray adores, hasn’t helped either, he said.
“How did we get here?” wondered the director. “With everything owned by two people and a bunch of bosses trying to take over the planet? Kids today don’t even understand the term ‘sold out’, they think it just means that there are no more tickets.
He lamented the importance of film franchises in the entertainment industry and spoke of the enduring influence of white privilege in America, although he said he wrote the screenplay for Armageddon Time before George Floyd’s death and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Young actor Jaylin Webb plays a poor black schoolboy in the film, a destitute character to turn to when faced with prejudice and disadvantage. “Fortunately, I never got to experience what Johnny went through growing up,” he said.
Anne Hathaway, who plays Esther Graff, a character based on Gray’s own mother, said she was inspired by the warmth of her own late stepmother when creating her portrayal.
“Who wouldn’t be honored to play a Jewish mother? said the actor, holding back his tears. “My husband is Jewish. We talked about what it would mean for our family to take on this role.
Gray said an old friend recently advised him not to read the papers or watch the news if he wanted to improve his mood, but said that was not an option for him.
“Things weigh on me,” he says, “but if you’re a creative person, you can’t separate yourself from the world. I have no idea how to solve inequality issues, so you have to present it to the public. I don’t think it’s my job to get an answer. As artists, we are here to ask questions.