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How a melancholy moment in ‘Armageddon Time’ signals things to come

“In some ways, it’s one of the sadder scenes,” writer-director James Gray says of a heavy sequence between Grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) and his grandson Paul (Banks Repeta), who are attempting to launch a rocket in a New York City park. “Armageddon Time” is a personal story for Gray, an autobiographical melodrama exploring societal issues circa 1980s through the lens of an 11-year-old self. Intimate performances magnify the heartbreaking narrative, culminating in a melancholy farewell between grandfather and grandson. Layered in the unspoken dialogue and visual imagery is the subtext of mortality and the innocence of youth. The frame is filled with low hanging dark clouds, trees swaying in the wind. In the distance, decaying structures hint at the passing of time and how ephemeral life can seem. “We can tell the grandfather is not going to live very long, and maybe the boy doesn’t understand that, but we do,” Gray says. “It’s the idea that all of us in this world are playing a role and doing the best we can within those limitations. The boy is blind to the loss he will feel, but maybe that’s a good thing because it protects him in that moment. He can feel a genuine glee that the rocket has landed.”

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