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James Gray Discusses Audience Reactions To Armageddon Time

Writer/director James Gray has naturally covered autobiographical territory in his films before. His debut film, "Little Odessa," was about Russian Jews living in a New York neighborhood, much like Gray, though, unlike some characters, he was never a cold-blooded contract killer (via Filmmaker Magazine). "Two Lovers" similarly took place around a New York City resident, Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), under pressure from his immigrant parents to get married.

However, his new film "Armageddon Time" appears to be more directly based on the filmmaker's own youth growing up in Queens than his other movies (via Deadline). "Armageddon Time" centers on Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), a 12-year-old struggling with ADHD, who is sent to a private school known as a haven for racism. Gray did joke that Repeta, unlike him at 12, wasn't an "ugly kid" like he claimed to have been while growing up. "I know, but that's the movies, a beautiful version of yourself," he explained.

Here's what Gray had to say about the strong audience reactions to the movie.

James Gray is ambivalent about viewers not liking Paul

In an interview on the Spotify podcast "The Big Picture," director James Gray had some thoughts about the reactions to "Armageddon Time," especially on how several audience members seem to dislike the character of Paul, who is basically a fictionalized version of Gray during his boyhood years. 

"People have told me very directly how much of a jerk the kid can be at times, and I like that, but I also hate that," Gray explained at the 46-minute mark of the podcast episode. "Who wants to hear that about him, her, or themselves?"

Making a film with autobiographical elements can be more challenging because the artist is putting themselves even further out there. At around the 50-minute mark, the filmmaker mused, "If they hate the movie, they hate part of you. Who wants to be hated? And yet, this is the choice you have to make if you want to make movies that are personal or ugly in some ways."

Ultimately creating a film or a work of art directly about yourself involves revealing more of yourself than you might want to. "It's not my job to show you the best of me," Gray said. "I try to reveal what I'm uncomfortable with. I feel like that's my function, that's my job."