You don’t have to look far to find benefits in our society born from the American Space Program. NASA pushed and created technology to achieve goals as we carried out the directive of President John F. Kennedy. As a boy growing up, I was fascinated with the Apollo missions and many years later, thanks to diligent authors that penned biographies direct from the men who risked their lives, modern cinema has given us unique insight into things we never knew before.
Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 still stands as a monumental piece of historical film-making, despite a few dramatic liberties which were openly acknowledged.
The Right Stuff is another epic movie that reached into the roots of the men that paved the path to space by way of the sound barrier and the skies.
Hidden Figures gave us insight into the brilliant minds on the ground that made space flight possible and brought astronauts safe home.
First Man is the story about Neil Armstrong. We all know he was the first to walk on the moon, but the lunar landing is not the centerpiece of this film. You can’t tell the story without that historical event, but this film is about the man inside the suit. More importantly, it’s about the turmoil inside the man. Ryan Gosling tackles the job with a reserved style and in so doing, shows us a side of Armstrong few of us knew existed. History documents the lives claimed by the Apollo missions, but so little light has been directed at the impact it had on the remaining astronauts. Too often I feel, they were projected as stoic heroes that soldiered on no matter the danger. While part of that is true, were we afraid the know the human emotions they felt as a result? If anything, I find their resolve to carry on even more profound despite the risk.
Some movies and film turned the camera lens on the wives and the enormous burden of stress they withstood as their husbands fought the unforgiving conquest of space. Here, Claire Foy delivers a potent performance as Janet Armstrong, showing the multiple faces she had to wear in the recoil of her husbands wins and losses. The dynamic between the two leads is every inch believable as is the supporting cast of astronauts and wives. Their appearances might be short but not the first one comes off wooden or shallow.
As if the dangers of space flight weren’t enough, the film also showcases the turmoil of the era with the discontent over the Vietnam war and the protests of citizens opposing the space program in favor of the needs of the people here at home.
My only downside to the film is the cinematography, shot with what looks to be multiple hand-held cameras. I don’t understand the need for fuzzy background shots or multiple face-only close-ups for the sake of effect. I don’t see where it adds any drama or tension to what otherwise could be a compelling 50/50 shot. But all of that is artistic interpretation and does nothing to detract from the intimate, powerful story of a man who dealt with emotional pain outside of his control and channeled it into a determination to accomplish a lofty goal. Somewhere along the way, he found the chance to begin to heal his wounds and by the way, left his footprints on the glowing orb in the night sky we almost take for granted.
See this film, see it with your children, see it with your friends or see it with someone you love. Learn about a time when we reached for the Heavens, when we valued the act of discovery, when we looked at our world from a different perspective. Learn about a moment in history that should never be forgotten and remember the good we can accomplish when we try.
Godspeed Neil A. Armstrong!
-T. August Green