When we observe the greatest achievements in human history, it is very easy to forget the human side of things. For historical events, cinema offers a way to bring history to life, a way to convey profound emotions and underscore the human side of man’s greatest achievements. First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. Together they tell the story of our journey, his journey, to the moon. The film is an adaptation of First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film is a personal experience and brings audiences into the atmosphere of a man contending with the weight of what is to come, while also sending audiences into an astounding, and even frightening experience, of NASA’s early ventures into space.
Landing on the moon seems like a forgone idea in today’s America. Racism, bigotry, and a plethora of phobias overwhelm our media, which has tainted the soul of most Americans. But there was a time where America built rockets . In the heat of the arms race with America’s space program took ballistic missile designed for nuclear destruction and re-tooled them for space exploration.
From visuals to sound and historical accuracy First Man is absolutely stunning. It provides one of the best visual experiences of the year. Audiences don’t just see rockets launch, they feel it. This is aided by the fact that First Man gives a raw depiction of spaceflight. History has depicted spaceflight as an easy-going experience when the reality of spaceflight is chaotic, uncomfortable, and of course, immeasurably dangerous.
The scenes in which rocketry and space flight take place are some of the best moments I have seen in cinema this year, capturing the beauty and sheer violence of space flight perfectly. Audiences feel the claustrophobic will feel inside these space vehicles, The launches are filled with a plethora of terrifying sound effects that highlight the danger of flight. Despite the overwhelming audio and visual sensation, there is a sense of clarity. I could easily determine what was happening, which is no small feat for
a film such as this. In particular the film’s depiction of the Gemini 8 mission, which was a critical mission for NASA in preparation for the moon, but also, a mission that nearly ended the dream of making it to the moon. This mission is tackled with great accuracy half-way through the film. Initially successful, the docking mission turned into a fight for survival as the Gemini capsule that Neil was piloting tumbled out of control, spinning at 1 revolution per second.
Of course, there are moments of serenity, peace, and beauty, especially when the movie inevitably makes it’s way to the Moon. The audio direction is also sharp, particularly during the space missions, and one particular instance in a White House meeting, when Neil receives a grave phone call. Simply put, First Man is an experience that has to be seen. While I saw First Man in a regular theater, I would highly encourage movie-goers to see it in IMAX if possible. Ultimately, it’s a film experience unlike any other I have seen since Gravity in 2013.
As mentioned before, there is a human story at work here and First Man sets aside just enough time to delve into the inner workings of
Between riding rockets and undergoing back-breaking tests, Neil had a family to tend to. Gosling captures the fragility and determination within Armstrong. There is an emotional weight that breaks, but when that happens, Neil focuses on the mission. It becomes evident that the moon is not just a place or a goal, but a form of emotional control. What that is is something I’ll let the viewer see for themselves.
Gosling is accompanied by a solid supporting cast, including Jason Clark, as Ed White, and Claire Foy as his wife, Janet Shearon.
Foy portrays the emotional weight of being married to a man with a dangerous job. She challenges Neil to not run away from being a father and to not forget his human side. At times, Neil beings squarely focusing on the mission, and Janet, brings Neil back to his senses. Clarke’s character, Ed White, was the 1st American to walk in space. While in a secondary role, he gives more dimension to the human sacrifice and wisdom to the purpose of why they do what they do. The rest of the supporting cast does a solid job, giving more insight into the humanity of First Man.
There has been some controversy about First Man being non-patriotic with the removal of an iconic moment during Apollo 11, but rest assured, the movie comes to life.
First Man is one of the finest movies I have seen this year. Its presentation is spot-on, it’s direction is authentic, and the chemistry is heartfelt. This is a movie that challenges the viewer to recognize human sacrifice in space exploration and to reach for the stars.
Rating: 4/5 rocketmen