It’s safe to assume nearly every American knows the name Neil Armstrong and his famous words. What many do not know, however, is the man himself — and the turbulent ride that was his life and career.
In First Man, Damien Chazelle follows up his 2016 blockbuster La La Land, which explores love in Los Angeles, with another film examining a place with a similar mystique — outer space. Films about space exploration seem like common place recently, with Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian all receiving positive reviews. But to say this movie is just about space exploration would criminally undersell it.
Though its focus is the historic gain for NASA, First Man dives deep into loss. This underlying theme emerges early in the movie with the days leading up to the death of Armstrong’s young daughter, a topic that tragically reappears throughout the film. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, Janet Armstrong forces her husband to have the most difficult conversation of his life with his two boys.
“You’re gonna sit the boys down,” she says, “and you’re gonna prepare them for the fact that you might not ever come home.”
Audiences also watch controversy unfold as NASA is responsible for countless equipment failures and numerous lost lives, all while draining taxpayer money. Everyone, from members of Congress to Vietnam war protesters, is left asking if this is even worth it.
Ryan Gosling shines as the reserved Neil Armstrong. An actor who often shows more with silence than words, Gosling plays a intelligent man haunted by the past who refuses to let go of his ambition.
Despite Gosling’s strong performance, it’s Claire Foy as Janet who’s the true star of the show. Foy sheds her British accent for a Midwestern one, masterfully showing how conflicted her character must have been — supporting her partner while knowing his life is constantly in jeopardy.
The cinematography in First Man shows the benefits of working with a large studio like Universal Pictures, which has an essentially limitless budget. The special effects and space shots were effective, although not that different from anything seen in the past decade. One unique detail was the shots from Armstrong’s point of view, allowing you to watch from his eyes as his feet touch down onto the moon.
For younger viewers like myself who were unaware of how enormous of a spectacle the moon landing was, the film offers a glimpse inside this historical day. About 530 million people — a historic number for 1969 — watched on their television boxes as a fuzzy feed showed Neil Armstrong stepping down from the lunar module onto a completely unknown surface.
First Man delivers extraordinary insight into just how difficult it was to get to the moon, somehow bringing exigency to an event that occurred nearly 50 years ago. The film is in theaters on Oct. 12.