First. Rarely do we remember who was second to anything. Super Bowl winners are often remembered, but the team that lost in the Super Bowl? We all know Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but few know Larry Doby was the second (he was, look it up). In the film First Man, we see life unfold through the first to walk on the surface of the moon.
Most people are aware that Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) was the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. But what made Armstrong tick? What were his motivations? What drove him? Who really was Neil Armstrong? This new film from director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) will attempt to give us a deeper understanding of a fascinating yet flawed man who was part of one of the most iconic moments in history.
In the film we get obvious glimpses of the space program, the enormity of everything surrounding the task of going to the moon and the geopolitical environment of the day. But this is more than a standard-issue film about going to the moon — this is a personal film about the man who took that first step.
Armstrong faced tragedy early in his career, a tragedy that almost derailed him on a very personal level. But his support system led by his wife Janet (Claire Foy) was there to keep him going. Despite not being able to open up about his personal issue, he was able to be a brilliant addition to the team working on the Gemini project. Setbacks and tragedy would be a regular occurrence for Armstrong along the way, but he kept focused on the task at hand of eventually heading to the moon.
The NASA community was tight-knit — probably still is — and those involved were all in on the equation. The entire family unit was needed to make these missions successful both in front of and behind the cameras. And they faced the challenges together.
Such a strong performance is delivered here by Gosling. He encompasses the layered depth of the iconic American figure. His ability to deliver moods in the variety of sequences is truly special.
Chazelle’s visuals and sound (or lack thereof) are what brings the story together. He creates a film that makes viewers feel like they are a part of every success and every failure along the way. His use of sound to enhance a situation is absolute mastery. Through the rumble of an engine taking off, to a car speeding away, to the total silence that envelopes the theater at moments, this film begs to be seen on the biggest screen with the best sound system you can find.
Will we ever witness a moment this iconic in our future? Maybe a person setting foot on Mars? Maybe a cure for cancer? But, most likely, nothing as uniting and weighty as the first man on the moon will occur in my lifetime, or many lifetimes for that matter. To be first is an amazing achievement, but the man or woman that goes first also has a story that makes them who they become. Be the first, break new ground, and use your successes and failures to get there and motivate you for tomorrow.
First Man is available On Demand and DVD beginning Jan. 22. Check your cable system for availability