“First Man’ shows audience bravery of Apollo astronaut

firstman

by Ryan Hsu

photo courtesy of imdb.com

“First  Man,” is  a biographical  drama about the  mission of Neil Armstrong  during the Apollo 11 lunar  mission of 1969.

The film opened  in 1961 when Neil Armstrong, desperately  distracted to save his daughter Karen from  brain tumor, is grounded for almost crashing  a X-15 test rocket he was piloting. Grief stricken  after his daughter’s death, Armstrong applied to the NASA’s  highly publicized Project Gemini to be trained as an astronaut  for space mission which the US was determined to win against the  Soviets, who was ahead of the space race during the early years of  the Cold War. 

After surviving numerous dangerous test missions that killed  many other astronaut trainees, Armstrong prevails and is selected to command  Apollo 11, a crucial mission designed to not only defeat the Russians, but also  to be mankind’s first lunar landing. Though outwardly calm, the trial and tribulation  of Armstrong’s advancing career is a heavy toll on his young son and suffering wife Janet,  played by Claire Foy. After dismally confronting his family about the possibility that he may  not return from the mission, Armstrong and his crew launched from Earth and made the harrowing landing  on the moon and was able to confront his suppressed guilt and loss against the omnipotent void of space.  

While comparison with reality based space film such as “Apollo 13” and “The Right Stuff”is inevitable, “First Man” managed to distinguish itself by the filmmaker’s exploring the almost improbable low-tech nature of the early  space travel program. It also uses a combination of different film stock footage that convey an almost documentary  approach to life on earth, where the audience is shown, in meticulous detail, the space vehicles from that period and  how insane it was for any astronaut to navigate what is essentially a “tin can” in a relentlessly hostile space environment.   

Upon reaching the moon, however, the film switched to the high-definition format images, which is so amazingly sharp that the audience  is compelled into acknowledging just how insignificant we really are next to the unimaginable vastness that is outer space.

Deviating from  other prominent space films is also the filmmaker’s focus on the personal lives of the main character instead of the hardware or the spectacle  of the mission. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong as an emotionally crippled man who, despite a lifetime of extreme self- discipline and reliance  on logic over feeling, finally learned to come to terms with guilt, loss and grief.

He is assisted by a terrific cast that not only made a bygone  period of America come to life, but also helped rediscover the heroic significance of the American space program in human history. The epic space drama  is directed by Damien Chazelle, an Oscar winning director, and produced by Steven Spielberg. It was released Oct. 12 by Universal Pictures in multiple screen  formats.

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