“First Man” is a 2018 biographical American film telling the story of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling). Directed by Damien Chazelle, written by Josh Singer and based on the book “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” the film follows the years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969. It explores the sacrifices, the struggles, and the story behind Armstrong’s accomplishment in his first-person account.
From Neil’s life as a father, an astronaut and a pioneer for the future of mankind to the intensity of the Gemini launch, “First Man” does an incredible job highlighting and capturing the moments of Armstrong’s life. With its riveting, thrilling opening scene, the audience is immediately hooked. Opposed to Chazelle’s previous work on “La La Land,” with flowing camera movements and smooth cuts, “First Man’s” cinematography, shaky camera and spinning gauges showcases Chazelle’s talent of unique filmography. It almost induces motion-sickness when thinking about it. Justin Hurwitz’s music score also definitely delivers an extra filter of intensity and tranquility.
The film is two and a half hours, yet the moments are so well-connected and paced that it keeps constant attention. It opens with Armstrong’s struggle with his daughter’s tumor, bent over pages of calculations and options. The film isn’t just about the scientific challenge, but it is an intimate, human experience. Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong brings new color to his typical stoic characters. Armstrong is shown as a man of little words. His emotions over his tragic losses are repressed, yet apparent to the audience. At its heart, the film is about the sacrifices, the deaths, and the overcoming of loss.
In the moments leading up to the final moon landing, Chazelle captures the growth of the Gemini program, the relationships formed, and a sense of realism with clips of John F. Kennedy in his famous “Moon Speech” of 1962 or the old-timey videos about space exploration as exposition. The actual moon landing, featuring Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Armstrong, opens up the IMAX screen through its silence, the looming shadows casted from the ship, and the gray craters of the moon. The controversy over the lack of a scene of the flag being planted on the moon seems redundant, as the film is almost over laden with American flags and patriotism.
With such a large budget of 50 million dollars, we could imagine a film full of advanced technology, but constant shots out of a small glass window, blinking alarms, and haywire altimeters bring us back to the reality that the film takes place in the 1960s. “First Man” draws us into the cockpit. Behind the eyes of Armstrong, we experience grief, fear, calm, exhilaration, and acceptance. Overall, it is an interesting biopic on a well-known story, highlighting an intimate, human connection with the first man to ever walk on the moon.