Film Review: “First Man” (2018) ★★★★


Any historic event that’s captured in a movie is always exciting. As a viewer, we are permitted to enter that intimate world to witness the outstanding achievement. Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon was one of the most unforgettable moments that took the breath away from every single individual who watched it live back then. But that mission was much more than about one man, about one country. It was bigger than the cause itself. Bigger than the loss of lives, more than just competing with the already strong and smart USSR or proving a point. It was to show the world that no matter how advanced we are, if there’s a lack of courage, we can pretty much accomplish nothing.

“First Man”, written by Josh Singer, directed by Damien Chazelle, and based on the book by James R. Hansen, explores the chronicle of events that begin with Neil Armstrong and his wife, Janet, losing their little Karen to cancer. Their grief is strong but in two different ways. All the way till the end, the presence of Karen will be felt throughout the movie, as one man continues looking up to the sky until the moment when he finds himself taking his first step on the moon, to become the first one ever – Neil Armstrong.

“We must fail now, so not to fail up there,” says Neil Armstrong angrily, and he was right. By the time when the world is prepared for the mission, four lives have already been lost. Protests are taking place all over the country. While the number of poor people is growing, NASA continues spending money on such an ambitious project which aimed to compete with the USSR. But in this movie, you never feel that. The fact that Neil Armstrong never puts the US Flag on the moon itself speaks volumes. While it may be widely criticised, I hope the viewer will notice the true reasoning Damien Chazelle wanted to point out.

“First Man” is not an average American movie about American Heroes. You will never see the scene where a bunch of emotional dudes gather in the mission control room to get ready to clap as soon as the right moment arrives. The director instead chooses a different approach and the right one too, where you will be left alone to watch how one mission fails after another, how much effort was made to make the mission successful, how NASA learned from mistakes, the sacrifices Neil Armstrong or his fellow astronauts made for the sake of science, because, that’s what it’s all about.

Ryan Gosling as the legendary Neil Armstrong is extremely moving and poignant. Despite Gosling being recognizable, he captures the internal life of Armstrong, shows his fear, tears, struggles, yet strong determination and bravery, leaving the Gosling we know away from the camera. But it’s the image of a grieving father and always-busy, never-home husband you will observe through Gosling’s impressive portrayal. The moment where Gosling’s Armstrong and Claire Foy’s Janet are sitting in the room after Armstrong’s return from the moon is this year’s most impactful scene. The connection the two actors shared during that moment was so delicate and subtle, you will find it difficult to take your eyes off it.

As for the perspective, Damien Chazelle delivers his version of the historic moment in a way no one will ever be able to achieve. The powerful score during the landing on the Moon is so penetrating and powerful that you will hate it when it’s over. Moreover, right from the start, you will feel the presence of Chazelle’s admiration, respect and that subtle love towards the most incredible piece he’s delivered to date. And not to mention how genuinely he cared about it, so much so, it seems that the movie almost cried throughout with tears of joy.

In conclusion, there’s a lot we must learn from “First Man” or how powerful a piece of work it was. But in the end, it explores the moment you won’t see in history movies – that no matter where we live or in what continent we reside, we should never surrender to greed and selfishness. This world belongs to all of us, and as we share the same land across the globe, we share the same accomplishment, success and victory even if we send just one person to conquer the Moon. And the moment when Neil Armstrong steps on to the Moon, he was not just an astronaut or an American but the first man that went from Earth, the only place we should consider as our common home.

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