Man’s journey to the moon is a well documented, well told story that, even if we don’t know all the specifics, lives in the human consciousness to some degree. Therefore, it is only fitting that the reunited pair of director Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling in the role of Neil Armstrong examine the inner rather than outer space.
This is not a film solely depicting the journey to the moon but a film that examines the man that went there while also telling the story we know so well.
Dealing with the loss of their young daughter the Armstrong family are in unchartered territory. The grief, stress and strain this event puts on family life is clear and Neil suppresses his emotions, shuts himself off from those closest to him and throws himself into work and the mission in hand. Despite the best efforts of his wife Janet (Claire Foy) no contact can be made with him and he continues to push her away with no sign of breakthrough coming. A heavy handed, over used shaky cam aesthetic to family life tells its own blatantly obvious story. There is turbulence within the four walls of home, an inescapable turbulence that threatens to blow this family far off course.
In the background the space race journey progresses and the Armstrongs face further troubling incidents of loss as colleagues are perish in test runs and early incarnations of the planned voyage. This places further strain and tension on the family (the shaky cam gets a little intense in these moments) causing the inevitable eruption of emotion on the eve of the expedition as Neil sits at the dinner table, unable to suitably answer his children’s concerns without sounding as if he is at a NASA press junket rather than the reassuring father they need.
Given the history, the film lacks a little tension as the climax is never in doubt. This sadly meant that there were several points when it was a struggle for First Man to maintain my interest. Yet, when that first foot of Neil Armstrong’s touched down on that dusty grey surface I found myself lost again in wonder. A moment that made me consider how that must have felt, the texture, the magnitude and what emotions he experienced rushing through him as he looked back toward home from that incredible distance.
Not knowing everything that may be out there, and unable to fully comprehend the scale of that infinite darkness I found a sense of awe return. to me A feeling I’ve not experience for a significant period of time. No air, no sound and yet a sense of something greater, larger, beyond our understanding.
First Man may not have thrilled me throughout ,but in that moment of wonder I couldn’t help but feel a lost connection partially restored, something bigger, something beyond my understanding, something perhaps of the Divine.