New Neil Armstrong biopic is slow, but gorgeously shot
During most of the viewing of “First Man”, I experienced mingled sensations of awe and boredom, but after the credits rolled, my perspective matured. When “First Man” first took off, the shots shook with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in space and when that scene faded, the next one opened to him at home. Originally, it comes across as too jarring of a contrast but in the sequential scenes, I grew less confused.
Even then, “First Man” felt like a drag but the longer I watched, the more that I understood what director Damien Chaelle meant to convey: Armstrong’s internal struggles with the scenes. The camera also captured many of Armstrong’s intimate moments with his family in both love and pain. Many of the opening scenes which showed Armstrong reading to his two-year daughter shot is repeated at least twice to reveal the emotional pain he suffers when we as an audience learn that she died from cancer.
As the film rolls on, we also understand why Armstrong remains silent for much of the screen time; he is dealing with depression. Losing Karen created a domino effect when many of the other pilots who experiment with the various transportation devices, speeds, and uncertain outcomes. Awareness snaps in the audience about human fragility when a fly buzzes around Armstrong while he is in his spacesuit.
The instant when Armstrong slaps the fly is when the audience connects that idea to the possibility that he might not survive if he decides he will follow his heart to the moon.
Speaking of heart, the other moment that pulls its strings is the two different times when Armstrong and Janet (Claire Foy) dance with each other at night. Janet puts on a record player and serene music floats into the air that consists of a chorus and evokes nostalgia you remember when you watch older movies like “Ben-Hur” or “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Then, as Janet pulls him closer to her, she asks, “Do you remember this?”
Janet stays strong for Armstrong but it is not easy for her when he is away risking his life for a flight to the moon. It becomes apparent how worried she is when he is one of the final astronauts chosen. Since she is close with wives who have lost their husbands during NASA’s experiments, she questions, along with the public, if the mission has been worth lives.
The moment intensifies when Armstrong sits down to have a serious talk with his son about the uncertainty of his return. His son extends his hand to Armstrong , the most famous man-to-man sign of honor and respect but fear also shines in the son’s eyes. It is a moment where the son understands what it means to stand next to your beliefs or dreams, regardless of what it might cost.
Honestly, I don’t know if I would ever watch “First Man” again, but I can appreciate the visuals that evoked empathy for Armstrong. As an audience, we glean a deeper sense of his struggles, not just the ones he had with his family but we take for granted how far we have advanced with technology since first landing on the moon.
We take for granted the chances we take and the consequences we face when we take another step towards human evolution.
Feature photo courtesy of the Associated Press.