First Man

19th October 2018

As a child of the sixties my formative years and some of my earliest childhood memories were of the NASA Apollo missions to the moon. In subsequent years I have read as widely as possible to bolster my childhood memories and consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable about the subject. 

So the release of First Man last week was a cause of much excitement and anticipation which was fulfilled last evening. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I need to say at the outset that if you are looking for a rollicking fast paced adventure about the moon landings this isn’t for you. The film, centered on the complex character of Neil Armstrong seeks to undestand a man who had fame thrust upon him. But that should in now way detract from what is one of the best films of the year and one of the best ver made about spaceflight.

The film did nothing to change my opinion of a man who I’ve never warmed to. As a child I struggled to identify with Armstrong and while not disliking him felt that other of his contemporaries; Lovell, Aldrin and Young would have been much worthier first men. Armstrong comes across as distant, cold, calculating and very self-centered in the film with his personality being seen through the prism of his wife’s eyes.

Armstrong was know to have had a strained relationship with Gus Grissom who was widely expected to have command the first moon landing until the fire that claimed his life along with Roger Chaffey and Ed White. The virtual absence of Grissom as a character in this film evidenced that distance between them. 

I was uneasy about the portrayal of Buzz Aldrin, another astronaut who probably didn’t have Armstrong on his Christmas present list. The Aldrin of the film is very different from the person we have come to know over the years and not in a favourable way but, as Buzz was apparently a consultant on the film we have to assume that he had no objectuon to the characterisation.

What the film does exceptionally well is bring home the dangers of spaceflight in the late 60s, the precarious nature of the technology and the unpleasantness of the conditions these men flew in. Several of the launch scenes are hard to watch as the noise and vibration of the procedure engulfs you for several minutes.

At the end we are left with Armstrong in quarantine after his return from the moon seeing his wife for the first time through the glass that separated his quarters from the outside world and unbale to show any real emotion at seeing Janet again.. I may be reading more into it than intended but it seemd to me that the concluding scenes served as a metaphor for the man’s life and his inability to express his emotions.

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