Tuesday, November 6, 2018

First Man (the Movie)

The story of the 1969 moon landing is a familiar one - if not for today's historically challenged students, then certainly at least for the generations that lived through it and experienced its excitement. I was 21 then and spent that Sunday afternoon at the beach at Far Rockaway with some friends. We were back on the "A" train and home just in time to watch the TV coverage of the actual touchdown ("The Eagle has landed") by the lunar module on the moon's surface. Later we watched as Neil Armstrong took his famous "one step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It is perhaps hard to explain the excitement space exploration had for my generation, but exciting it was - and not just because we were beating the Russians (although that too was important at the time).

First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle and based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, stars Ryan Gosling as a smart, moody Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy (The Crown’s Queen Elizabeth II) as his patient, loving wife, Janet. The film follows Armstrong’s story from 1961 through the years leading up to the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission, including the mishaps and tragedies along the way. Of course there have been other good astronaut movies before this - The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, for example - that have tapped into human drama and the feelings of the astronauts and their families, but this film excels, precisely in its slow and understated way. Armstrong appears no less a heroic figure for his personal losses and professional struggles in the decade that led up to his landing on the moon.

In an era notably lacking in any experience or even sense of common purpose, First Man takes us back to when we could still produce leaders who cared enough about being a country to inspire us to common purpose and when that purpose could still transform ordinary citizens into icons of national achievement.

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