First Man
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First Man

Human beings have been taking steps to record details of effects that pertain to them to the crucial events important to their society, recording these events. As technology advanced from crude paints on remote cave walls through newspapers, radio and news reels shown between movies, each step forward in the march of technological advancement made remembrance more personal with each generation. By the time we of the Baby Boomers was in ascendency, historical events were routinely broadcast on television. As a child I watch as the epitome of journalism, Walter Cronkite, broke down crying as he announced the assassination of President. Barely a half dozen years later we watched that big, centralized piece of family furniture, the television set, broadcast the second occurrence of this stoic man overwhelmed by sheer emotion. It was on July 20, 1969 as he announced American astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and mission commander, Neil Armstrong, exited their Lunar Excursion Module and became the first human beings to walk upon the surface of the moon. I sat on the living room floor transfixed by shadowy images broadcast live from almost 240 million miles away. As I watched my hands clutched the plastic model of the rocket. Command module orbiting the moon and the Lunar Excursion Model siting on the lunar surface. As an American Astronaut left the first human foot print on the dusty lunar surface. Mr. that live, news broadcast permitted half a billion people to watch silent in awe as one of the critical events in human history became forever etched in our memories. We were the generation that was first to experience current events through the intimacy of television. We watched the crew of Apollo 11 as they walked to the gentry, fixed Io the screen until some days latter as they were shown emerging to the deck of the Navy ship once again safe on Earth. Because of this any film concerned with such events affects our generation more deeply than subsequent generations. An example can be found in the recent biopic, ‘First Man’, the life of Neil Armstrong.

Ryan Gosling embodied the subject of this biography, Neil Armstrong. A gentle determination pervades Mr. Gosling’s performance that is noticeable from the very first scene. Armstrong was close to being deified, particularly with us Baby Boomers. After all, he was a man who would be immortalized in subsequent history books, and we felt we knew him. Mr. Gosling displayed a different perspective. Armstrong was a natural pilot, albeit one that naturally man mistakes. Considering he was a well-regarded test pilot, routinely pushing the envelope of the nascent space program. He is initially introduced during a test flight of the X-15 rocket plane. Armstrong flew experiment craft to the very edge of space and skipped off the atmosphere careening into the void. Through sheer force of will he fought the loss of consciousness, regained control and safely landed. On the ground he is confirmed that he had several other incidents and was perilously c lose to being grounded. Two factors are woven into the story, not as excuses but as mitigation. First, the nature of his profession is to take risks in very complicated experiments of the bleeding edge of technology. The unexpected inevitably happens due to the machine and the human pilot. What matters is that Armstrong retained his composure, subdued every instinct of facing a horrible death and call on his resourcefulness, ingenuity and experience to face and overcome the situation. On a deeply person level, his thoughts were on His two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Karen, is undergoing treatment for an ultimately fatal brain tumor. Marriage to a test pilot is always subjected tp extreme pressure from the ever-present specter of death but this illness greatly affected his wife, Janet (Clair Foy). Ms. Foy delivers an emotional tour de force as the young woman as she is caught up in her husband’s growing target of media interest it might not be politically correct to depict cigarette use but Janet was portrayed as coping with street=ss quietly by having a smoke. This might appear to be a picayune detail, but it demonstrates the highly relatable style employed by director Damien Chazellem. He recently took home the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing for ‘La-La Land’. His detail driven approach to stabling the narrative and projecting it forward id a style of film making that is exceptionally effective in drawing in the audience. If not precisely executed, the film will implode superfluous exposition. Fortunately, Mr. Chazellem is a grand master of the technique.

Undoubtedly the central story follows Armstrong as he moves on from test pilot to a member of the ‘Next Nine’. These were the men selected to follow the original Mercury Seven astronauts to fly the next step towards the moon, Gemini. Once again Armstrong is faced with potential disasters relying on sheer force of his conviction to succeed. This is highlighted in a scene depicting a malfunction during the first attempt to dock the Gemini craft, join up in orbit with an unmanned craft, the connected capsule begins to spin out spin out of control threatening the astronauts with a loss of consciousness and ultimately death. Again, Armstrong perseveres and saves the mission. Death is a constant companion for the astronauts and their wives, it strikes close to home for Neil and Janet when another member of the Nine dies. Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Armstrong quickly became close friends during the initial stages of selection. All the astronauts and their families resided in a suburban community together bonding as a tight knit group. During a routine test of the Apollo 1 craft on February 21, 1967, a fire ravaged the craft killing Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom (), Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger Chaffee (Cory Michael Smith). In the aftermath the grief was devastating for everyone compounded by the government debating whether to end the program. The filmmaker seems to gloss over such important events, but this decision proved to be wise as it ensured the narrative remained on course, true to the main objective.

Certainly, there are flaws in this production but after all, life is defined by such imperfections. It appears that the filmmaker set out to tell the story of a man’s life, minimizing the near deification understandably associated with achieving such a unique and monumental milestone for humanity. The narrative is primarily related from Neil’s perspective which does, unfortunately, concentrates on the mission at the expense of his family. Neil and Janet did ultimately divorce, sadly not uncommon within this profession. Mr. Gosling and Ms. Foy provide extraordinary performances in depicting their respective characters honestly with an emotional impact and fidelity uncommon in a Hollywood biography.

Posted   03/23/2019

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