On Wednesday night, I had the special treat of attending an early-release showing of “First Man,” Universal Studios’ film biography of Neil Armstrong directed by Damien Chazelle. Scheduled to be in theaters Oct. 12, 2018, the film’s reputation has preceded it due to the unexpected attention it received from President Trump earlier this month.

Getting settled into my seat, I expected what I assume many in the audience will — a movie about man in space.

“First Man” caught me off guard.

The plot follows the life of Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling. But the film is not really about him; it’s about the bravery, perseverance, and limitless potential not only of Americans, but of mankind.

Although the release date is still weeks away, “First Man” received publicity – and with it, controversy – when Trump shared his opposition to the film in early September. Based solely on the fact that the film does not include a scene showing Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon, the president asserted that the filmmakers must be “embarrassed at the achievement coming from America.” “I think it’s a terrible thing,” he added disdainfully.

This could not be further from the truth, both in the spirit and in the making of the film.

If we are to judge the film’s patriotism based on the number of times our nation’s emblem is featured (a ridiculous approach, but let’s play along), I look forward to watching the film again to count how many times the American flag or the words “United States of America” appear on screen – whether it be on the cast’s uniforms, on the aircraft, on the set’s infrastructure, and yes – on the moon. The number will not be insignificant.

No, “First Man” does not show the physical act of the flagpole piercing the lunar surface. But in no way does that detract from the film’s emphasis on America’s unprecedented achievement of getting man to the moon. The film, in its very essence, depicts an American story, but an American story that is cherished by all mankind.

Additionally, it should be noted that “First Man” was entirely filmed in America. Like the Apollo 11 Mission it set out to depict, the movie’s full cast, crew and all set locations were based in the United States. This is an anomaly when compared to other space-related movies produced in the last decade.

“First Man” is an anomaly in another sense as well: It does not use the adventurous nature of its subject as a crutch. It dives deeper than that, offering the audience a new perspective into the challenges that man overcame in order to take that first small step on the moon. It is not merely a celebration of the intellect and prowess required to accomplish such a feat, but an ode to man’s resilience of character.


Image credit: Aphelleon

Featured Publications