PG-13 for mild language and people dying. The space program is full of people dying in horrible ways. People attach themselves to explosives and then get rocketed to an area completely inhospitable to human life. People are going to die. Then, the people who know the people who died get mad and say mean words to each other. These words are interchangeable as expletives and the cycle of life continues. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle
Can we stop having controversies over stupid things? Honestly, I know we're entering Starbucks holiday cup season. But if someone is going to be controversial, can it be over something actually real? I just found out about the controversy this morning when I told someone "I saw First Man yesterday." I'm not an expert on it, but from what I hear, it's pretty dumb. I know. I'm not doing my due diligence, but I refuse to read up on that right now. I'm not going to be talking about the controversy outside of this opening paragraph. I'm going to analyze the movie from an entirely cinematic perspective and hope that covers whatever I need to say.
Okay, I lied. It's called a "jump cut." The American flag is still on the moon. No, we don't see Armstrong put it up because having the flag up shows that time has passed. It's more artistic and finessed than straight up saying "Seven hours later" or whatever they'd do. Don't be horrible. It's so much better this way. No one is making a political statement. You are all the worst. I don't even know why I do this anymore. I am actually getting stressed out by my film blog and I don't even care anymore. These are the moments...these are the moments! When I die ten years early, it's because a controversy obsessed culture wants to nitpick stupid moments instead of appreciating the grand gesture of making a movie about the first man on the moon and how he beat the Russians to the moon. This right here is my mental breakdown. AHHH!
First Man is fine. I was jazzed (pun intended) to see another movie from Damien Chazelle. It also stars Ryan Gosling. I've seen two movies from this guy: La La Land and Whiplash. La La Land and Whiplash are all about jazz. I know that First Man is about space and a true story, but I thought that somehow it was going to be a story about how Neil Armstrong really liked tenor sax or something. It's not that at all. What I love about Chazelle is that he has a way of making you look at something that you thought you understood from another perspective. I know there are all these La La Land haters out there. Don't be a hater. Just like stuff, like me. (Unless it's you controversy turds. I don't like you.) You see, I was big into space as a kid. I loved space. I went to Space Camp twice and to Space Academy once. Oh, you don't know what Space Academy is? Space Academy is for the older kids who did Space Camp too many times. That's how much I loved space. I knew that I would never be an astronaut because I knew that I could never wrap my head around the science. But one of the things that Space Camp taught me is that a ton of astronauts pass out or throw up on the way into space. I thought, "Nah, I'd be fine." If nothing else, First Man explained to me why I would totally throw up and hate space more than anything in the world. While vomit is not the central theme or motif to First Man, it does definitely stress the type of personality who could become an astronaut. Thanks to First Man, I understand that outer space is built for people who don't mind things rattling intensely and aren't claustrophobic. There have been a million space movies out there. If anything, we've demystified space travel through biopics. But space movies are always about how majestic space is. First Man doesn't ignore that majesty, but takes that majesty as something to be earned. There is nothing easy about what Armstrong is doing. He's super smart and he's okay with everything potentially blowing up at any moment. Chazelle gets such points for making this clear. Every movie tells us that people shouldn't do this because they risk getting blowed up. But First Man shows me why things constantly should and do go wrong when it comes to space flights.
That's all great, but the core of First Man is actually along the lines of two central themes: man's coping mechanisms with family and death. The movie takes this really odd take that I'm not used to seeing. I'm watching Bojack Horseman right now. I'm on season two when Bojack is filming the biopic of Secretariat. The first version of the film demonizes Secretariat, showing all of his foibles. The second version of the film is happy-go-luck, inspiring people to be like Secretariat. I always wondered why we haven't gotten a Neil Armstrong focused biopic. It seems like a no-brainer, after all. But now I know why we haven't. Most people would view Neil Armstrong as just too regular to be the focus of a character driven narrative. I think Chazelle saw that as an opportunity. Heck, I'm right there with him because that's what I wanted to see out of Neil Armstrong. He's not a bad person, but he often has insecurities that damage his relationships with his family. There are times in this movie where Neil Armstrong is cruel. He's silent and removed from his family. His time with NASA sometimes comes across as suicidal behavior. He wants to run away from his problems and he holds the ones he loves at arms distance. Chazelle builds Gosling and Foy's relationship as something special. It is a marriage that suffers blows and damage. These impacts come from outside of themselves, like the death of their child or the loss of their friends. But it also comes from an emotionally broken Neil and a tired out Janet. But it's inspiring to see their marriage. A lot of times, I wanted to scream at the screen to appreciate his wife, but then I realized that I never lost a child to cancer. How would I handle it? How would my wife? I never knew that they lost a child so young. That would wreck most people, but they kept at it. I really like that. It's not a romance though. This is what marriage is. It's joking around with the kids and dealing with the funks that just don't make any sense. That's pretty nifty.
But then it also brings in the themes of death. This is the through line of the film. This movie reminded me of stuff that I completely forgot about from my time at Space Camp. The thing about experimentation is that it comes at a cost. Experimentation is dangerous, as proven by that great biblical epic, The Incredible Hulk. But then there's experimentation as a race. People are going to die. I mentioned that other movies say that, but this is Neil Armstrong reacting to those deaths. They are grounded and sad. We now get to see these people as friends. I feel somewhat ashamed that I didn't recognize some of the names of the people because First Man made me realize that statistics were real human beings. I know. It's been done before. Thanks a lot, Anne Frank (dark joke, but that's a truth!). But we intimately get to know the guys who died. They were close to Neil Armstrong. Think about how disheartening it must be the guy who supplants the guy who just died. That guy was your friend. You might also die. But you don't care that you die because people are constantly dying around you. How weird is it, too, that I'm watching a movie about a pretty famous story and I'm actually surprised that some characters die? I remember when Titanic came out and I was one of the dorks who joked about "spoiling the ending". I'm the worst and I remembered why I hate myself. But this movie honestly caught me off guard. I forgot that Gus Grissom died while in NASA. That's bananas to me. I heard that story and never put the one-to-one about how mundane his death actually was. This guy was an American hero and he died in an extremely frustrating way.
I love how this movie portrays the serenity of the moon. (Or the...Sea of Tranquility of the moon?) The movie is about chaos. Yeah, there's a lot of mundane. But everything about NASA is about parts rattling and things going wrong. Having Armstrong on the moon and transitioning into a steady cam is brilliant. A lot of this movie used shakey-cam, which is fine. But it is such a relaxing moment when it just...stops. This peaceful score runs throughout (which has more than a few hints of La La Land littering the movie) and that's fantastic. But it is Armstrong on the moon in his natural environment. I wanted the movie to be over because it is a smidge too long, but the moon was worth it. Also, I don't know if it was done for the sake of drama, but the landing was way more chaotic than I was ready for.
Also, if you didn't know that Armstrong was the first man on the moon, don't consider this a spoiler. Consider it a basic education (you controversy starved plebian)!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.