No matter what, somebody was going to go down in the history books as the first man to set foot on the moon. If it hadn’t been Neil Armstrong, it might have been Jim Lovell; if it hadn’t been an American, it would have been a Russian.
First Man makes the case that the man who actually went down in the history books was a man, if not the man, who cared more about the endeavor for its own sake than about who would go down in the history books.
But it also suggests that, no matter who wound up taking that first step on an alien world, that giant leap for mankind would also be one small step for a man no bigger on the inside than any of us.
Armstrong certainly had the right stuff, including the ability to stay cool in the face of an unfolding crisis that could have fatal consequences in seconds and figure out the right thing to do.
In one way that first footstep in the dust on the lunar surface represents all of humanity, and the U.S. flag planted by Armstrong (seen in a number of shots, belying the controversy over the omission of its actual planting) represents the nation that won this climatic chapter in the space race.
But it was not a paradigm or archetype who took that step or planted that flag. It was a fallible, wounded individual with personal baggage he couldn’t leave behind, even on a trip to the moon.
First Man is Damien Chazelle’s third film in a row about special individuals whose quest to achieve great things is linked to emotional isolation from others.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.