At one point, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is asked by his senior about the cost of this operation. Neil quickly snaps back ‘Isn’t it too late to ask this question?’ The film makers also decided not to show the US flag on the moon. The Donald didn’t like but this is where really stands out. The first man wins by projecting human beings as vulnerable beyond the idea of super heroism and nationalism.
It is a story of heroism alright but the struggle is internal as much as it is external. Neil Armstrong is struggling with the loss of her young daughter. While, at work, life is like a pressure cooker because the Soviets are leaving the Americans behind. The goal is not to reach the moon, rather it is all about reaching the moon before the Soviets. The cost at least initially seems immaterial, whether in form of money or human lives. We see human connections made during training of these astronauts but most are cut short as human lives are scarified to achieve this mission.
While Neil believes in introspection, his wife Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy) brings real emotion to screen. Neils tries to avoid the inevitable question. Will he return back to Earth alive? But Janet forces him to look into potential problem, head on in that emotive scene where he talks to his children one last time before he goes away. It’s stirring because it has been built up so well. Make no mistake, like the actual mission this movie was a slow grind but an enjoyable one at the same time.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren deserves a lot of credit for it too. He creates imagery which takes one through that actual experience. The confined spaces in those high tech machines of the time forces us to question if this experience was really necessary. He focuses on the eyes of Neil, so as to asking us if he is doing this for national duty or just to get away from the Earth which reminds him of his lost daughter. There are multiple shots of Gosling just being there and nothing much happens. It’s to establish the internal fighting of the man.
The film is not about how heroic these men were (even though they were). It isn’t about national pride either. The film focuses on human emotions. How a man who took the responsibility of being the leader of mankind, was so broken within. How this achievement impacted on the man himself, taking us through this audacious journey. Enjoy the slow burner, and it will leave a lasting impact on you.