When Neil Armstrong planted the American flag on the lunar surface in 1969, all eyes were on the stars and stripes. In First Man, director Damien Chazelle’s biopic of the astronaut (portrayed by Gosling), that iconic moment is notably absent.
Cutting the placing of the flag from the film is a strong statement, with Chazelle’s choice representing a move away from patriotism and glorification of the US in order to keep the focus on the individual and shine a light on what Armstrong and the other members of the Apollo 11 mission really were: lab rats in a science project. As we are introduced to the lives of the astronauts, we discover a life of private grief, turmoil and uncertainty, particularly for the wives and children involved. In one scene, Armstrong’s wife, Jan (Foy), insists he explain the risks of the journey to the moon to his children. A stolid Armstrong treats the subject like a press conference and does little to comfort his anguished family.
Visually, the film shifts between such gentle, soft-focus scenes of suburban life in the 1960s – moments that exude nostalgia – and sharp, jolting sequences in the spacecraft that should come with a warning for those prone to motion sickness, since they elicit a similar feeling of sensory overload, and are perhaps a reason to hold off watching this at IMAX. 4/5 stars. (Out now)