Damien Chazelle’s new biopic about Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon has exceeded my expectations for a film on one of history’s most renowned events. It’s an expedition of a movie that starts with Armstrong slipping through one of Earth’s outermost layers of atmosphere to take a look at the horizon between space and his home planet. That is, until he begins to lose control of his shaky aircraft before somehow managing to make it back to the earth’s surface safe and sound. It’s these first few minutes of the film in which you get a closeup look at what it’s really like being inside a vehicle as a test dummy in the early 1960s. Just a reminder: the Moon Landing happened in July of 1969, so we have a little less than a decade to cover in two and half hours. I found it interesting that they had decided to start in 1961, rather than the landing itself, but after watching it, I understand why.
I think after “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” I had expected something of a fast-paced, upbeat film, despite the underlying darker truth of what it really means to “achieve the dream.” This film is sort of a slow-build drama with high stakes and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s worth it in the end. The slow dance between Neil’s personal thoughts, his domestic life and his inner struggle with the job he signed up for sets the right tone for the man they were depicting. It was a constant back and forth getting to know Armstrong as a person, and then having the film show something or someone else when you started getting too close, as a sort of barrier. It was fitting for the type of man Neil seemed to be, which was very private and guarded, and not entirely warm even in his own home. I never knew too much about the famous astronaut, let alone that he had a daughter, and within the first thirty minutes you’re shown that he had a young daughter battling a brain tumor, and later lost her to it. The rest of the film shows him as a quiet man who doesn’t let anyone in too much; maybe it had a lot to do with losing his baby girl, or the fact that he had lost many people in his life, including other fellow astronauts along the way.
Regardless of the distance you feel between Neil, and the other characters, you get a very intimate look at characters’ individual personal lives and a better impression of what being an astronaut is really like—at least for the time. They switch from a 35mm to a 70mm as soon as they break through the atmosphere and get into outer space. It changes the way you see space and contrasts between the two. What really got to me was the terrifyingly loud and chaotic rumble of being in a shuttle on its way to the moon, with the speed and the lights and sounds. It changes your outlook on what it is like to be buckled into a spaceship, hoping to god you don’t die on your way up. Then suddenly, they’re in space. They’re weightless, and it’s completely silent and peaceful aside from their quiet exhales of relief—including your own.
We all know the story, at least most of us, and we know that these people made it out alive. The thing is, you don’t really know the costs it took to get there. NASA enlists a group of men to come on board for their plan to make it to the moon, to beat the Russians, and you know that. You know about the space race, you hear that Russians kept reaching these milestones, and beating the Americans to the punch, and the deeper into the movie you get, the faster your heart beats because you see how desperate NASA was getting. The Americans genuinely had a hard competitive nature, and they were willing to risk anything to put a man on the moon before the Soviets did, as fast as they could by whatever means necessary. So they test these ships, they create moon landing gear, they educate the men on the protocols, and prepare them with everything they could possibly need, but you see them inside these test shuttles, and you hear that it sounds like they’re in a tin can essentially, and you question NASA’s priorities. Three astronauts died in what should have been a simple test run.There was an electrical issue and they caught fire very quickly within the oxygen-filled chamber and they had no way out because there was no emergency latch. It’s shocking.
Neil commanded a spaceflight called Gemini 8 and was to test the docking of two spacecrafts.The docking was successful until they begin spiraling out of control. While Neil is communicating with mission control at home, his wife Janet Armstrong can hear everything that’s going wrong with the test. She rushes to the control center and argues with them for putting not only her husband’s but all the other astronaut’s lives in danger. They take risks. They try to make her understand that they have everything under control, and she says something along the lines of, “You’re just a bunch of boys playing with toys, you don’t have anything under control!” It’s then that you realize she’s right. They’re risking everything for the chance to beat another nation at what seems like a game.
You know, you always think, “Man, it must be scary flying out to space, but how cool.” At least, I did, and then you just don’t understand what it’s really like, until now. This film provides a very good look at what it feels and sounds like. You finally get to understand the actual fear of the unknown. We as viewers know the story: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked the moon’s surface, and they made it back alive. But now you see this movie and you get a deeper understanding of the reality they were facing, the fact that they might not make it back home at all.
It’s all very climactic in the end; you see the contrast between the people who were protesting NASA’s flight to the Moon vs. the astronaut’s safe return home wheney were congratulated and celebrated. It seemed like such a rewarding and positive experience for not only the Americans or the world, but for Neil who had left his late daughter’s bracelet behind on the moon asa kind of closure, despite the long journey it took to get there. The world watcas both Neil and Buzz stepped foot across the moon’s shadowy lunar landscape and maye that was the the important thing. I keep hearing people complain that they didn’t see them sticking the American flag into the ground, but they must not have been paying much attention because there was a brief moment where you do indeed see the flag, it’s just not a giant red dot in the middle of the screen because the important thing was that it wasn’t just a milestone for Americans. I admit, as an American, with a long streak of dark bits of our history, this is one of the moments I am most proud of and to say that it was ours who made it there first, despite the struggle. It’s incredible, but I think the point is that on July 20, 1969 the entire world got to see man land on the moon, and that’s what’s inspiring.