Restrained, deeply emotional and sincere, Damian Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ is another stellar addition in the director’s filmography. Starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, this movie is sure to move audiences, by drawing them in with its slow and absorbing paste.
The acting is the main strength of this movie. While keeping a stoic appearance, Gosling is able to create deeply emotional scenes, which will leave the audience with the impression of having intruded in this man’s most private moments. Claire Foy shines as Janet Shearon, Neil’s wife. Her character acts as the moral compass of the story, by grounding Neil and confronting him with his responsibilities as a father, while supporting him in the difficult moments. Claire Foy, much like Ryan Gosling, is known for masterful moderation in her acting. This pays off in a movie whose main strength lays in the actor’s abilities to portray complex emotions without resulting exaggerated or fake.
The parallels drawn between Neil’s personal life and the journey to the moon add depth to this historical event, by enhancing the humanity of it. While everybody is familiar with the big gestures that characterized the moon landing, this movie adds a new dimension to it, by showing it as not only an inspiring event, but an achievement that took enormous sacrifice from the people involved. In fact, one of the consistent themes in this movie is death, which provides the audience with a real sense of how truly amazing this achievement was, but also how charged this experience was for Neil and Janet. While the viewer might expect for the liberating moment to come the moment Neil steps on the moon, true relief is felt when he is reunited with Janet. There are no big gestures, not even smiles, and yet the actors deliver a scene that is so powerful and that, given the sacrifice behind his achievements, effectively carries the emotional weight of the movie.
Damien Chazelle puts heroism aside, to create a heartbreaking, soul-stirring yet restrained wonder.
The movie shines in its direction: the claustrophobic shots used in the rocket scenes, accompanied by the strong metallic sounds, help the viewer understand how truly terrifying this mission was. The noises are used as a continuous reminder of human error. In this regard, we can see why Neil did not see himself as a hero: he understood the gravity of what they were about to attempt. In fact, many at the time saw the continued attempts as pure madness. However, the movie argues that this determination was powered by his daughter’s death. This is shown by a beautifully symbolic gesture Damian Chazelle adds on the moon, which I won’t spoil for the viewer.
Unlike many other movies based on real-life events, this movie adds dimension to the achievements, by showing a side of the story that has not been effectively captured by the media at the time. Damien Chazelle puts heroism aside, to create a heartbreaking, soul-stirring yet restrained wonder.