We think of the first man on the moon as a fairly distant history, and we may also think of this Chazelle Gosling collaboration as possibly a dry scientific docu-like drama. I have never seen a movie that captures space flight with a degree of authenticity like First Man. It leaves the ground and soars into space with terror, beauty, unpredictability and majesty. So there is nothing dry about this movie. It makes this ‘one small step for man, one giant step for mankind’ less history and more real life, about real people, real sacrifices, real hopes and real fears.
In this time and age, seeing the cramped interiors of NASA rattling rockets with analog dials and archaic-looking control panels, it seems incredible that the Apollo missions succeeded at all. Using the latest in filmmaking today to portray a dated look and feel, Chazelle captures with eerie adrenaline and dread just how dangerous these death-defying missions were. That these harrowing and exhilarating flights into space were undertaken by human beings. At a time when pioneering astronauts were almost guinea pigs to rocket scientists.
First Man lets us feel space exploration first hand, in the first person. I don’t think I am giving anything away by saying that this film allows you to feel like you are taking those fateful first steps on the lunar surfaces in 1969 along with Neil Armstrong. On the moon, quiet stillness takes over. There is a transcendental sense of grace, an expansive serenity. Here, Chazelle and Gosling have achieved moments of cosmic visual grandeur that rival Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. And not unlike La La Land, they have yet again made movie magic, making the first landing on the moon both real and human.