First Man Review: One Giant Leap for Space Movies

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First Man Review: One Giant Leap for Space Movies

Illustration: Shruti Yatam


idway through the masterful First Man, its lead Neil Armstrong (a clinical Ryan Gosling) deconstructs the ethos of Damien Chazelle’s biopic of the man who took the world’s most famous small step. At a NASA interview for the Gemini programme, Armstrong is asked to articulate the indispensability of space travel. He reveals that it offers a different vantage point and by extension, a different perspective of the universe. “It allows us to see things that we should have been able to see a long time ago.” Chazelle imbibes this thought and runs with it, giving us a space film that probes the peculiarity of an astronaut who is unable to dissociate obsession with passion, tragedy with triumph, motive with meaning, and journey with closure.

First Man lets us see films about space the way that they should have been seen long back. More often than not, in a bid to romanticise the elation of exploring the great beyond, movies about space tend to be heady, heroic, and theatrical. The astronauts, however, remain merely a vessel – their inner expeditions reduced to a footnote. The crowning glory of these films is almost always, its galactic destination. But Chazelle gives us a different view of this genre: He refuses to define his lead by his impossible achievement.