Movie Review: First Man

Film Title: First Man

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced his ambitious goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. First Man retells the incredible story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, and focuses in on the hardships faced by Neil Armstrong, and the nation along the way.

First Man is categorized as a drama/science fiction film that has a screen time of almost two and a half hours. Based on the book by James R. Hansen, the film stays true to the historic events of this time, and the plot provided in the novel. Directed by Oscar winning Damien Chazelle, his creative choices attempted to dive into the personal life of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling). Released on October 12, 2018 audiences everywhere were invited into the home of Armstrong, and gained a closer perspective of his lifelong sacrifices working with NASA.

The movie follows the timeline of events from 1961 to 1969, which were the prime years of the space race against Russia. Together, the audience explores the sacrifices on Armstrong personally as he pursued one of the most dangerous missions in history. The seven year lead up to the moonwalk was filled with many hard lessons of loss, sacrifice, failure, and successes.

Chazelle focused in on the glamorized perception of what it actually took to get a man on the moon in only one decade. He showed the raw emotion behind the astronauts studying, practicing, and often more often than not, failing. In the stress of trying to make it to the moon, every astronaut was shown completing training simulations that pushed their bodies to the ultimate limit. Armstrong is shown fighting to earn his spot on the Apollo mission alongside Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), and Michael Collins (Lucas Haas). During simulation training, astronauts were in simulated devices that would often make them violently nauseous from spinning repeatedly for long periods of time. Yet they were forced to navigate through these extremes repeatedly until they were successful to prepare themselves for a future life or death scenario.

The movie also focused on Armstrong’s personal family life struggles that most people were unaware of. Armstrong was faced with tragedy alongside his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), as they lost their young daughter Karen to cancer. Janet had to grieve much on her own as Neil would never talk about their loss. Their young sons, Mark and Rick, now had to learn how to grow up and face the possibility and confusion that came with the idea that their father might not ever come back home. Gosling shows the courage of a man who is not always able to express his emotions, and captures the audiences hearts with his incredible, and heart wrenching acting capabilities.

It was at the height of preparing for the actual mission to the moon that tragedy struck. The story continues to show the heartache behind losing three astronauts during preflight testing for the first manned Apollo mission, the planned test before the launch sending a man to the moon. Midway through the plugs out test a fire broke out in the pure oxygen-filled cabin killing Ed White (Jason Clarke), Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham), and Roger B. Chaffee (Corey Michael Smith). The nation was devastated with a loss of three men, and yet another setback for NASA.

After the loss of three important men in the space program, tensions rose among the community. Armstrong, now guaranteed a spot on the mission, had to prepare his family for leaving on the long mission. His wife, Janet, was at an implosive part of her life by this time. She could no longer cope with Neil lacking emotion and sympathy towards not only their sons, but her as well. Janet exclaimed to Neil

in a powerful scene that she was “done,” and that she is holding him responsible for talking to their kids before he left for the mission. Janet told him sternly that she would not let him leave and place the burden on her to explain to their kids why he might not ever be coming back home. This was arguably one of the best scenes of the movie as we watched her take a stand to save their relationship.

The plot continued with liftoff, and showed the adventure that truly was getting Neil and his partner, Buzz Aldrin, onto the moon. Audience members were left on the edge of their seat as the two astronauts had finally made it into space, and were preparing to land on the moon. As the Eagle’s landing radar acquired the surface, computer error alarms immediately started going off. Armstrong and Aldrin were both unaware of what the codes meant despite their extensive training, and had to wait on the response of Houston to land safely. As they approached landing on the moon they were faced with the crater filled surface, and almost burned themselves out of fuel before they could land safely.

Although the movie did not include the infamous controversy of placing the flag on the moon, perhaps this is a message about how it should not be the first thing thought of about the mission. The focus of the movie was to show the triumph behind being successful in a seemingly unobtainable goal. Making the impossible, possible, and giving the American people something to believe in. It was only at the peak of thinking they would lose the space race, that they actually created found success.

Overall the movie was an emotional ride following the many successes and failures of Neil Armstrong’s life. It was a humbling account of emotion and hardship in a time of learning to reach as far as the moon. From an amazing director, to an outstanding cast, you are sure to find a relatable character or message from the film. The story of the first man on the moon is one for the ages, and is a space film experience unlike you have seen in any other format.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”


“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

The famous line “The Eagle has landed,” paid homage to the big dream set aside by late President Kennedy. Americans everywhere responded that day with “The Eagle has landed indeed.”


First Man is the property of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures.

Katie Larson

Twenty-years-old and a class of 2017 South Hamilton graduate. I enjoy creating adult coloring book masterpieces. Professional procrastinator. Easily manipulated by dogs. Fruit snack connoisseur. You can probably find me watching Psych, c'mon son.

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