We had the perfect component for a discussion after First Man. Half of us loved the film and the other half were less enthusiastic, some finding the technical aspects baffling. We also talked about the Tom Hanks film Apollo 13. Some of us felt this film was more compelling and gripping, compared to the restraint of First Man.
We agreed that the film depicted the remarkable technological achievement of getting to the Moon very faithfully. The low tech nature of the achievement was noticed – the entire flight computer memory on the module had a capacity of 32 kilobytes, less than the size of a single email.
The film also reflected the theme of loss and its impact. The first three Apollo astronauts were killed in an explosion atop the launch pad. This scene is very moving and showed the incredible risk of space travel. As one of our group said, the astronauts were, “in a capsule on top of a bomb.”
We appreciated the immersive sound which completely engaged us in the action. Sunnyside Hall was vibrating along with the spacecraft! The ghostly high-pitched theremin soundtrack was awarded a Golden Globe. The film’s design was so accurate that some of us didn’t realise the stunning scenes on the Moon didn’t include original footage. The cabin’s claustrophobia was well conveyed, contrasted with Chris Hadfield’s very free movements in the Space Oddity short film, filmed aboard the International Space Station.
What was dramatic licence - did Neil Armstrong really take his late daughter’s bracelet to the Moon? We agreed that the film communicates Armstrong’s stoicism and emotional detachment. He did indeed go straight back to work after the tragic death of his daughter. The night before he leaves for the Moon mission, we see him single-mindedly packing rather than choosing to talk to his children to say goodbye. His son was later to share that his mother always said, “Silence is Neil’s answer.”
Although a few of us were no great fans of Ryan Gosling in La La Land (director Damien Chazelle’s film as well), we had to admit that the actor’s portrayal of Armstrong hit the spot. Fifty years on, there is still awe and wonder at seeing the ‘one small step.’ Despite our criticisms of the film, that representation of the world-changing moment did not disappoint at all.