Damien Chazelle’s moon-landing biopic, First Man, premiered at the Venice Film Festival last week, and it’s already looking like the front-runner for most Best Picture awards. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy are both getting rave reviews, and most critics are calling the film a brave, worthy follow-up to Chazelle’s Whiplash and La La Land. But not everyone is quite so enthusiastic about it.
When the news emerged that First Man doesn’t include a close-up shot of Neil Armstrong planting his American flag in the moon, it plucked a political nerve with a lot of patriotic Americans.
Sparking a lot of “debate” online, the issue blew up on Friday when Republican senator (and former Presidential candidate) Marco Rubio weighed in on Twitter, calling Chazelle’s decision “total lunacy.”
Gosling and Chazelle were quick to reply, both citing their years of research into the history of the moon landing and the character of Armstrong – as well as his actual famous words when he set foot on the moon. Gosling says that Armstrong always saw the moon landing as “a human achievement” and not as an American one, and Chazelle defended his film at length during the festival press conference (via Deadline):
“In First Man I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments of the Apollo 11 lunar EVA that I chose not to focus upon. To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon—particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.
I wanted the primary focus in that scene to be on Neil’s solitary moments on the moon—his point of view as he first exited the LEM, his time spent at Little West Crater, the memories that may have crossed his mind during his lunar EVA. This was a feat beyond imagination; it was truly a giant leap for mankind. This film is about one of the most extraordinary accomplishments not only in American history, but in human history. My hope is that by digging under the surface and humanizing the icon, we can better understand just how difficult, audacious and heroic this moment really was.”
Neil Armstrong died in 2012, so he’s thankfully been spared the inevitable hounding that this fiasco would have resulted in, but his two sons, Mark and Eric – together with First Man author James R. Hansen – have now released a joint statement via Entertainment Weekly in an attempt to settle the dispute.
“We’ve read a number of comments about the film today and specifically about the absence of the flag planting scene, made largely by people who haven’t seen the movie. As we’ve seen it multiple times, we thought maybe we should weigh in.
“This is a film that focuses on what you don’t know about Neil Armstrong. It’s a film that focuses on things you didn’t see or may not remember about Neil’s journey to the moon. The filmmakers spent years doing extensive research to get at the man behind the myth, to get at the story behind the story.
“It’s a very personal movie about our dad’s journey, seen through his eyes. This story is human and it is universal. Of course, it celebrates an American achievement. It also celebrates an achievement ‘for all mankind,’ as it says on the plaque Neil and Buzz left on the moon.
“Although Neil didn’t see himself that way, he was an American hero. He was also an engineer and a pilot, a father and a friend, a man who suffered privately through great tragedies with incredible grace.
This is why, though there are numerous shots of the American flag on the moon, the filmmakers chose to focus on Neil looking back at the earth, his walk to Little West Crater, his unique, personal experience of completing this journey, a journey that has seen so many incredible highs and devastating lows.”
Hopefully, the statement will put an end to the whole debate. It definitely won’t.
First Man opens on October 12.