Written By Aaron Bahamondes
*MAJOR SPOILERS FOR FIRST MAN*
How do I even start talking about this movie? The moment it cut to black I felt like I had passed out, and when the credits started rolling, I was speechless. I wasn’t even able to speak for the rest of the credits, and for a good 10 minutes after, I couldn’t even speak properly, and put my words together right. The reason I think this happened, is because I had experienced a cinematic masterpiece, and my favorite movie of all time, First Man. That’s right, a movie that only came out a week ago, on my first viewing, and I’d automatically knew that I had beheld my ALL TIME FAVOURITE FILM. The feelings I had felt during this, was something I had only sensed when I first watched Interstellar *subtle foreshadowing to a future writing piece*, but I am much mature and older now than when I had first watched Interstellar, so this had a much more MASSIVE emotional impact; understanding all the themes and the story, that I would have simply been confused by if I was younger.
For me First Man, is about a man who oppresses his emotions after the death of his daughter, and instead of letting all his emotions out, he goes on a journey to achieve his dream of going to the moon, to have himself distracted from his real self, therefore putting himself through physical torture, and his family through emotional trauma. What I think makes this movie work so well, is that it has two elements, that work together and complement each other throughout the movie, making it a more intense and visceral experience. These two elements are; the personal life of Neil, that feels raw with emotions, and just feels extremely real, and the other element, is the intense space film that is treated to fully immerse you into feeling like you’re actually in space, or on the moon.
With the first element, the film feels like a home video of Neil’s life, with a lot of handheld camera work, which is very much feels influenced by a Terence Malick. It is absolutely beautiful, to see these personal moments with Neil’s family, that just puts you into perspective of how much he had to lose, if something happened to him while completing his job. This automatically makes the space flight sequences even MORE intense than they already were, because Neil and the audience are thinking about the same thing; his family. These two elements are melded with each other, making the experience even more powerful. Because of this, it makes it the perfect experience, because on one side, it is an intimate, personal, true story about a man and his family going through this trauma together. On the other side, it is a grand, epic space film that consumed my emotions.
This film, is truly the perfect experience, but there is so much more to praise that this movie does perfectly right. The story and character arcs are so well done, and we have Josh Singer to thank for writing such a brilliant script, that is hands down his best work. How I said before, Neil’s whole motivation to go to the moon starts because of the death of his daughter. Throughout the film, Neil goes through physical and emotional trauma; almost losing his life going on a space flight to orbit the Earth, his best friend Ed who he grew close to, and in a beautiful moment when they go for a walk, Neil opens up about his daughter, which is something that he has never done before; and his best friend is killed in a test simulation. This absolutely destroys Neil, but Gosling’s brilliant acting, subtly shows how much of the feelings he has oppressed. Neil realizes there’s no going back, and uses this to keep going, to achieve his dream, and he finally does in one of the most grandest third acts I have ever seen.
The third act of this movie, was probably one of the most emotional moments of my life, no I’m not kidding. It was so well done, directed, edited; the last 30 minutes of this movie are just perfect, there’s no other way of explaining it. Throughout the film, I was constantly in awe, and was thinking ‘This is easily in my top 10 of all time’ during the space flight sequence during the second act. There’s this one moment in the third act, when they’re about to land, and it cuts to a shot of the moon and ‘The Landing’ track by Justin Hurwitz’s peaks. I felt absolute euphoria, at that moment. I thought to myself ‘I think this might be my favorite movie of all time’ and from then on I was paralyzed from the film.
Something I want to touch on, is Justin Hurwitz’s score, because it is downright beautiful and inspiring. He reportedly worked on it for 2 years, when most composers work on almost 3 or 4 soundtracks a year, and it just shows the pure passion that he put into this score. It very much has a 60’s Sci-Fi vibe, while having this authenticity of the era, full of wonderment about the universe. When you hear the score, it instantly makes you think of how grand space is. Of course, the soundtrack is at its peak in the third act, providing this feeling of how empty space is, and this feeling of isolation on the moon.
Back to the brilliant third act, Chazelle continues to show he is the master of crafting third acts, and knows how to craft one that completes his movies as all masterpieces. The moment when the film switched to IMAX Film, I felt so emotionally overwhelmed, I was almost panicking from how good the movie was. For at least a minute, the movie was in pure still silence, and so was the audience, and for a second, I actually felt like I was on moon; it was an experience like nothing else. That’s when Hurwitz’s score kicked back in, and I was already on the verge of tears from how overwhelming the sequence was, and the score just pulled the heartstrings.
After a few minutes on the moon, the feeling of being immensely overwhelmed by the grandness of space, that empty feeling of how we are so little in this massive, infinite universe; consumed me. This moment brilliantly mixes the two elements, and shows everything the movie is about. While Buzz is doing other things, jumping around the moon and such; Neil moves to the edge of a crater. Here we get this mid-shot of Neil, and the movie starts to match cut to him, and what looks like a home video, with his family at a day at the park. It is done so brilliantly, as it works in a beautiful emotional way, while not disturbing the pacing of the film, as it is fitted perfectly.
In the footage you see him with his family before the death of his daughter, as it visually represents that he is remembering his daughter, right at the moment when he finally achieved getting to the moon, what he had been wanting to do for the past decade, and how the death of his young beloved daughter, kept him going to achieve this dream. ‘The Crater’ track by Hurwitz’s starts, as Neil throws his daughters bracelet, down to the abyss of the crater, while he finally lets out all his built-in emotions that he has been oppressing for years, and finally has emotional catharsis. This is where I absolutely lost it, and was uncontrollably crying, at what I was witnessing. It was there, where I confirmed this was my all-time favorite movie, as it was just the perfect viewing experience, and made me realize why I love film so much.
A big contributor to making this sequence, and the movie so emotional is Ryan Gosling. In my opinion, Gosling gives his career-best performance here, and I wholeheartedly believe he deserves the Best Actor Oscar at the Academy Awards. He’s usually criticized for his acting, which is infuriating because people claim that his acting is blank, and shows no emotions. Well, I completely and respectfully DISAGREE. He usually gives quiet performances that subtlety shows emotions, which is much harder than doing a loud performance, and he always seems to get really into character, never making us disbelieve the character that he is playing.
This film could have never been achieved without the master himself, Damien Chazelle, whose direction here was downright brilliant. This man is only 33 years old, and has already made 3 masterpieces including First Man. Here he displayed, how much a chameleon he is at directing, while having a distinct style. Many people expected this to just be Whiplash in space, but it wasn’t like that all. Of course he carries this unique and distinct style throughout all his movies, but each film of his all feel so different, especially First Man.
There’s quite a few people saying, what is the purpose of this film, since it is a story that we have seen time and time again, and doesn’t really need to be repackaged once again. Well I also respectfully disagree with that, as this film works as a beautiful tribute to a man, that achieved the impossible, and represents such an important part of history, that inspires many of us. After this film, I had a new found respect for Neil Armstrong, seeing all the trauma he went through to get to the moon, and the film does it absolutely perfectly, while being honest, and sincere.
The film also has a beautiful message about unison. In the final scene of the movie, when the 3 astronauts come back from the moon, we see news footage, from people all over the world, saying how much this event inspired them. This is something that I just loved. The achievement of one country, is still seen as something mankind has been working towards together, and it’s something that brings us all together, as it inspires everyone to achieve the impossible. As Neil said himself on the moon,
One small step for man, One giant leap for mankind.
I hope this piece showed how much appreciation I have for this masterpiece, as my all-time favorite movie, and as a beautiful story of an ordinary man achieving the impossible. To me, it was the perfect cinematic experience and it inspired me to my very core.
First Man Is Now Playing In Nationwide