“And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.” – Genesis 2:18 (King James Version)
“That’s One Small Step for [a] Man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong
Instead of a triumphal, feel-good NASA movie like The Right Stuff, or even Apollo 13, First Man is really a biopic of Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the Moon. The theme of isolation is very strong. Neil is an “egghead” who would rather work alone, and leaves a social gathering to stare at the Moon from his backyard.
The tension between Neil’s individual journey, and the immense National undertaking that required a huge team of scientists, engineers, and astronauts to essentially invent a space program from scratch can be symbolized by the mangled famous quote from Tranquility Base – The “a” got lost in transmission, almost completely changing the meaning. He is just “a man” taking a “small step”, but one that represents the culmination of a incredible scientific, economic, and social accomplishment of the Human race:
The movie does not shy away at all from the personal and collective hardships that Armstrong faced on his way to the lunar surface. Neil chooses to deal with tragedy by turning inward and closing himself off emotionally. This is contrasted with the reactions of Buzz Aldrin, who likes to deal with horrific events by blurting out unconformable truths.
More than just being historically accurate, the movie takes viewers inside the claustrophobic cockpits, rattling rivets and all.
The complete isolation of Neil is starkly shown with the famous “Earthrise shot”. Every human to ever lived, besides Neil, Buzz, and Michael Collins (whom everyone forgets because he had to stay in orbit around the moon) is in that frame, 230,000 miles away.
Surprisingly, the movie even includes the very real speech Richard Nixon was prepared to give in the event Neil and Buzz were left stranded on the Moon:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations.
In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
Even when they get home, the celebrated astronauts are forced into quarantine. In fact, the final shot of the movie is Neil and his wife separated by a glass window. Buzz Aldrin, who is famous for punching a Moon Conspiracy Theorist,
probably put it best with the title of his memoir:
Overall, I really liked “First Man” for its unflinching look at the sacrifice that is required for greatness, as well as the story of “a” man, who became Humanity’s emissary to the stars.