Prior to its release, “First Man”—the new biopic about the late Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)—generated a great deal of hubbub surrounding the absence of visible patriotism in the film. Early critics were aghast at the neglect of such highly charged moments as the planting of the American flag on the moon and even decried the absence of flag shoulder patches on flight suits.
The lack of national symbolism, though real, is the least significant problem this film presents, however.
Far more egregious is the obvious fact that the producers, writers, and the director all failed to grasp the nature of the American space program—without a basic appreciation of the scientific challenges and an understanding of the ideological nature of its objectives, all we are left with is how the sacrifices impacted one household.
In lieu of a soaring tale of a singular hero whose focus is on the remote reaches of the known universe we are treated to the tragedy of an emotionally unavailable astronaut.
The technological triumph of our species has been rendered as a Neo-Gothic tragedy, a dark tale populated by the ghosts of a dead child and ornamented by the gloomy strains of Wagnerian pathos. We get long moments of men in space staring out into nothingness, a mash-up between Caspar David Friedrich and Stanley Kubrick.
Compared to the outcry about the lack of a few flags, this constitutes a far greater assault on our history, our society, and our culture.
That’s not to say that the movie is entirely devoid of value. The opening scene in which Armstrong takes a ride to the very edge of space in an X-15 is indeed moving. The viewer quickly acquires a visceral sense of the jerry-rigged nature of the early rocket-planes and the sheer guts required to get in one—this is Tom Wolfe’s “right stuff” writ large. It’s also a terrific way to start a movie.
But we soon discover that every ride is similar to an X-15: rivet-popping turbulence, screeching metal being twisted by Mach forces, and eyeball-jiggling acceleration that makes it impossible to focus on cockpit instrumentation. Both Armstrong’s Gemini VIII launch and the Apollo 11 launch are treated in a similar manner. (The Gemini launch vehicles, the U.S. Air Force’s two-stage Titan II rocket, delivered a notoriously jarring ride into orbit but the “pogo” effect described at the time is wildly exaggerated for dramatic effect.)
The handling of the Gemini VIII mission is one of the best aspects of the film. Those of us interested in the space program realized long ago each of the Gemini missions was a daring high wire act that enabled the program to “fail upwards.” That is, each mission was a contained disaster that yielded enormous learnings.
Indeed four years before the well-known feats of the crew of Apollo 13 and the amazingly dedicated ground crew in mission control, there was Gemini VIII.
After successfully accomplishing the first rendezvous and hard docking in low Earth orbit, Armstrong and Scott’s spacecraft began pitching and rolling; after undocking, the crisis increased, requiring an abort decision within seconds. (The mission postmortem revealed that a thruster had become stuck in the open position.) Quite literally, had Armstrong not run through all the options in his head in the 40 seconds allotted, both astronauts would have passed out and burned up upon reentry.
End of Gemini. End of Apollo. No moon landing.
Armstrong saved the space program. Single-handedly.
Just Another Emotionally Distant White Man
Armstrong was the coolest of the cool customers. Self-contained. Highly rational. The very antithesis of a hot-headed hero. Gosling, whom otherwise I cannot stand, is perfectly cast here—his face is utterly incapable of expressing emotion. And that, if you’ve ever seen much footage of the real Neil Armstrong, is truly what he was like.
A second career-defining event demonstrated the how same cool, deliberate, rationalism produced spectacular results—Armstrong’s successful ejection from on the “flying bedstead,” a training device for the lunar lander, 14 months prior to his moon mission. Not only did he eject within two seconds of a fiery death, he survived the landing intact and went back to the office to put in the rest of his work day. Incredible dedication. The man had more guts than all the strutting bravura shown by the alpha males of the Mercury program put together.
His landing of the lunar module on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969 with less than 2 percent of fuel in the tank is yet another testimony to an amazing man; and this, too, was told well and effectively by the makers of “First Man.”
But how is it leveraged in the story of man’s quest of space?
As a moment for trite, saccharine sentimentality—by depositing the bracelet of his deceased baby daughter into a dark crater on the moon, Neil Armstrong has apparently redeemed his bloodless rationalism, his inhumane commitment to the mission, and his egregious and unforgivable emotional autism to his wife and children.
The Armstrong of the film isn’t actually an amazing man, a gifted aeronautical engineer, a top-rated fighter pilot, a gutsy test pilot, an astronaut, and a teacher.
In “First Man,” Armstrong’s most enduring achievement was being an emotionally unavailable white man.
And what movie in the age of Professors Christine Blasey Ford and Victoria Bissell Brown would be complete without a screeching, condescending female, indulging in an emotional tirade unrelated to the goal of scientific innovation, world-class engineering, and planetary exploration? Certainly not this one!
Armstrong’s wife steps up and delivers the cultural Marxist truth: space exploration is just boys and their toys, and the injustice of children not eating with both parents and “Whitey on the Moon” will be overtaken by emotionally unsatisfied people demanding emotional satisfaction.
We all know what has become of NASA—50 years on, thanks to the last president, it has become a glorified Muslim outreach program. American technological superiority, as a concept and objective, has been mothballed in the same fashion as the space program itself.
All the dollars spent on getting to the moon for an ideological race that is (seemingly) no longer relevant has been diverted into Great Society-style social welfare programs.
We spend several more times on maintaining subhuman living standards for African-Americans in our former industrial powerhouses than allowing them emerge from poverty. India in recent years has done a better job than we have of pulling people out of abject poverty. You have to wonder why the “greatest generation” that oversaw all of this impressive innovation essentially rolled over on this front.
But still, we have Democrats, imbeciles, and emotionally imbalanced females who need attention!
Hence, “First Man”—a movie not about the finest technological accomplishment of humankind but about hypothetical grief and the emerging, omnipotent gynocracy of affect.
Photo Credit: YouTube/Universal Pictures