“First Man” Through the Eyes of a Mechanical + Aerospace Engineering Student (review)

By Charles Frederick Keppler

“First Man” takes viewers on a journey into the life of one of history’s most well-known figures, Neil Armstrong, and the space mission that made him the first man to walk on the moon.

The newly released drama/science fiction film, directed by Damien Chazelle, stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and follows his life in the decade leading up to his momentous journey to the moon. The audience is offered an intimate experience in learning about the life of Armstrong.

As an aerospace engineering student with dreams of going to space myself, Armstrong seemed more human in the film than he is portrayed in history books. This movie has afforded me a greater appreciation for the accomplishment by reminding me that Armstrong was simply human. He had his faults and he had his hardships. But, this movie was a reminder of what someone who is “only human” can do.

The movie also brings the lives of many of those who contributed to the mission’s success into perspective. We see the friendships and losses. But more than that, we feel the friendships and losses. Gosling does a fantastic job of portraying the raw and immediate pain of loss, and the subsequent numbness to cope.

Emotional turmoil, either blatant or masked, is a recurring theme throughout the movie. This further humanizes Armstrong by creating a relatable portrayal of someone who is an icon in world history.

Sound plays a vital part in this film and is incorporated very well. It’s loud when it needs to be loud, and is silent when it needs to be silent. The silence was one of the most powerful parts of the film, conveying anything and everything from focus to uncertainty and to sheer isolation. I can’t claim to know the accuracy of the shuttles’ creaking but there were times when those scenes felt dramatized and overdone.

The movie itself strays from your typical techie-centric writing and creates a dialogue understood by everyone. There were just enough moments for the aerospace-inclined who can feel proud to say they understood. The script includes many instances of sub contextual communication, but not every conversation is so layered. Instead of this being a weakness, however, it became a strength.

There is just enough light-hearted banter to keep everyone’s spirits up, and it is well-written and delivered, resulting in a roar of laughter from the entire audience.

The film ends without dialogue and relies on Gosling and Claire Foy, who plays Armstrong’s wife, Janet Armstrong, to close the film. Their silent interaction communicated the conclusion of a decade-long journey.

Overall, “First Man” is a compelling memoir of the man and, ultimately, of one of the most impressive accomplishments of humankind. The movie was immediately placed into my top five and I think many others will share a similar sentiment.

8/10, I would highly recommend.

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