‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. It’s a quote that is so familiar, and yet so little understood.
Over the half-century since Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, we have become accustomed to the famous footage, shot at a distance by a camera mounted on the leg of the lunar lander. But First Man provides a first-person experience, as we see that step from Armstrong’s perspective.
This film takes us inside Armstrong’s space suit, inside his mind, inside his family. Throughout the film, we don’t just observe the cool smooth surface of a helmet; we see up close the sweating distorted faces of the people inside. We don’t just watch an apparently effortless image of success; we experience the reality of those who knew they might not make it. And we don’t just observe individual astronauts; we see them as husbands and fathers. Using close-up, hand-held camera techniques this film draws us into the visceral reality of spaceflight. As Josh Singer, the screenwriter says: ‘these are ordinary men and women who sacrificed greatly.’
There is a key line, fairly early in the film, in which Armstrong reflects: ‘Space exploration changes your perception. It allows us to see things that we should have seen a long time ago.’ That is a powerful message for our time. Instead of constantly focusing down on our little screens, what might happen if we look up to the heavens? Instead of taking our lives for granted, what might happen if we recognise the sacrifices that make them possible?