Two years after the hit musical romance La La Land, the winning combination of filmmaker Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling is back with First Man, which will be released on October 12. Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong in the biopic about the first man to set foot on the moon.
Based on James R Hansen’s 2005 book First Man: The Life of Neil A Armstrong, the astronaut’s official biography, the film will trace the events leading to NASA’s historic Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 with Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins on board. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, where it received positive reviews.
First Man also stars Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as Buzz Aldrin, who set foot on the moon 20 minutes after Armstrong, becoming the second man to do so. Claire Foy (The Crown) plays Armstrong’s first wife Janet Shearon and Kyle Chandler is Deke Slayton, NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office, its top leadership position for astronauts.
Tracing the years between 1961 (when President John F Kennedy announced his goal of putting the United States on the moon) and 1969, the film will recount the historic mission through Armstrong’s eyes. The film will shed light on less-known aspects of Armstrong’s private life and his personal struggles, including his two-year-old daughter’s death in 1962.
To prepare for the role, Gosling spoke at length with Armstrong’s children, the actor told The New Zealand Herald in an interview. “By all accounts he was not a very emotional person,” he said. “Which isn’t to say that he didn’t have them or feel very deeply about things. We tried many different approaches to create windows into his psyche and experience to help the audience try to know him in the way that we were coming to know him.”
Chazelle, who learnt music and carried that influence to all his films including Whiplash (2014) and La La Land, told The Guardian that he embarked on First Man because he wanted to direct something different. “I liked doing something that felt like the polar opposite of La La Land, just as La La Land felt like the polar opposite of Whiplash, at least emotionally,” he said.
The film ran into controversy for not recreating the moment when Armstrong planted the American flag on the moon, though reports said that the flag can be seen several times over the course of the film. Aldrin too seemingly sided with the film’s detractors and tweeted photos of the Apollo 11 crew with the American flag on the moon.
Chazelle, in an interview with Variety explained that the decision not to have the scene was not political. “This film is about one of the most extraordinary accomplishments not only in American history, but in human history,” he said.
The astronaut’s sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, along with author Hanson also defended the film. “We do not feel this movie is anti-American in the slightest,” they said in a statement. “Quite the opposite. But don’t take our word for it. We’d encourage everyone to go see this remarkable film and see for themselves.”
The makers of the film also reportedly took great pains to make the production design true to life. This included building a replica of Armstrong’s house. “It was amazing to watch Neil’s kids, Rick and Mark, come into the house they had grown up in and see the level to which the crew was working to get this right,” Gosling told Entertainment Weekly in an interview.