Touted as one of the year’s leading Oscar contenders, First Man, from Whiplash and La La Land director Damien Chazelle, is touted as an intense drama about Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11. Critics have praised it for avoiding patriotism and flag-waving, because Trump. From The Hollywood Reporter: “Most notable is the film’s refusal to engage in the expected jingoistic self-celebration that such a milestone would seem to demand. At a time when the toxic political climate has cheapened that kind of nationalistic fervor, turning it into empty rhetoric…[that] is to be savored.” This turns out to mean that the movie omits the moment when Armstrong planted the American flag on the moon. Says the Canadian Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, “I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
At the Venice Film Festival, where First Man debuted ahead of its U.S. release on October 12, Gosling said the moon landing “transcended countries and borders,” adding, “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it. I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”
Got that? It’s more faithful to Neil Armstrong, who died in 2012, to leave out the thrilling moment when he placed the flag on the lunar surface. This is daft. Congress discussed placing a U.N. flag on the moon instead but ultimately decided that an American project should be celebrated with an American symbol.
The first man on the moon said at the time, “My job was to get the flag there. I was less concerned about whether that was the right artefact to place. I let other, wiser minds than mine make those kinds of decisions.”
I’m reminded of how one New York Times reviewer took a sour view of the Winston Churchill film Darkest Hour because of its “great man fetish” and turned to banging the anti-Trump gong: it would have been preferable to “invite the audience to think about the difficulties of democratic governance at a time of peril” because the movie “feels, in present circumstances, less nostalgic than downright reactionary.”
History sure can be inconvenient when patriotism makes you queasy.