First Man

My review of the Apollo / Neil Armstrong biopic is that it is bloody brilliant and you should run out and see it. There you go.

I am about as young as you can be and remember the first lunar landing. I recall where I was – climbing on the back paling fence at home. Miss Rosemary had not been on TV that morning, and I lived in hope that the delayed morning cartoons would be shown after the landing thing was over. They were not. My ambivalence was understandable given the importance of morning cartoons, but was not reflected in the rest of my life – I had a preference for books about space exploration, and astronaut related clothing (I mean t-shirts, though I am pretty sure I would not have minded my own space suit).

I decided early on I was going to be a scientist (that never worked out), and that space travel would be part of my future (hmm). However, they were not the important bits. The real stuff was an inner life built around an unarticulated poetry of disparate parts; of images and stray unattached emotions. I suppose any childhood is built around such things, as everything slowly comes together and we make sense of the world around us. A lot of those parts returned to me from the depths as I watched First Man. The opening sequence of Armstrong’s face quivering from gravitational force as his jet shuddered about him on an early voyage to the edge of space was, for me, almost as powerful as the (real) start of Saving Private Ryan (not the goofy sentimental prologue with the old fellow staggering about the cemetery – the Normandy landing). I had not expected the strength of my reaction, sitting bolt upright, fear climbing my spine. I (almost) felt the vertigo, the terror of the void, the desperation as the altimeter started to climb again, even though I knew it would be alright, even though I have known for over 49 years that Neil Armstrong is the first man on the moon. My wife’s reaction at the various shuddery parts was fair enough: ok, I get the point, it was very dangerous many times. Me, I did not wish one minute of it away. And I was left with a feeling of gratitude – not for that stoic generation nor for the sacrifices, that is tucked away in a more complicated part of myself. No, watching the film I was grateful to have just a little feeling of what it must have been like, a tiny idea of what it is to stand on the surface of another world. I have lived with the moon landing and the idea of space travel all my life. I don’t read much about Apollo, like I do about other historical events, but somehow it is part of me. I will never get to travel into outer space, and I am fine with that. But the film makers gave me the tiniest sense of what it might be like, and the sounds and images gelled with some of the flotsam / jetsam of my sub/un/conscious, so that I was lifted out of myself, and reminded of the awe and wonder that attached to so many things in my childhood. And I don’t think I can really ask for more than that, for the price of a cinema ticket.

My story, This Neil Armstrong is not dead, reflects part of my childhood preoccupation. The conversations with my father and grandfather are based on my memories. It is as close as I can come to poetry about this, or probably about anything.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s