Ryan Gosling: First Man

From The Director of Whiplash and La La Land

BY: Zak Wojnar

At this point, Ryan Gosling is a household name. He’s a huge movie star who takes on whatever provocative projects he wants, from Blade Runner 2049 and The Nice Guys to Only God Forgives and Gangster Squad. As if it even needs to be said, he’s come a long way since his Mouseketeer days.

Compared to actors, it’s harder for directors to achieve A-list fame, but Damien Chazelle is well on his way to earning that level of recognition. His breakout film, Whiplash, led to La La Land, a game-changing Hollywood musical about dreams and reality colliding in a beautifully bittersweet romance.

For his latest film, Chazelle is reuniting with Gosling, his La La Land muse, to tell the story of America’s first successful trip to the moon. First Man follows Neil Armstrong, one of the most iconic Americans who ever lived. In the 1960s, President Kennedy’s dream to send a man to the Moon was seen as folly to some; this expensive and dangerous endeavor seemed so distant compared to the more intimate crises of racial tensions and the Vietnam War. Just a few years after Armstrong’s successful landing on the lunar surface, the long-fought Space Race fizzled out, and the East vs West conflict returned to being more terrestrial in nature.

Still, it’s impossible to downplay the importance of NASA’s successful mission to the moon, which remains a testament to the endless horizon of humanity’s potential. In any era where it feels like the nation, or even the world, is being torn apart by conflict, it’s important to remember that humans can do anything. President Kennedy insisted that mankind go to the moon and accomplish other great feats, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” What greater symbol is there for the limitless possibilities of mankind than space travel? That’s the message of First Man.

Gosling stars as Armstrong, the stoic astronaut who would become an American hero, and an icon for all humanity. Claire Foy (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) plays his long-suffering wife, and the film chronicles their relationship as the space program advances from a pipe dream to an exceedingly dangerous reality. The film was not without controversy, as some conservative figures expressed their disappointment at reports that the film would not include a recreation of Armstrong (along with Buzz Aldrin, played by Corey Stoll) planting the American Flag on the Moon. Even the President himself commented on the situation, in his typically rambling, juvenile, borderline incoherent style.

Whether or not the film includes a flag scene, Chazelle and Gosling are clearly aiming to craft a movie which celebrates American ingenuity, the human spirit, and the the impossible sense of perspective which can only be understood by the precious few people who have seen our planet from space. From that distant vantage point, there are no borders between nations – only the Earth, solitary and serene.