Film Friday: First Man

When the Russians seem to be winning the race into space and Nasa steps up its attempts to be the first to the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong is chosen as one of the crew to attempt that historic journey. However, preparations do not all go according to plan.

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Early in the telling of this epic story we discover that Neil and his family have been struck by tragedy, Neil is hit very hard but finds it so difficult to express his feelings. He does not talk about his pain and struggles, not even to his wife Janet. He keeps things locked away. This is in his nature, he’s not a particularly effusive or expressive person. In one interview, when the team going to the moon are asked what extra personal items they might take on this historic trip, he replies that, given the choice, he’d take more fuel. When asked if he’s excited about going on the mission he replies that he is pleased. When pressed for more details he repeats that he is pleased. This is his way.

Laughing in public is acceptable, expected. But crying is a different thing. And yet we are wired up to do both. The writer of psalm 6 talks of their bed being soaked with tears, such is their heartache. Of course we all know how hard it can be to express our loss and sadness publicly, as this can be seen as weakness. Aside from the epic nature of this story about the venturing into space, I found this film an increasingly heart-breaking watch, knowing what this courageous, intelligent man was struggling with and yet was unable to express. Film reviewer Mark Kermode described the character as almost being on the moon way before he ever got there. Being so distant, so cut off. I don’t find it easy to communicate with other people in public, at times being with others can feel more lonely than being alone. When Neil’s friend and fellow astronaut comes out to talk to him in the garden one night, Neil says something along the lines of, ‘D’you think I’d be out here alone if I wanted someone to talk to?’

The band The Police sang about loneliness in their single Message in a Bottle, they followed this with Walking on the Moon, perhaps that too was a reference to a feeling of being cut off, unable to communicate. As if at times we might as well be on another planet. I’m sure that Jesus understands loneliness. We’re told in Isaiah that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He was misunderstood on a daily basis and knew what it was to experience loss and difficulty. We’re about to celebrate Christmas once more, God’s great plan of vulnerability, God becoming earthy, plunging himself into the joys and sadness, friendship and loneliness of life in this corner of the universe. He understands. Our difficulties and heartaches, and our struggles to share these and help each other. I’m so grateful for that.

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