I don’t know why I loved the movie First Man with Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong so much. Maybe it was the footage of Kennedy calling on Americans:
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…
I want to enter a time in this country when we seek greatness through difficult shared tasks and achievements and good old-fashioned self sacrifice.
There’s a weird recurring motif in the movie where Armstrong remembers himself slightly younger with his family, wearing a red baseball cap. What is the symbol of the red hat conveying to viewers? That Armstrong is the America that was once great (as in, make America great again)? However. He places the hat on his infant daughter — and that is my takeaway: children make the world great.
Certainly, Armstrong was amazing, but his era was fraught with divisiveness — as in, the Viet Nam war. There’s a beautiful moment in the film of a beat poet reciting Whitey on the Moon (by Gil Scott-Heron). Here’s a glimpse:
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
There is someone sketching for a moment in the film too. And the music is sublime. Science, poetry, art, music — these matter. They must savored, not dumped for the worship of money.
The film’s subject matter inspired me. The moon landing was such an incredible achievement and so many lives were lost to the dream of humans walking on the moon. That dream deferred, that dream now lost. There is also a melancholy I feel when I think about the lack of awe we, as a society, have towards science.
The moon landing still seems so extraordinary. Here we are, a lifetime later, and the achievement cannot be replicated. This milestone was achieved in the 1960s — when I was just learning to walk and when people smoked like chimneys.
And in the film, the spacecraft seems put together with aluminum foil and lug nuts. Every close up of a screw in the hull of the rocket’s interior saddened me, reminding me of the Challenger shuttle’s fiery explosion.
I want to step into a dream of greatness for this country — something great for everyone, not just some. Some step towards an overarching unity. But that greatness must be in the future, not in the past. For the future of our children. And perhaps our greatness will lie in the U.S. contributions to science and the arts. And we will achieve difficult things, and that is why we do them.