We saw "First Man" over the weekend. At first, we were hesitant to see the film because of director Damien Chazelle's decision to not include a scene showing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the moon.
Planting that flag was a symbolic moment for the United States of America. Not only had we finally beaten the Soviet Union after repeated losses in the space race, but we had beaten it for what was then the ultimate prize — putting a man on the moon. So leaving that scene out of the film had elicited more than a few complaints.
We happen to be proud of this country, and we're a bit tired of those who would denigrate it at every turn because it's not perfect. Of course it's not. But some people, including some Americans, seem so consumed with demonstrating that the United States is flawed that they can't acknowledge that it is still a great country — a country that has done more good for humanity than any other, ever — and it's exasperating.
But we decided to see "First Man" anyway, if for no other reason than to find out whether the criticism was justified. Did Chazelle omit the iconic flag-planting moment as a sop to all those globalists who seemingly want to cut this country down to size? Did the film somehow diminish America's incredible achievement in the interest of making a political statement? Chazelle said that was not his intent, and after seeing "First Man," we believe him.
As the title makes clear, "First Man" was not about an American achievement; it was about the achievement of an American — Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon — and the sacrifices he made, the tragedies he endured and the courage required to willingly be strapped into a cramped, Spartan space capsule, sitting atop what amounted to a container of 1 million gallons of rocket fuel, and launched into space at a speed of 36,000 feet (about 7 miles) per second. The dangers were real and ever-present, if not fully grasped by average Americans in that summer of 1969. Any minor mistake or flaw could have meant doom — there were many close calls — and the film makes clear that Armstrong was the man for the job. A flag-planting scene would not have fit this narrative.
History records that Armstrong, when he alighted on the moon, said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But we read recently that Armstrong claimed he instead said: "One small step for a man," which would make more sense. Without the "a," "man" and "mankind" would be synonymous. We also read that a careful analysis of the recording does not detect the extra word, but say the phrase yourself — it would be easy to not enunciate the "a."
We bring this up to point out that Armstrong, when he took that momentous step onto the lunar surface, did not say: "One giant leap for the United States of America." Think about that if you're bothered by what you've heard about "First Man."
Besides being a great film, "First Man" reminded us of the importance of keeping an open mind. We're glad we saw it. You should see it, too.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD