Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle's eagerly anticipated space movie, First Man, hasn't hit theaters yet, but it's already roiling in both positive reviews and negative press.
Months away from the Academy Awards, critics are buzzing about the La La Land director and actor's possible return to the Oscars for their biopic on astronaut Neil Armstrong. The film has gotten rave reviews, with enthusiastic critics zeroing in on the actor's "tricky, compelling" performance. Chazelle has also been commended for directing a space movie devoid of all sensationalism, something we've come to expect with "astronaut" movies. In summary, this movie is good, and its star power has Oscar potential.
As the film's success is gathering steam, it accrued some drama as well. Political controversy about a particular scene in the film is causing some outrage — mostly from people who have not seen the movie — forcing Gosling to defend the film.
Ahead, we break down exactly what is the root of First Man's negative press.
What is this movie about, exactly?
Based on a biography of the same name, First Man is an intimate look at Armstrong's family life, including the loss of his young daughter to cancer, and the back-to-back deaths of two friends and fellow astronauts. It also gives light to all the failed missions that came before NASA's Apollo 11 mission that landed Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the moon on July 20, 1969.
Watch the trailer, below.
What could be so controversial about a space movie?
It all boils down to one scene in particular. Or, rather, the decision not to include a scene where Armstrong and Aldrin plant the American flag on the moon. According to Vanity Fair, though there is no specific flag-planting moment, the American flag does appear in the background of several shots.
That just doesn't cut it to mostly right-wing commenters that include Daily Wire editor in chief Ben Shapiro, and Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, who wrote, "We literally declared a mission to go to the moon to plant the American flag. It wasn't an afterthought. It was the point of the endeavor."
Senator Marco Rubio has also chimed in on Twitter, writing: "This is total lunacy. And a disservice at a time when our people need reminders of what we can achieve when we work together. The American people paid for that mission,on rockets built by Americans,with American technology & carrying American astronauts. It wasn’t a UN mission."
This is total lunacy. And a disservice at a time when our people need reminders of what we can achieve when we work together. The American people paid for that mission,on rockets built by Americans,with American technology & carrying American astronauts. It wasn’t a UN mission. https://t.co/eGwBq7hj8C— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 31, 2018
Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton also shared their two cents, with Cotton questioning who the financial backers of the film were.
Really sad: Hollywood erases American flag from moon landing. This is wrong, and consistent with Leftists’ disrespecting the flag & denying American exceptionalism. JFK saw that it mattered that America go to the moon — why can’t Hollywood see that today? https://t.co/7ZGJKP4tl6— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 1, 2018
Neil Armstrong probably didn’t view himself as a hero, but I’m sure he viewed himself as an American. And he was a hero. Another shameful Hollywood assault on simple patriotism.— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) August 31, 2018
And, by the way, is Chinese money behind this movie? As is often the case in Hollywood today? https://t.co/Jv7eLhLlNx
Aldrin seemed to take a few public jabs of his own, sharing real photos of the flag-planting with the hashtags "#proudtobeanAmerican #freedom #honor #onenation #Apollo11 #July1969 #roadtoApollo50."
Using the hashtag
#BoycottFirstMan, some took to Twitter to voice their indignation. "#BoycottFirstMan because American flags have been scrubbed from a qintessentially [sic] American achievement," wrote one commenter. "Thank you for ruining one of the greatest accomplishments not only in the WORLD but in America.and you omit this great achievement.thanks for the your cinematic propaganda. #BoycottFirstMan," wrote another.
Does everyone feel that way?
No. In fact, the famed astronaut's two sons had the exact opposite reaction. Rick and Mark Armstrong, Neil Armstrong's sons, came in defense of Chazzelle, saying he "got it right."
“When they started this project, Damien and the screenwriter Josh Singer started with the only authorized biography that our dad ever participated in called First Man, and it’s a very heavy, dense book, but it’s full of detail, and that’s where they started,” Mark said at TIFF. “They spent two or three years after that going deep, getting the details in between the chapters, in between the words, in between the paragraphs, and I’m here to tell you that they got it right. And we absolutely would not be here today if they hadn’t, so I’m really grateful to them.”
What did Gosling and Chazelle say about the outcry?
Speaking with reporters at the Venice Film Festival about the decision to keep the scene out of the movie, Gosling said: “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it. I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Chazelle said he was surprised by the outcry, pointing out that the flag-planting scene was not the only major moment that was missing from the film, a purposeful decision to “focus on the unfamous stuff.”
“So we don’t go into the phone call with Nixon, we don’t go into the scientific experiments, we don’t go into reentry, et cetera,” Chazelle said.
You can be your own judge when the film opens October 12.