“That‘s one small step for man, one giant leap…” into yet another internet blow-up.
First Man, the upcoming Neil Armstrong biopic from La La Land director Damien Chazelle, premiered at Venice Film Festival this week. Critics almost universally , but there‘s a famous moment missing from the dramatized version of Armstrong‘s first-ever moonwalk and, as with most things in 2018, the absence has stirred up some controversy around the American flag.
Although the flag left on Earth‘s moon during the first landing does appear in the movie, you don‘t actually see the moment it was planted. That omission has riled some of the more sensitive defenders of American space dominance, because patriotism, I suppose.
Ryan Gosling, who stars in First Man as Armstrong, defended the decision, framing it as a creative choice that speaks to the way the film‘s creators viewed that moment in history.
“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that‘s how we chose to view it,” Gosling said during a press conference for the movie in Venice, according to .
“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.”
Gosling added: “So I don‘t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
Chazelle also defended the decision (h/t ).
“The flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments of the Apollo 11 lunar EVA that I chose not to focus upon,” he said. “To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon — particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.”
Armstrong‘s sons also stepped up to push back against the haters, in a joint statement with James R. Hansen, the author of the book on which the movie is based.
“This story is human and it is universal. Of course, it celebrates an America achievement. It also celebrates an achievement ‘for all mankind. The filmmakers chose to focus on Neil looking back at the earth, his walk to Little West Crater, his unique, personal experience of completing this journey, a journey that has seen so many incredible highs and devastating lows.”
Of course, none of this matters to the MAGA hats in the room. The revelation about First Man‘s treatment of this one moment from the moon landing was bashed widely, and often inaccurately. The examples are plentiful: , , , (and, really, most everything ).
Many of the naysayers have targeted what they perceive to be First Man‘s revisionist take on history, but that‘s not quite right.
As Chazelle said himself, that‘s one of “several” moments he chose to skip. The flag is still there, but the precise moment it was planted wasn‘t necessary to the story he wanted to tell.
During more rational times, that would be the end of it. The director made a creative decision about his own reading of true events, and it‘s one he and others have now further supported — even though none of them really had to — with an explanation for the thinking behind that choice.
But these aren‘t rational times. Donald Trump has turned reverence for the flag into every American‘s sacred duty (except , naturally). And First Man is a product of Hollywood, that Trump-ordained liberal fortress of progressive ideas that‘s ruining the planet by forcing political correctness down everyone‘s throat. (Or something.)
Together, these two realities of 2018 living turned First Man into an immediate and obvious flashpoint for manufactured controversy. But like so many other examples of pushback against those that aren‘t all-in on Trump and his nativist ideas, it‘s controversy rooted in bad faith debate.
The people bashing First Man over flag stuff are willfully ignoring the stated creative intent behind leaving that moment out of the movie. They just want to “own the libs.” But they‘re so hilariously off the mark here that the “controversy” is really more of a big joke.
Here‘s an idea, First Man haters: Pour all that energy you‘re directing at social media into making a Neil Armstrong movie of your own. Then you can have your flag-planting scene.