Although it has only just premiered, Damien Chazelle's La La Land follow up, First Man is already facing some backlash. The film stars Ryan Gosling as legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong and chronicles the Apollo 11 mission and the 1969 moon landing. However, it does not, apparently, show Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the lunar surface. This omission has caused outrage from people who see it as re-writing history to scrub out the fact that the moon landing was unquestionably an American achievement. Ryan Gosling has responded to these concerns and the artistic choices the film made, saying:
I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that's how we chose to view it.
As reported by IndieWire, Ryan Gosling's response indicates that First Man is viewing the moon landing through the lens of what a milestone moment it was in human history and less how it was an American victory in the space race that was a chapter in the Cold War. Ryan Gosling views the moon landing as "transcending countries and borders." The patriotism behind the space race isn't entirely absent from First Man, either, as Neil Armstrong and company are visibly upset at The Soviet Union's successes as they seemed to be ahead of the Americans at different points before the moon landing. It just seems like the focus of this movie is not on the nationalistic aspect of things but on the people involved and the emotional and physical difficulties they endured to achieve this unprecedented feat.
Neil Armstrong himself did not have a preference about what flag was planted and only planted the American flag, instead of the United Nations one, when Congress decided on it. Ryan Gosling cites Neil Armstrong's lack of strong opinion on the matter as part of why the flag planting omission isn't a big deal, saying:
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.
These comments and the omission of the flag planting have led to predictable backlash. However, considering that the movie isn't out yet and has only just premiered at the Venice Film Festival, a lot of anger has come from people who haven't actually seen it. It should also be noted that there is some debate about whether Ryan Gosling's responses here were in regards to a question about a Canadian actor playing the role of American hero Neil Armstrong, and not about the flag planting omission.
It seems, too, that the actual issue may have been blown out of proportion. The backlash has seemingly presumed that the flag isn't shown on the moon at all and that the history of the landing is re-written in the film. However, according to Screen Crush, people who have actually seen the film have shed a little more light on the flag situation and explained that although Damien Chazelle does not dwell on the specific moment of the flag planting, where Armstrong and Aldrin fiddle with it, the flag is definitely visible in multiple shots in the scene on the moon. So, the American-ness of the moon landing has not been scrubbed, it just isn't the narrative focus, which is instead on Neil Armstrong, the man and the astronaut.
So, it sounds like the actual planting itself either isn't shown or is just briefly shown but the stars and stripes will definitely be visible on the moon in the film. Ultimately this will all be clarified a little bit better once more people get a chance to see First Man and then everyone can judge for themselves how the film handles this historic achievement.
First Man blasts into theaters on October 12th. For all the biggest movies still to come this year, check out our release schedule.