Film Review: The Last Man on the Moon
Because a person’s real life is not as narrative-friendly as a movie, a documentary about that person is always a little bit more of a challenge to watch, but this one’s worth it.
The subject is Eugene Cernan, the last person to walk on the Moon during the Apollo program in the 1970s. This documentary follows him as he talks about how the personal journey of an astronaut; but in an interesting twist it also spends a good deal of time talking about the many sacrifices that allowed him to do what he did. In doing this, the movie provides a very balanced and surprisingly mixed conclusion on what the program meant to Cernan specifically, as well as those around him.
Both parts of the documentary work very well, even if occasionally the narrative is forced to drop one aspect to catch you up on the other. To me, the parts about the Apollo program were the most intrinsically interesting – both in what it took to get there and to re-live what it was like. It culminates with Cernan returning to the launchpad in Houston where he was launched into space and seeing his response to its current sorry state; abandoned and partly overgrown in the wake of budget cuts and money diverted away elsewhere (to what?) It is one of the most compellingly subtle criticisms of how we as a society have fallen to the mundane, the trivial, and the dull. Our heroes and adventurers are ageing and nobody new has come along to capture our imagination. (Matt Damon, maybe? He’s been in space twice… I think!)
And yet it is the other part of the documentary, the domestic part, which is initially an unwelcome distraction from the patriotic heroism, that becomes almost more memorable. That’s because, it’s just as important. These heroes were people whose greatest accomplishments were in their youth, and in their pursuit of their dreams they sacrificed a lot… both at the time, and perhaps even more so even if in ways that aren’t apparent, much later.
It’s a testament to the skill with which director Mark Craig weaves both strands of this narrative that by the end of it, you get an overwhelming appreciation of both the consequences for us as a society today (where gaining twitter followers or instagram ‘likes’ captures more effort than the aims of adventure), as well as individuals who were part of something momentous in the past. The Last Man On The Moon, while triumphant and inspiring, also points a clever and critical finger at what we’re losing.
The Last Man on the Moon (2014 USA / 2016 UK) (Documentary)
Last four major movies watched in Cinema or on DVD: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) 4/5; Belle (2013) 4/5, Batman v Superman (2016) 2/5; Bullet to the Head (2013) 3/5.