Damien Chazelle’s First Man—the Neil Armstrong biopic that sees Ryan Gosling giving a pensive, internal take on the man history books have since immortalized as Ol’ One Giant Leap-o—had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week, drawing strong praise for Chazelle’s direction, and the lead performances from Gosling and co-star Claire Foy. But there’s one small, but vocal, contingent of avid space movie-goers who are apparently pretty upset with the movie’s depiction of the Apollo 11 mission: People approaching apoplexy because the film doesn’t show the moment when Gosling’s Neil Armstrong slams his big, strong American flag into the tender, waiting surface of the moon.
Lead among them: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who was apparently incensed at Gosling’s comments that he believed Armstrong saw the moon landing as a “human achievement,” not necessarily a solely American one, and that that might have led to the decision to focus on other parts of the mission instead. (To be clear, the flag is in the movie, we just don’t get to see the moment of insertion.) Rubio—clearly incensed by Gosling’s Canadian trickery—struck back on Twitter, decrying the decision:
It would be, Rubio seems to be saying, like if you were watching a porno, and they cut out the money shot. How are conservative flag fetishists to jerk off to Chazelle’s movie now?
Several people involved in the production of the film have now, of course, been forced to comment on FirstManWhyWon’tTheyShowHimStickingHisFlagInTheMoon’sSupple,VirginalSurfaceGate, including Gosling, Chazelle, and Armstrong’s sons, several of whom have now issued statements on this topic. (While avoiding the obvious real reason for the exclusion, i.e., that this fake moon landing couldn’t properly replicate the flag-planting physics of the real fake moon landing.) Chazelle specifically noted that there was nothing political about the “exclusion” of the moment, and that he had simply chosen to focus on Armstrong’s more private lunar experiences, and not, say, on an image that literally nearly every human being in America had already seen.
In First Man I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but 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. 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.
I wanted the primary focus in that scene to be on Neil’s solitary moments on the moon—his point of view as he first exited the LEM, his time spent at Little West Crater, the memories that may have crossed his mind during his lunar EVA. This was a feat beyond imagination; it was truly a giant leap for mankind. This film is about one of the most extraordinary accomplishments not only in American history, but in human history. My hope is that by digging under the surface and humanizing the icon, we can better understand just how difficult, audacious and heroic this moment really was.
But we here at The A.V. Club are obviously here to give our readers what they want, so if you’re feeling “let down” by Chazelle’s choice, here’s a quick potential source of relief. (Warning: The following video contains content that may not be safe for work.)