BYH, Trump said on Howard Stern's show before he was elected that he used to go backstage at teen pageants and ogle the...

The lesson of 'First Man' is not about the flag


Ramesh Ponnuru


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Weeks before it opened, "First Man" became embroiled in one of those stupid controversies that are now our economy's chief product. The movie, in telling the story of Neil Armstrong, does not show him planting the U.S. flag on the moon. Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, only heightened the criticism of this omission by saying that the moon landing was "widely regarded not as an American, but as a human achievement."

We see the flag on the moon (and we see many U.S. flags on earth) in the movie. The reason it does not show the flag being planted is that it would be a distraction from the story the movie wants to tell. And this movie is never distracted: Not a moment is wasted.

Its story is not social or political; it is personal. The focus on Armstrong's psychology can sometimes feel claustrophobic - as can the shots of the interiors of the tin cans he was flying in. But if some of the scenes are unbearable, they are never unwatchable.

So forget the nonsense about the flag. "First Man" uses Armstrong to celebrate the American character or, at least, a certain kind of American character: competitive, driven, risk-taking, technologically adept, laconic, stoic; both practical and romantic.

The movie's celebration of that character is not, however, uncritical. We see the costs of Armstrong's devotion to his mission: the costs to him, to his fellow astronauts and their families, and above all to his relationship with his wife and children.

"First Man" lets the critics of the race to the moon have their say, too; it does not pretend that the country was united, although its divisions, like the flag-planting, are not its focus. The lens widens briefly to view the social unrest of the 1960s over Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey on the Moon."

Which, let's face it, could have been an alternative title for the movie. It was predominantly white men who went to the moon, and the movie does not indulge in any revisionism on that point. Yes, they were all white men; but perhaps this was not the most important thing about them.

The movie engages in some guesswork and some dramatic condensation of events. But, so far as this (non-space-buff) reviewer can tell, it is faithful to the history. Its efforts to convey the visual and even tactile sensations of space exploration are close to miraculous.

"First Man" gives us an alternative personality type, too, in Buzz Aldrin, who comes across as boorishly willing to say whatever passes through his mind. We are more Aldrin than Armstrong now. Self-expression reigns over stoicism in the culture.

Hence the movie's mood of nostalgia, however qualified, for the days when we were reaching for the stars. We admire the men who went to the moon, but we know we would not have done what they did.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, a senior editor at National Review, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and contributor to CBS News.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

April 24, 2019

On April 18, U.S. Attorney General William Barr released Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the probe into "Russian meddling" in the 2016 presidential election. The report cleared President Donald Trump and his campaign team of allegations that they conspired with the Russian government in…


April 24, 2019

George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School hired Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to co-teach a course this summer called Creation of the Constitution. The course will be held 3,668 miles away, in Runnymede, England, where the Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago.


Walter Williams

April 23, 2019

The Fayetteville Observer

Lumberton got some desperately needed help last week, delivered by Gov. Roy Cooper. The city will get $1.1 million in grants to help prevent repeats of the severe damage the city suffered in Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

The biggest portion of the grants will help build…

April 23, 2019

The Wi-Fi on my flight from Rome to Newark wasn't working, so phones were buzzing about Notre Dame as soon as we hit the runway. After the initial shock and sadness, gratitude was expressed. There are upsides to being disconnected: At least we didn't have to watch something we couldn't control on…


April 23, 2019

If you value fact-based debate and impactful public policy, the state legislature's action over its "born alive abortion survivor" bill last week was cringeworthy.

The proposal brought the year's most overheated rhetoric to Raleigh, and the outlandish claims kept the fact-checkers busy.

But despite…

Colin Campbell

April 22, 2019

Whether he’s advocating a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or threatening to completely shut down entries, President Trump is more about theatrics than logistics on immigration policy.

His latest idea: Send undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities — loosely defined as…

Migrant Surge-8

April 22, 2019

Did you know that manufacturing employment in North Carolina has gone up more than 10 percent since 2010? I didn’t either, until I took a recent dive into economic statistics.

In February 2010, there were about 431,000 jobs at manufacturing enterprises in North Carolina. By February 2019,…


April 22, 2019

Patriotism prevailed, and it is likely to continue prevailing.

This is the most significant revelation to come from the long-awaited Mueller report when it documented instances of individuals in President Trump’s circle of aides and allies refusing to do his bidding. They helped save him from…

April 21, 2019

State Senate leader Phil Berger held a news conference recently to announce changes in his plan to improve student reading levels, but the real news was the man he invited to join him, J.B. Buxton, a member of the State Board of Education.

Buxton, a Democrat, is a former deputy superintendent of…

April 21, 2019

There is a mountain of evidence that President Trump obstructed justice. There is considerable evidence that the Trump campaign embraced and encouraged Russia's attempt to meddle in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller laid out the facts — and now Congress has a solemn duty to…

Eugene Robinson
265 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 27
        Next Page»   Last Page»