First Man and the Power of Story-driven Cinematography

First Man finally hit theaters in my neck of the woods, so I jumped at the chance to see it in all its IMAX glory.

I was not disappointed.

From its starting moments, First Man differentiates itself from other space exploration films by pushing its cameras close and personal with the actors, teetering more into the realm of the extreme close up rather than sticking to just your basic fare close ups. It creates the sense of great intimacy during character-centric dialogue scenes, but saves its full potential to the tense moments of preparatory space flight experiments.

In these moments, instead of aiming to fill us with awe at the vastness and beauty of space, First Man focuses on the human experience. We are crammed into the tight space of the pod with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), only seeing space from the small windows he would see it through and only hearing the creaking of metal he would be hearing. Ultimately, it is a very uncomfortable sensation, as subconsciously you start feeling the anxiety such a precariously unpredictable situation would ignite in you, if you were the one living through it. Before you know it, this movie makes you, the viewer, feel exhausted.


This approach culminates in a massive pay off once the men finally reach the moon. When the camera exits the lunar module and we are presented with an extreme wide shot of the moon, the film finally expands into full IMAX and full silence. There is no question that the claustrophobic cameras and all the rattling of strained metal were only ever building up to this moment, this stark contrasting moment. I knew what was coming before hand, but still this moment impacted me greatly, and it was clear that everyone else was going through the same – not once has a movie theater been so quiet before. No coughing, no shuffling on one’s seat, no nothing. Just the total silence presented to us by the film.

Once the film takes us back to Earth, the aspect ratio shrinks from full IMAX once more and we are back to the very familiar on the skin cameras. That moment on the moon starts to feel like a distant dream, one you can’t quite be sure really happened, and I start to wonder, after their return was that how Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins felt like too?

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