COLUMN: 'First Man' does not need to be patriotic

First Man” tells the story of Neil Armstrong and the moon landing. The film has sparked controversy over a month before its release date because it does not portray Armstrong planting the U.S. flag on the moon.

Ryan Gosling stars as Armstrong and has defended the film’s lack of any such scene. Gosling is Canadian.

“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement and that’s how we chose to view it,” Gosling said to interviewers at the Venice Film Festival.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio took issue with the decision not to include Armstrong planting an American flag. Rubio tweeted in response to the news and Gosling’s defense of the omission.

The headline quoted Gosling as having said “I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero.”

Rubio responded. “This is total lunacy. And a disservice at a time when our people need reminders of what we can achieve when we work together. The American people paid for that mission, on rockets built by Americans, with American technology & carrying American astronauts. It wasn’t a UN mission.”

While I itch to ask why Rubio is using his platform to address this issue, I recognize that politicians are human, too. As such is the case, they are entitled to their opinions on trivial matters. Despite this, I cannot help but wonder why this particular issue matters so much to him.

The absence of a segment wherein hunky American Armstrong impales the surface of the moon with that crisp red, white, and blue is about as much of a nonissue as a person can have. 

Just as scenes were cut from the over 4,000 pages of the Harry Potter series to pare them down into eight full length movies, so too, will scenes be cut from our favorite real-life stories when they’re made into feature-length films. Not every clip that ends up on the cutting room floor is there for some profound reason. As a matter of fact, the scenes that end up there do so because of their lack of significance.

The failure to include the planting of the Old Glory on the moon is not so much an anti-America power move as it is a careful choice by filmmakers concerned with the pacing and messaging of their movie. Each shot in a film is purposeful, and tossing in some frames of the stars and stripes so as not to ruffle feathers undermines the work, especially if the story frames Armstrong as a human and family man more than it does an American hero. 

Audiences pay attention to each shot more than they realize, and a thirty second tear-jerker for America distracts from any theme or storyline that isn’t centered around patriotism.

Furthermore, were the storyline U.S.-centric, no amount of orchestral overlays could make Ryan Gosling’s flag planting as meaningful as Neil Armstrong’s. Armstrong planted the flag in 1969, and people watched all over the globe. Making this movie about America’s importance in the moon landing not only washes over the event’s ability to unify the world, but also celebrates a sliver of the United States as the whole pie. 

Many of the demographics that make up the United States were not visible in 1969, and even those that were visible likely do not have their personal contributions to the moon landing represented in “First Man.” To attempt a grand symbolic moment of hyper-patriotism in a film with a cast comprised overwhelmingly of straight white males would be a mistake. 

If a film with such a disappointingly exclusive cast is self-aware enough not to market itself as a triumph of all Americans coming together to accomplish the extraordinary, this small feat should not be criticized, unless the criticism is that it’s the bare minimum.

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