We normally don’t have American Senators arguing about going ons at the Venice Film Festival, but Twitter feeds demand a constant stream of controversy.
First Man, which finds Ryan Gosling re-teaming with his La La Land director Damien Chazelle to tell the story of Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing, has already wowed critics. Many are saying it’s a giant leap forward for Chazelle, already the youngest winner of the Best Director Oscar in history, while others are summing it up as “Saving Private Ryan in Space.”
Yet, there’s one particular detail, or, to be more specific, lack of a detail that has fired up the culture war and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, who was up at 5:30 a.m. this morning ready to unload on a movie he was decidedly not in Venice to have actually seen.
Though the image of Armstrong planting an American flag on the moon may be the defining iconic image of the mission, a reenactment of the moment didn’t make its way into the film. It’s a decision that some are already interpreting as pointed.
If you thought conservative reaction to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem was insufferable, hold tight. Based on early buzz, First Man may very well be headed all the way to the Oscars, and right-wing outrage could follow it there as well.
“We are so focused on politics & outrage that we overlook the fact that extraordinary Americans are making an impact in our communities,” wrote Rubio on Twitter about another subject before, minutes later, he focused his political outrage on the film.
“This is total lunacy. And a disservice at a time when our people need reminders of what we can achieve when we work together,” he wrote. “The American people paid for that mission,on rockets built by Americans,with American technology & carrying American astronauts. It wasn’t a UN mission.”
Fox & Friends, President Trump’s preferred intelligence agency, also started off their morning raging against the film.
“This is where our country’s going,” said co-host Ainsley Earhardt. “They don’t think America is great―they want to kneel for the flag, for the anthem―it was never great. This is the direction―they’re scared to use the American flag. It’s Hollywood.”
Gosling himself already addressed the matter before the right wing got a hold of it in an interview with The Telegraph.
“I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil,” he said. “I’m Canadian, so might have cognitive bias.”
Indeed, when NASA first considered planting a flag on the moon back in1969, the original idea was to plant the UN Flag. It was an idea inspired by a source you’ll likely never guess: Richard Nixon.
“As we explore the reaches of space, let us go to the new worlds together—not as new worlds to be conquered, but as a new adventure to be shared,” Nixon said in his inaugural address that year.
International treaties forbid individual countries from staking a claim on any extraterrestrial body as their territory, anyway. The decision was a minor controversy at the time, and Congress took it up and eventually passed a law declaring their preference for an American flag.
Gosling says his and Chazalle’s research indicated that Armstrong himself really didn’t care too much either way, and didn’t think that part of the mission was central to the story they were trying to tell.
The story of the first moon landing is one of the most oft-told in American arts, and it would make sense for Chazelle to aim for an artistic telling of the human story behind it, and not some by-the-humber History Channel reenactment.
Still, we live in a time where some feel the only patriotism is ultra-flagrant displays of symbolic patriotism, and anything else is somehow anti-American.
It’s a bit ironic that Rubio and those who will follow suit seem to think not including the scene would serve to tear America apart, when clearly raising division and controversy around a film they haven’t even seen to merely fill up space in the never ending culture wars is not exactly bringing anyone together, either.
There’s also a bit of historical irony as well. Buzz Aldrin claimed that the flag Armstrong planted was knocked over by exhaust as the landing vehicle took off. Its fallen remains and those of the five other American flags that were planted in subsequent missions have also all likely long been bleached white after sustained exposure to the elements.
Regardless of whether symbols remain, the legacy of human and scientific achievement does.