Twentieth Century Fox Films releases The Last Man on The Moon this week in the UK, a documentary about Eugene Cernan, a former Nasa astronaut and Navy captain who landed on the surface of the Moon. He went to space three times: as a pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966, as a lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969, and as a commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972.
Hollywood consistently invests in films about journey to the stars, in sci-fi films, in documentaries or in fiction based in true facts. During Obama’s tenure, the titles included Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013), Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski, 2013), Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014), The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015), Men in Black II (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2002), the Star Trek series, the Star Wars series and many other. The US seem to enjoy spending money in space sagas more than any other country. So what is the relation between Nasa and Hollywood?
The answer is: both Nasa and Hollywood are deeply political establishments.
Politics in Hollywood started early, with the FBI ordering secret agents to keep a close eye on Hollywood ‘radicals’ already in 1918. In the postwar era, the influence of cinema grew further, and Hollywood pundits became involved in politics in different ways. Actor Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, and the also actor Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California in 2003.
The space programme is a recurring theme in American politics, and it’s at the heart of American voters. President Obama cancelled the Constellation Program, which inflicted damage on his image. Hillary Clinton says she “really supports the space program”; she even wanted to be an astronaut when she was 14. Bernie Sanders has been criticised for voting to decrease Nasa’s budget. And Donald Trump, ambiguously affirms, “I think it’s wonderful. I want to rebuild our infrastructure first”.
The Last Man on The Moon conveys a message of invincibility. Captain Eugene Cernan speaks out frankly about it: “From 22 to 27, I was invincible. I had a big ego. No one has ever been to orbit and we were challenged to go to the Moon.” Not even the mission failures — including a training jet crash in 1966 and a spacecraft test fire in 1967 killing 5 astronauts — dented Cernan’s quest for fame. He admits he was selfish, not a good husband or a good father. Nevertheless, he affirms he had to act that way, otherwise he wouldn’t succeed.
This film has no subversive content per se. Mark Craig took five years to bring it to the big screen. It shows a collection of historical images searched at Kennedy Space Center, Nasa, the National Flight Academy and even at the London Science Museum. But clearly its purpose is to endure an image that “America is invincible” when focused on “progress and technology”.
Mark Craig took the astronaut back to a number of locations that featured previously in his life, in a clear attempt to trigger his insights and memories. What comes out of it is a passion to achieve a certain goal, whatever the cost. In terms of narrative, The Last Man on The Moon stands for a classical kind of cinema. The plot goes: equilibrium, disruption of the equilibrium, re-establish the equilibrium. The first and the last scenes show Cerne in his ranch in Texas. The disruption, of course, is the challenge to conquer the Moon.
The classical narrative structure usually presents one of the two plot lines: one involving romance and other portraying a mission or a quest, a work, a war. The passage of time in the documentary certifies that Cerne’s choices were correct; his tenacity enabled him to achieve his goals. There is a moment in which Cerne is called for a secret meeting in a hotel, where he finds out that all other guests have checked in under the same alias. These tricks are justified in the name of a higher purpose: the US are proud to display their flag and conquer territories. What is ironic is that the symbol of a flag raised in the Moon is not visible anywhere on Earth.
The Last Man on The Moon is out in cinemas this Friday April 8th, with a special Nationwide Live Q&A with Captain Eugene Cernan on April 11th. For more information please click here, and don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: