The Last Man On The Moon tells the story of Gene Cernan, a man who joined an elite band as one of only 12 people to have set foot on the Moon’s surface.
This documentary by Mark Craig examines the unseen toll that a superhuman level of professional accomplishment and personal sacrifice had on Cernan’s life, and on the lives of those around him back on Earth.
It took five years for Craig to get the film realised, and at nearly two hours long I felt I’d been in a five-year orbit watching the trajectory of Cernan’s life play out. From stunning archival footage and photographs, to interviews with Cernan and his friends in the present day, a light is shone on key points in his life.
From Cernan’s beginnings as a hot-shot Air Force pilot, through his astronaut career to his still-action-packed retirement, his drive to excel was and is clear. What is less clear is what impact a life lived on two worlds has had on those around him. I got a sense of it only by looking at the expressions on faces and what was left unsaid, which hinted at how those left behind on Earth really felt.
A faithfully CGI-created Gemini 9 mission spacewalk illustrates how far we’ve come now in terms of space technology, as we can compare this to real-life footage of current spacewalks and equipment. This adds a sense of awe to what is understood about Cernan’s makeup, in a time when Astronauts were sent out to space with barely anything connecting them to Earth.
The film replays the events that would put him in Saturn 5’s cargo on Apollo 17, the final manned mission to the Moon. Cernan speaks with an air of reflectiveness and insight perhaps reserved for people in their twilight years, filled with regret that his life choices had taken him away from the people he loved most.
It’s an interesting dichotomy: astronaut superstar or failed husband? When the world only sees you as one massively celebrated thing, how do you begin to compensate for that in your personal life? In one scene, Cernan sits on a swing bench with his now-adult daughter and admits his life was “selfish”, to which she seems to have no reply.
Cernan recounts upon landing on the Moon, “It was the ultimate quiet-time in my life”, and for the audience, this is ours as the space of unspoken words between father and daughter stretches on.
The film is scored by Lorne Balfe who is responsible for music featuring in popular gaming franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, and it’s to this gentle yet sweeping soundtrack that we are taken into the past of grainy archival footage, beautiful Lunar landscapes and suburban 1960’s America.
My one gripe about the film, built on the autobiography of a busy life packed with jet fuel, is that I should have felt the acceleration of one man’s life booster jets pushing him to excel in his field. Instead, long, slow shots of space are intercut with quieter moments of reflection, perhaps accurately depicting this particular moment in Cernan’s life. The film closes with Cernan at a cushioned and thoughtful rest as he finally seems to have made peace with his achievements and mistakes in later life.
I’d recommend this for a watch, largely because of the stunning archival footage, and some genuinely touching moments between Cernan and his friends and family. Just remember to strap-in and settle down for the long haul.
The Last Man On The Moon is released April 8.
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