The Last Man on the Moon
This familiar but handsome film recounts the experiences of astronaut Eugene Cernan
Handsomely mounted and elegiac in tone, Mark Craig’s documentary portrait of the last astronaut to walk on the moon turns his story into a tribute to American ambition, to the unique political and poetic symbolism of reaching the moon, and to the sort of stoic, self-made American elder whose way of life all of the current presidential candidates would probably like to claim they are protecting.
Eugene ‘Gene’ Cernan, now 82, made his way from a rural upbringing on a farm with no electricity to become one of the gilded few scientists deemed worthy of representing America in space. Cernan flew on both Apollo 10, the pathfinder mission for Apollo 11, in 1969, and the final manned moon mission to date, Apollo 17, in 1972. His story, detailed in the autobiography that provided this film with its source material, thus covers the life cycle of the Apollo programme. That’s material which has been covered a lot in documentaries, and this does have a familiar feel – with its stirring orchestral score and its focus on the personal impact of space travel, it bears a particular resemblance to 2007’s In the Shadow of the Moon.
It can be wearying in its reliance on cliché – way too many cutesy pop tunes ram home the optimistic side of 60s America, and a drinking game marking interviewees’ use of rusty idioms (‘You never know what fate has in store!’, ‘We worked hard and we played hard!’, ‘If these walls could talk!’) would result in dangerous intoxication. Certainly this is a film that seeks to reinforce beautiful myths rather than challenge them, and as a result it can give the impression of being a feel-good film for nostalgic American patriots. Still, Cernan is a wise, warm presence, and the specifics of his story are extraordinary enough to withstand the somewhat hackneyed treatment.
Selected release from Fri 8 Apr.