By Herb Bowie
Apollo 11 may well be the most important movie you’ll see all year.
No matter what your age or orientation (political or otherwise), it’s hard to gainsay the significance of humankind’s first trip through space to set foot on a celestial body other than our birth planet.
Of course fictional space flight has become so common, in books and film, that sitting down for two hours to watch a documentary about a real trip that took place half a century ago might seem like a somewhat pedestrian enterprise.
Ah, but don’t be fooled.
Like the mission itself, the film is the work of supreme technicians who understand that the reward for dedication to their craft, their mission and their colleagues, is the accomplishment of some high achievement that no one of them could possibly have realized on their own.
If there is a central tragedy at the heart of most contemporary filmmaking, it is this: that so many people work so seamlessly together, applying such high levels of technical skill to create astonishing sequences of special effects, only to tell us one more story about some isolated loner seeking some combination of money, glory or revenge: and so the stories oft told by such films are frank betrayals of the realities of how these movies actually get made.
Apollo 11 is completely different. It shows us the gradual, measured unfolding of a true story about a real accomplishment. And in each loving frame, it reveals the truth of what actually happened, and how such achievements are possible. And what it shows us is nothing like what we see in most fiction, and nothing like what we too often see in society around us today. Instead, here’s what we are privileged to observe:
It’s hard to imagine finding two hours of cinema that could prove more instructive or enlightening in 2019, or perhaps in any year.
And don’t let the understated style of filmmaking here lull you into the belief that nothing of significance is going on: in truth, the slow, measured, taut presentation of the film is a reflection of the very characteristics of the mission it is documenting, and the adventurers it depicts. The style of the film is simply a perfectly appropriate extension of its subject matter, and a way for the moviemakers to instruct us, not just by what they show us, but by how it is shown.
I’ve been reading This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution by David Sloan Wilson of late, and I can recommend this illuminating book as the perfect companion to Apollo 11. Wilson explains patiently and convincingly how we humans are the products, for better or for worse, of our collective cultural evolution. He also talks about how we humans have the ability to work together seamlessly to form large and capable societies, as well as the ways in which those societies can break down, and what we must do to rebuild them.
For anyone who sincerely wishes to make America great again, or indeed to undertake and sustain any complex, demanding but worthwhile human enterprise, Apollo 11 provides an essential and convincing view of how such things are really done.
Published 2019 Jul 20