THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON"
The documentary opens with a man taking his seat at a rodeo. People surround him, but pay him no attention. To them, he is just another senior citizen settling in to watch the show. In reality, he is Gene Cernan, one of the Apollo astronauts and also the last man to set foot on the surface of the moon. The appropriately titled The Last Man on the Moon shows the remarkable accomplishments of this humble, unassuming, incredibly important man.
It would be fascinating just to sit and have a drink with Cernan, listening to his amazing life stories. Director Mark Craig wisely structures the documentary so that you get that overall effect. Cernan tells his personal tale, while archival footage, animation, and a few select reenactments supplement his words. The story of how he went into space multiple times, culminating with the moon landing, has no shortage of drama. It was a tragedy that led to his first trip into orbit (the original astronaut selected for the mission died in a plane crash), and a dumb mistake nearly cost him the Apollo 17 mission that cemented his place in the history books. In between those key events, Cernan talks about the role ego played in his mentality, his frequent job-related neglect of his family, and the incredible sensation coupled with unexpected loneliness of standing on the moon. Hearing him describe, in depth, the things that swirled around in his head as he stood so far from Earth is awe-inspiring.
Craig takes Cernan back to some key locations throughout the movie, allowing us to see the impact they have. The famed astronaut revisits the house where he once resided, on the street where his colleagues also lived. Later, he visits one of the launch sites, which is now out of use and decaying. I don't want to remember it this way, he protests. I almost wish I hadn't come. These segments are key, because while Cernan is quite articulate in describing his experiences, the visits allow us to see the emotions he feels the ones that could never be fully expressed with mere words. They provide a more intimate look at what it means to do something that only a small handful of people in the history of the world have ever done. The personal magnitude of the accomplishment comes across loud and clear.
Many friends and colleagues are interviewed, too. Their contributions prove just as enlightening. Cernan's ex-wife, for example, describes the anguish of knowing one's spouse is on a potentially fatal mission. If you think going to the moon is hard, you ought to try staying home, she observes. Cernan's daughter appears on camera as well, and if she harbors any resentment for the domestic sacrifices her father made, she doesn't show them. She just seems proud. The other interview subjects help fill in some of the gaps, providing insight into how being a true pioneer/explorer impacts those around you and explaining the inherent risks Cernan and other astronauts faced.
Before he left the moon, Gene Cernan wrote his daughter's initials into the dusty surface. It was his way of putting a personal stamp on the mission. Early on in The Last Man on the Moon, Cernan says he doesn't think about his journey too much, and doesn't really stop to look at the moon for more than a few seconds when he glimpses it in the sky. That may seem odd, but he doesn't have to. This spellbinding documentary illustrates that every second of his excursions into space are still fully vivid in his mind. And for Cernan, the mission continues. He acknowledges feeling a responsibility to teach younger generations about the space program. In sharing his recollections with the filmmakers and us a vital, wondrous piece of history is beautifully preserved.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: The Last Man on the Moon is available in select theaters and on VOD.
The Last Man on the Moon is unrated, but contains a few instances of mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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