The Last Man on the Moon, Mark Craig’s film about Apollo 10 and 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan, at first resembles many other cultural-history docs: There are interviews, reenactments, and vintage home-movie clips touring us through NASA’s wild Sixties.
The old footage is uniformly arresting, whether it’s showing us the kabooming beauty of liftoff or the astronauts’ wives smiling beneath their fetching bouffants. There are some rueful confessions — “We were not very good husbands. We weren’t very good fathers, either,” says Alan Bean — and choked-up bursts of feeling, as when Cernan reads aloud the letter he wrote to his daughter just before Apollo 10, the test-flight moonshot in which Cernan and co. did everything Neil Armstrong would later except land.
But then the film vaults into orbit itself with its extended treatment of Cernan’s own time on the lunar surface during the last Apollo mission, in 1973. He speaks at affecting length about watching the Earth rise, about the silence and loneliness, about cruising in that buggy rover. We see all this, and because he’s a born talker — and because director Craig is careful and patient — we feel it all, too.
The Last Man on the Moon puts you there and then asks why in the world we haven’t gone back. “I almost wish I didn’t come here today,” Cernan says in recent footage as he walks through what’s left of NASA’s old launch sites. Mostly, though, Craig’s film stirs emotions closer to what Cernan exclaimed when first stepping into the lunar dust: “Oh, my golly! Unbelievable!”
The Last Man on the Moon
Directed by Mark Craig
Mark Stewart Productions
Opens February 26, Village East Cinema