If you look at First Man as the story of the first man on the moon, it may come up short because that’s not really the story director Damien Chazelle was aiming to make. Yes, it’s a “mission movie” of sorts, but everything he does is to make the journey as intimate as possible. Although there’s still some distance due to the stoicism of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling in a criminally overlooked performance that’s too quiet for most awards prognosticators and voters), what Chazelle is looking at is a story of monumental achievement punctuated by grief and disaster. If the moon shot was an attempt to control the cosmos, the story of Armstrong, as shown here, is the story of everything that can’t be controlled.
That’s why the deleted scene on the new 4K and Blu-ray of First Man (now available to own) of the house fire is so impactful. To be fair, there are loads of reasons why a scene might be deleted, and unfortunately, since there’s no commentary on the deleted scene it remains a bit of a mystery why this one was cut. Perhaps it slowed down the pacing or Chazelle felt it emphasized an emotional beat or theme he had hit elsewhere in the film. I’m not saying the scene shouldn’t have been cut since I don’t know the reasoning behind its removal, but the scene itself fits perfectly with the rest of the movie.
In the scene, Neil and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) wake up to discover their house is on fire (this is probably about a third of the way through the movie since they have two sons and one of the sons is a baby). As the fire consumes the house, Neil works to get his family outside but discovers one of his sons is still in the building. He rushes back inside and gets his son out before yelling at him (as a scared parent would) for not following instructions and leaving the house. It’s one of the few times where we see Neil’s stoic appearance crack and see a terrified human being who almost lost another child.
If you look at the scene as a microcosm of the themes of the movie—a man wrestling with tragedy after tragedy as he attempts to fulfill his mission—then the house fire scene is a powerful moment where Armstrong has to come face to face with his greatest fear, which isn’t the loss of his own life, but the loss of the people he loves. That loss is something he encounters again and again throughout the film, and First Man suggests that Armstrong’s greatness isn’t simply by virtue of being the first man on the moon, but rather his demeanor that let him deal with personal adversity and grief. I’d love to know why Chazelle cut the scene because it would have gone well with the rest of the movie.
The deleted scene is just one of a treasure of special features on the 4K and Blu-ray discs, and if you’re looking to pick it up, I highly recommend the 4K. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is stunning and the 4K provides a gorgeous level of texture before blowing your mind once they reach the moon at the end and the film goes IMAX. First Man isn’t really a movie of eye-popping colors, but the level of immersion is top tier. I saw the film in IMAX and the 4K is about as close as you can get to that experience at home.