In The Shadow of the Moon | Notes & Review

Posted on August 29, 2010


THiNK FiLM, 2008. DVD [PG]

This is a fascinating documentary of the Apollo missions during the 1960s in which the United States was in a race to land a man on the moon. Ron Howard interweaves politics and culture into the narrative to bring in the broader context of this space endeavor (JFK, Vietnam, Civil Rights, Women’s Movement, etc.) The cinematography needs little help as the actual footage of the events brings enough intense drama. It is actually quite an amazing piece of our American History.

Below are some of the key elements that my wife and I thought were powerful and moving.

1. This really does seem like science fiction. I’m currently reading a book entitled Radical Evolution, and the things that are mentioned in there (telekinetic powers, superhuman strength, nanotechnologies, etc.) seem so far fetched as to be classified as “fiction,” not as “science.” Well, we were struck with how this same sentiment must have been felt when discussing the possibilities of landing a man on the moon. Imagine that not just 40 years earlier did the Wright brothers take to flight, and we were looking at an extraterrestrial pursuit? It must have been an amazing time to have lived this, seeing it actually come to life. In addition, seeing the past in this light really causes one to wonder as to what the future truly may hold for all things currently deemed as science “fiction.”

2. Kennedy’s call was a poignant lesson in leadership. There is still debate as to how much JFK really believed in his commission, that the US would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Regardless, I found something quite powerful in the “rallying cry” of the country during a time of tumult and controversy. Seeing the juxtaposition of a foreign war (Vietnam), a near civil war (Civil & Women’s Rights), an era fraught with movements (hippies, etc.), and the grandest endeavor science has ever undertaken (the moon) really touched me as a powerful reminder that no matter what challenges people face, a vision can truly unify, captivate, inspire, and for all practical purposes, preserve a people. Michael Collins made mention of their trips around the world after their return, and reports that people, all over the globe did not say “you did it,” but rather “we did it.” In other words, we, human kind, the human race. There is something quite powerful regarding the representation of a few, with courage, with leadership, with vision, to infuse a new identity in the people who follow.

3. What makes a hero. It was clear from the testimonies that these men did not see themselves any different than anyone else. Aldrin mentioned how he went from being a “pilot” to national hero, and “I did absolutely nothing.” I find his evaluation false. He did do something. He followed his heart, his dream, his passion, and his leaders. And I find his evaluation true. He never pursued “heroism,” but rather being fully the human he desired to be. Perhaps there are some lessons here. Heroism is evasive; the more you pursue it, the more it eludes you. Second, heroes are simply regular people who embody, not super human powers, rather true human qualities in powerful and super ways.  Third, we see in heroes what we want to see in ourselves; someone who can truly attain their dreams. Fourth, heroes are mere representatives of our passions in the midst of our fears.

4. The intersection of faith and science. Unexpectedly, during the end of the film, several of the astronauts made statements of faith that were intriguing. While the full discussion of the subject is not the focus of the film, nor of this blog post, it seems appropriate to include some of their comments below as more points for discussion.

I felt that I was literally standing on a plateau out there somewhere in space. A plateau that science and technology had allowed me to get to. But now what I was seeing, and even more important, what I was feeling at that moment in time, science and technology had no answers, literally no answers, because there I was, and there you are, the earth, dynamic, overwhelming, and I felt that the world was just, – just too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be somebody bigger than you, and bigger than me. And i mean this in a spiritual sense, not in a religious sense. There has to be a creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern our lives. – Gene Ceman, Apollo 10 & 17.

A friend of ours got us to go to a Bible study at a tennis club. After that weekend, I said to Jesus, “I give you my life. If you’re real, come into my life. I believe.” And he did. And I had this sense of peace that was hard to describe. It was so dramatic, that we started sharing our story. And I say, my walk in the moon was three days and it was a great adventure, but my walk with God lasts forever. – Charlie Duke, Apollo 16

5. Significance and insignificance held in tension. The final sentiments rallied around the truths of our insignificance, that we are simply a small, “pale blue dot” (Sagan), floating in a vast universe, and that the little quibbles of life are quite meaningless in light of the totality of the universe. Yet, we are also truly significant, that we’ve been blessed with existence, consciousness, and the ability to make a difference. We truly are lucky to be here. “We are living in the garden of Eden. … I feel blessed every single day. Not a day goes by where I don’t think, ‘this is great’ ” – Allan Bean, Apollo 12.

Posted in: Reviews, Science