The Best Astronaut Movie That Ever Was

Forget La La Land In Space, Watch The Right Stuff Instead

This week’s Oscar™-quality pretentious nonsense is ‘La La Land In Space,’ starring an emotionless Ryan Gosling in a joyless depiction of the most astonishing achievement in human history. It’s like a feature-length version of the Gil-Scott Heron jazz poetry classic “Whitey On The Moon,”  only without the pointed social satire. Instead of a guilt-riddled emo version of the moon landing, allow me to instead recommend one of the greatest movies of all time, 1983’s The Right Stuff. 

Philip Kaufman‘s masterpiece celebrates a time when America actually accomplished things, when people of purpose achieved the impossible. Yet even though, in some ways, the film embodies Reagan-era swagger, it’s not blindly jingoistic. The Russians may seem like an abstract enemy, but this was before the Internet, when we didn’t really have access to them, or them to us. The Right Stuff captures the Space Race in all its tension, when the stakes to get up into the wild blue yonder couldn’t have been higher.

I eat Ryan Gosling for breakfast. 

The film features an almost stunning array of non-Gosling masculine performances. Sam Shepard is incredible and stoic as Chuck Yeager, the film’s real hero. Ed Harris, born to play John Glenn, gives him a gentlemanly dignity and Boy Scout machismo. Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, and Dennis Quaid all dominate their scenes. It’s an ensemble with a half-dozen leading men. Though this movie definitely leans macho, Barbara Hershey and Veronica Cartwright, among others, give the deepest “long-suffering astronaut wife” portrayals in that clichéd character genre. Given that the movie is three-and-a-half hours long, there’s even room for funny supporting turns from Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer.

The Right Stuff contains more legendary set pieces than a half-dozen movies. The scene where Yeager breaks the sound barrier would be enough, but then there’s another one where he walks away from a wrecked sonic jet alive, his face burnt to a crisp, helmet in hand. When John Glenn orbits the Earth, in a segment as long as his actual voyage, even the Aboriginal mumbo-jumbo down on the ground works. Gus Grissom’s failure to stick the landing gets a moving depiction. There’s the entire training sequence, complete with the funniest masturbation scene ever put to film, the scene where Shepard pisses his spacesuit, the Sally Rand fan dance, and so many more, all accentuated by Bill Conti’s gorgeous and stirring score that recalls Tchaikovsky at his height.

If this closing scene from the movie, narrated by The Band’s Levon Helm, doesn’t move you to tears, then you’re a heartless person who hates humanity. Gordo Cooper finally gets to go into space. Throughout the closing credits, we see fire and smoke, as humanity confidently heads off toward an uncertain future, no matter the consequences.

 

Oh Lord, what a heavenly light.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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