Space movies are certainly getting a lot of love in recent years. Films like The Martian, Gravity, and Interstellar have cleaned up at the box office and at awards shows in just the past three years, finding success in following the adventures of a singular astronaut in outer space. But all three of those astronauts were fictional: Gene Cernan is the real deal.
The Last Man on the Moon is both the story of one man, as well as the story of a major national experiment. The documentary follows the life of Navy pilot-turned-NASA astronaut Eugene Cernan, the most recent person to set foot on the moon as a part of Apollo 17 in 1972.
The film opens in the approximate present, showing Cernan sporting a cowboy hat watching a bull rider at a rodeo. Gradually, the bucking bronco transforms into a whirring astronaut training machine in Cernan’s mind. It’s this juxtaposition of cutting edge space travel and down-to-Earth charm that help the film tell its story of both superhuman adventure and human relationships and struggles. These two themes perfectly coalesce later in the film when Cernan writes his daughter’s name on the surface of the moon.
While much of Cernan’s personal life and his stories of the space program during its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s are enlightening and entertaining (apparently the astronauts had very wild parties together back in the day), some of the more technical elements of his career can become tedious for viewers who aren’t obsessed with the history of the space travel. Still, as an established public speaker to this day, Cernan knows how to spin a great yarn, and if you do zone out for a moment, he can quickly reel you back in with the time he nearly died on his Gemini 9 mission or the surprisingly fierce politics behind his being chosen for the Apollo 10 crew.