Film Review: The Last Man on the Moon


Not too many men can sit by a campfire at night, look up at the moon and know that they once bounded across its chalky grey surface. Gene Cernan is one of only twelve lucky souls to have done so, leaving the final human footprints of the Apollo missions in its lunar dust. The Last Man on the Moon shines a light on a charismatic, courageous – some might say foolhardy – thrill seeker and spaceman whose contribution to exploring the great yonder is on a par with any of his pioneering band of brothers, including a famous colleague who once took a giant leap for mankind.

Director Mark Craig benefits from an engaging subject whose snow white hair and advanced years cannot disguise an infectious vigour and enthusiasm which would be the envy of many half his age. A documentary biopic that shares nostalgia for a bygone era of discovery and a reverence for remarkable feats of human engineering and endurance, it will have you gazing skyward with wonderment and exhilaration. Allowing Cernan’s exploits and interviewed eloquence to largely speak for themselves, Craig patches together news footage, Super 8 video, black and white photography, and striking contemporary visuals to hark back to an age of final frontiers being broken whilst rendering it fresh and immediate.

A personal trip down memory lane set in the highly political times of the Cold War space race and Vietnam, it is interestingly noted that the men at NASA, and specifically those in training for the Apollo missions, were so transfixed by the task at hand that some seismic historical events passed them by – busy as they were with creating their own significant part in it. Though a large amount is duly given, Craig’s doc steps away from adulation to inspect the detrimental impact that the dedication, long-hours and selfishness – by their own admission – of being part of the programme had on the astronauts’ wives and families. As Cernan’s then wife comments: “If you think going to the moon is hard, you should try staying home.”

The Last Man on the Moon begins with Cernan at a rodeo, sitting anonymously amongst a crowd. Cross-cuts draw the link between a bucking bronco and a G-force simulator, the physical exertion of both pushing the boundaries of what the human form can withstand. Along with truly astonishing accomplishments, what is perhaps most remarkable about Cernan is his humble, unassuming demeanour. An ordinary man who grew up on a Wisconsin farm, would become a real life Top Gun before going on to achieve the extraordinary. His sense of pride, privilege and excitement, undiminished nearly fifty years on, are invigorating and so is a film which tells a truly out of this world story.

The Last Man on the Moon is in cinemas from 8 April with a special Nationwide Live Q&A with Captain Eugene Cernan on 11 April only:

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens

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