The Last Man on the Moon

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Last Man on the Moon Movie Poster Image
Awe-inspiring, insightful docu spotlights American astronaut
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 95 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Prizes American ingenuity, courage, teamwork, and commitment during its years of space pioneering; quietly and subtly promotes the value of curiosity and further exploration. Gene Cernan delivers insightful messages of perseverance throughout: "You've got to have a passion or a love for what you're doing, or you shouldn't be doing it." "Whatever you do, just do your best and someday, I promise you, you're gonna surprise yourself." "Risk is the price of progress." It's crucial to learn from one's mistakes and have humility.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Basic story of an "ordinary Joe" who achieves greatness. Gene Cernan is smart, loyal, honest, thoughtful, grateful, unpretentious, and able to keep his unusual accomplishments in perspective. He's clear about his struggle to balance family life with his career and accepts responsibility for his failures. Other members of the NASA family are also portrayed as committed, responsible, and fully team-oriented. No ethnic diversity in either the movie or the space program during the time depicted.

Violence

Actual footage of several space program disasters, including the deaths of test pilots Charlie Bassett and Emmett Lee, and of the Apollo I fire that trapped and killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Sad aftermath of these events is given attention; funerals and interviews with loved ones are especially poignant. Suspenseful moments during which Cernan and teammates are at risk. 

Sex
Language

A sprinkling of swearing: "goddamn," "sonofabitch," "hell," "crap," "butt."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

It's implied that the tight-knit astronaut colleagues partied and drank while off-duty.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Last Man on the Moon is an in-depth documentary profile of Eugene (Gene) Cernan, the last U.S. astronaut to walk on the moon in December 1972. In telling one man's story, the film captures the profound spirit, the worldwide excitement, and the accomplishments of the U.S. space program during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Cernan is an exceptional storyteller; his keen observations, memories, and ability to relate what happened to him in the program as a whole will give young viewers a full and engaging picture of an important, uplifting period in American history. Extensive film from the period, photographs, and newsreel excerpts created during both training and missions keep the film very real. Actual footage of two tragic accidents during that time, along with the sadness and impact of the astronauts' deaths upon families and the world at large, may be disturbing for some young or highly sensitive kids. A touch of swearing is heard from outer space, as well: "damn," "hell," "crap," "butt," and "sonofabitch."

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What's the story?

THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON portrays America's space program during the mid-1960s through 1972, when it was alive, vibrant, and significant. Eugene "Gene" Cernan is the remarkable man through whom this story is told. From childhood on his grandparents' farm in Wisconsin without electricity or a tractor, to his glory days as one of the first citizens of the U.S.A. and beyond as one of the world's most well-known spacemen, to 2015 as a reflective, still-vital man in his 80s looking back, Cernan seems a true American hero. Mark Craig and his team use archival NASA footage, photographs (both personal and government-issue), news coverage, as well as the testimony of men and women who were there when events were happening to highlight the man's life as well as the space-obsessed world in which he lived. The most newsworthy events of the era (for example, the tragedy of Apollo 1, Neil Armstrong on the moon) are included along with the affecting personal moments that altered the course of Cernan's journey. As a result, with the present-day Cernan always in focus, the film presents a complete picture of a man, his unique accomplishments, and a country at its scientific best.

Is it any good?

Gene Cernan's warm, articulate, insightful presence works along with solid direction, editing, and a nicely coherent structure to make this an incisive film about the U.S. space program. The whole world was watching, rooting for its heroes, fascinated by possibility. As the movie progresses, one can't help but be nostalgic for an America at the top of its glory and scientific prowess. At the same time, the story told is faithful to both the risks undertaken and the side effects of the program's intensity for those who served. We see the tragic endings and the wives and kids left behind due to the program's level of commitment. From a perspective spanning decades, Mr. Cernan tells it like it was and like it is. Saddened by the knowledge that it may never happen again, Cernan walks through the rusty, abandoned space center in which he spent his most productive years and has to look away. The Last Man on the Moon is a terrific, must-see movie, especially as an engaging way to introduce kids to the wonders of science and scientific discovery.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of exploring the world beyond our planet. What discoveries might be beneficial to society? What disciplines and/or issues (for example, medicine and climate change) might be affected? Do you think such exploration as described in The Last Man on the Moon is worthy of funding? Why, or why not?

  • In what ways is Eugene Cernan a real-life hero? In what ways did he have difficulty balancing his participation in the space program with the more ordinary aspects of his life?

  • The film states that "risk is the price of progress." Discuss this statement in light of the events and people portrayed in the film. Besides in exploring space, in what other life situations might this concept be applicable?

  • How does The Last Man on the Moon promote courage, perseverance, and teamwork? What about curiosity and humilty? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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