I recently had the pleasure of watching For All Mankind, a film by Al Reinert. After digging though millions of feet of NASA archive film, Reinert and editor Susan Korda selected footage from several different Apollo missions to create one fluid narrative that shows astronauts leaving earth, landing on the moon, and then returning back. Accompanied by music from Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, the film is simply epic. I felt amazed, sad, haunted, and uplifted–it took me through the full spectrum of emotions.
As the astronauts leave low earth orbit and move farther towards the moon, looking backwards at earth, you see our small, blue, hospitable planet surrounded by unfathomable darkness. Astronaut Eugene Cernan, whose insightful, philosophical commentary adds first-hand validity to the entire film, remarks that “time and space lose all meaning up there.”
The film unfolds, and you get a sense of how harsh space really is. The moon is dusty, rocky, and completely alien. The footage of various astronauts on the surface is actually haunting in a way–the astronauts move toddler-like amid grey boulders and massive craters, the only visible sign of life on a extremely cold and scorchingly hot rock suspended in space. Eno’s ethereal music adds emotion to this lo-fi, nostalgic footage. You see how our planet–filled with flora, fauna, water, humans, not to mention the dreams that got man to the moon–is exceedingly rare, a spark of brilliant light amidst neverending darkness.
The astronauts’ experiences translate to home-sickness times 1,000. That depressing nostalgia looms throughout the film, counteracted by awe and respect for the grand journey. I realized how the earth–much like individual lives–is fleeting. Is is truly a result of a combination of factors that, even in the vastness of the universe, may be extremely rare. I couldn’t help but to think of the oil spill, the wars, radical inequality, and everything else that currently plagues our planet. It made me depressed, as our time is short. However, in the end, this realization is life-affirming. Our lives, dreams, relationships, routines; the earth, its plants, animals, mountains, oceans: they’re all sparks in endless night, ephemeral in the grand scale, ripe to be enjoyed and respected.