TIME review

The Enduring Importance of the Last Man on the Moon

Good times: Gene Cernan (left) and fellow moon walker Jack Schmitt, during the Apollo 17 mission, photographed by crew mate Ron Evans
NASA Good times: Gene Cernan (left) and crew mate Ron Evans, during the Apollo 17 mission, photographed by crew mate J

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A new documentary about astronaut Gene Cernan is far more than the story of one person's life

Correction appended, April 7

Real astronauts never say goodbye. At least, not the way you’d think they would before they take off on a mission that could very well kill them. They’re good at the quick wave, the hat tip, the catch-you-on-the-flip-side wink. But the real goodbye—the if I don’t come home here are all the things I always wanted to say to you sort of thing? Not a chance.

But Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, tried to split the difference—as a scene in the new documentary The Last Man on the Moon sweetly captures. Before Cernan headed off for his first trip to the moon, the Apollo 10 orbital mission, which was the final dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 landing a few months later, he mailed his young daughter Tracy a letter. It was written on the fragile onion skin that was air mail stationery, back in the era when the very idea of air mail carried a whiff of exotic distance.

Cernan was a young man when he wrote the letter in 1969, and is a much older man, at 81, when he returns to it in the film. “You’re almost too young to know what it means to have your Daddy go to the moon,” he reads aloud, “But one day, you’ll have the feeling of excitement and pride Mommy and Daddy do. Punk, we have lots of camping and horseback riding to do when I get back. I want you to look at the moon, because when you are reading this, Daddy is almost there.” If the Navy pilot who once landed jets on carrier decks and twice went to the moon mists up as he reads, if his voice quavers a bit, well what of it?

As the title of the movie makes clear, Cernan was the last of the dozen men who set foot on the moon, and the 24 overall who journeyed there. No human being has traveled further into space than low-Earth orbit since Cernan climbed up the ladder of his lunar module in December of 1972, closed the hatch and headed for home. That makes it a very good time for a movie that can serve as equal parts biography, reminiscence and, yes, cultural reprimand for a nation that did a great thing once and has spent a whole lot of time since trying to summon the resolve, the discipline and the political maturity to do something similar again.

The Last Man on the Moon, which premiered at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March and was later shown at the Toronto Film Festival, had a long provenance, beginning eight years ago when director Mark Craig, who had read Cernan’s book, requested an interview. Cernan agreed and six months later Craig got back in touch and said he wanted to make a movie based on his memoir.

“My first answer was, ‘Who would be interested in a movie about me?'” Cernan tells TIME. The answer he got impressed him: “This movie is not going to be about you.” It was, instead, going to be about the larger story.

That story, as Cernan and Craig came to agree, would be about the lunar program as a whole and the up-from-the-farm narrative of so many of the men who flew in it, as well as the random currents of fortune that saw some those men make it from terrestrial soil to lunar soil, while others perished in the violent machines that were necessary for them to make those journeys.

So we see the wreckage of the jet that killed astronauts Charlie Bassett and Elliott See, the prime crew for the 1966 Gemini 9 flight, an accident that required backup pilots Tom Stafford and Cernan to go in their place. We see Gemini 9 unfold, a mission that could have claimed Cernan too. The absence of handholds on the spacecraft and the poor state of knowledge about maneuvering in space left him whipping about at the end of his umbilical cord during his spacewalk, his visor blinding him with fog and his suit swelling so much in the surrounding vacuum that he could barely get back inside through the hatch.

We see, wrenchingly, Martha Chaffee, Cernan’s one-time neighbor and the wife of his close friend Roger—one of the three astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967—describing the moment she learned the terrible thing that had happened to her husband. “That evening, January 27th, a Friday, I was giving my kids hot dogs,” she says, fighting back tears these 48 years later, “and somebody said there’d been an accident. So when Mike Collins came to the door, I knew, I knew, I knew right away. I said, ‘I know, Mike, but you’ve got to tell me.’ And he did.”

Cernan is philosophical about the deaths—losses as inevitable as the very physics of space travel—and sees neither plan nor order in them. “I went to the cemetery at Arlington and I see Charlie’s and Roger’s headstone and say, ‘Why them, not me?'” he says. “Fate. Fate picked Neil [Armstrong] to be first on the moon, not [head astronaut] Deke Slayton. The point is, here we are, so what do we do with it?”

What Cernan has decided to do with it, in the ninth decade of his life, is tell the story of where America went before, make the case for going again and, importantly, remind children that while not every life mission involves going to the moon, each requires the same ferocious focus and commitment. He knows—perhaps immodestly, but surely accurately—that that message carries a special resonance when it comes from the likes of him.

“I realize that I’m the last man on the moon and that the more of us who leave this Earth permanently the more we’re appreciated,” he says. “I want to inspire a young kid to dream about being a doctor, a teacher an engineer, a scientist. I want that young kid to believe he could do things other people said he couldn’t, wouldn’t do.”

Yes, that’s a message American kids are bottle-fed almost from birth. But when it’s spoken by a man who lived on the moon for three remarkable days, who would come inside from work in the evening, shake the lunar dust off his suit, smell its strange gunpowder scent, then go out the next morning and leave prints that endure on the windless lunar surface to this day, it’s something else entirely. Cernan, last among the moonwalkers, may be first in the enduring good he does with the journeys he made.

Correction: The original version of the photo caption accompanying this story, using information from NASA, misidentified the astronaut on the right. He is Ron Evans.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Britain

Harry Potter Owls Mistreated, Animal Cruelty Group Says

PETA has accused 'The Making of Harry Potter' tour of mis-treating owls

The successful Warner Bros studio tour of ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ has come under fire for its treatment of animals.

The Harry Potter attraction at Warner Bros Studio Tour London opened in 2012 and allows fans to tour the sets, sample Butterbeer and meet animals from the franchise, including Harry’s owl.

Animal rights group PETA has accused the tour of mistreating the owls that appear on the tour. After secretly filming the tour, PETA has accused the tour operators of keeping the “distressed birds… tethered in tiny cages for hours and forced to perform tricks.”

“Confining frightened owls to tiny cages where they can only chew at their tethers in frustration goes against every message of respect and kindness that J.K. Rowling’s wonderful books taught us,” PETA director Mimi Bekhechi told the BBC.

Warner Bros Studio Tour London told the BBC, “It is essential the welfare of the birds… is of the highest standard.” They also said that they had asked the company that owns the birds, Birds and Animals, to “review this matter.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Birds and Animals told the BBC, “The owls are always given regular breaks and closely monitored by a vet. Now that we have had the opportunity to see the footage, we have instigated a review of the issues raised.” They added: “We will take appropriate action to ensure that the birds and animals always receive the very best care.”

[BBC]

TIME movies

Watch Vin Diesel’s Emotional Tribute to Paul Walker

Walker died in a 2013 car crash

Vin Diesel said this week that “I lost my friend” when Paul Walker died in a 2013 car crash.

“When the tragedy happened, I lost my friend,” the actor said of his late Furious 7 co-star during an advance screening in Los Angeles. “I lost my brother.”

“This was a very, very personal and important film for us,” Diesel said. “It was in some ways the hardest movie I ever had to do.”

Walker, 40, was killed in a car crash in November 2013 during a break in filming. His two brothers and stand-ins replaced Walker to complete the movie.

TIME movies

Watch the Trailer For Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

The film provides an intimate look into the troubled singer's life

HBO has revealed the first full trailer for upcoming Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck.

The film, which details the life of Nirvana front man, premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and has received rave reviews, writes Rolling Stone.

Directed by Brett Morgen, Montage of Heck follows the life of Cobain growing up in the Pacific Northwest and ultimately becoming a rock legend. Cobain’s wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean (who is executive producer of the film) also feature heavily.

In the trailer, interviews with family members and friends are mixed with animation and never-before-seen family photos, home movies and artwork of the Smells Like Teen Spirit singer who took his own life when he was 27.

A companion book will be released prior to the film containing animation stills and photography from Cobain’s archives.

The film’s soundtrack will also feature an unreleased 12-minute acoustic song by Cobain.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck will premier on television May 4.

[Rolling Stone]

TIME India

Indian Censorship Authorities Ban Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Gray
Chuck Zlotnick—Universal Pictures Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in Fifty Shades of Grey

It's a Grey blackout

India has blocked the release of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey — an adaptation of the 2011 best-selling erotic novel — with sources saying that the country’s censors objected to parts of the film’s dialogue.

Shravan Kumar, the chief executive of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, said the film’s backers Universal Pictures could appeal the decision, Reuters reports.

Kumar did not specify why the board declined to approve the film’s release.

A source within Universal Pictures said the ban came despite the studio cutting all nudity out of the film and toning down sexually explicit scenes.

India joins countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Kenya in banning the $400 million-plus grossing film, but the decision from its increasingly strict censor authorities does not come as a surprise to many.

The board, the leadership of which was reconstituted earlier this year under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, recently issued a list of objectionable words that cannot feature in movies. The list has been put on hold after much public outcry, but that did not stop the board from muting the word lesbian in a recently released Bollywood film.

[Reuters]

TIME movies

Fifty Shades Is on Track to Earn $500 Million

Sam Taylor-Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson and E.L. James pose for photographers upon arrival at the UK premiere of the film Fifty Shades of Grey in London, Feb. 12, 2015
Joel Ryan—Invision/AP Sam Taylor-Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson and E.L. James pose for photographers upon arrival at the UK premiere of the film Fifty Shades of Grey in London, Feb. 12, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey has earned $338.4 million from global box offices, becoming Universal Studios’ highest-grossing R-rated film internationally, and is fast approaching a combined domestic and international haul of $500 million.

The film has also been No. 1 for the third consecutive week in a row and is the best-selling film of the year so far.

Its $338.4 million overseas earnings now outrank those of Universal’s previous best-performing R-rated international hit, Ted, which earned $332.4 million. Domestic earnings of $147.8 million mean the film has earned $486 million so far.

The largest foreign market for the film has been the U.K., where it has earned $46.9 million.

[Deadline]

TIME movies

There’s Already a Campaign to Boycott Fifty Shades of Grey

Universal Pictures

Some say the movie glorifies violence against women

Not everyone is eagerly anticipating the release of Fifty Shades of Grey.

While some fans of E.L. James’ steamy novels are looking forward to seeing the graphic S&M scenes on the big screen, others are pre-emptively objecting to the glamorization of violence, especially violent sex. They’re trying to start a social-media movement to boycott the much anticipated movie, encouraging would-be moviegoers to donate money to domestic-violence victims instead.

MORE Here’s How The Shot the Sex Scenes in 50 Shades of Grey

Using the hashtags #50DollarsNot50Shades and #50ShadesIsAbuse, some protesters are calling for viewers to boycott the movie and donate the 50 bucks they would spend at the movie theater (on tickets, babysitter, drinks and popcorn, etc.) to help domestic-violence victims instead. Run by www.stoppornculture.org, the campaign’s Facebook page suggests making donations to domestic-violence shelters instead of going to see the movie, because “Hollywood doesn’t need your money; abused women do.”

“We realize it’s a movie, and we also realize it’s supported by many women,” says Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The thing that concerns us about Fifty Shades of Grey is that anytime people are operating in that lifestyle, it should be a choice,” she says.

MORE These Were the Hardest Scenes to Shoot for the Stars of 50 Shades of Grey

Is this the beginning of the backlash to the movie? The book had its own well-documented backlash when it came out in 2012, but that was before all the headlines about domestic violence and sexual assault that have come to the forefront since then, as has the debate over the definition of “consent” when it comes to sexual behavior.

Boycotts not withstanding, the film is expected to be a hit. So for those who do see it, Glenn has this advice: “Violence against women is one thing, choosing to operate in an alternative lifestyle where there are parameters and choice is another. For any young person who is seeing this movie, I hope someone is having a discussion with them about choice vs. coercion.”

TIME Behind the Photos

On the Set of Selma with James Nachtwey

Paramount Pictures commissioned photojournalist James Nachtwey

There were moments when I felt I had traveled back in time. The small town of Selma, Alabama looked much the same as it must have looked back in the day when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march to the state capital demanding equal rights under the law for African Americans. The extras playing the marchers were, for the most part, local people, some of whom had participated in the real march. Visually, there was a sense of authenticity, but even more importantly, many of the emotions that fueled the historical event were still very much alive. In reenacting history, the actors were expressing their true feelings about living in the present.

David Oyelowo looked so much like Dr. King I sometimes felt as if I was photographing the man himself. During the filming of Dr. King’s speech in front of the State House in Montgomery, the actor’s words and mannerisms seemed so real there was an electric charge in the air. The response from the crowd of marchers was so genuine it was as if they were hearing the words for the first time, and indeed, the message is as relevant today as it was then.

In photographing scenes from the film I took the point of view I have in my normal work of documenting contemporary history as it happens. There was a tremendous amount of movie-making activity swirling around at all times, with camera crew and lighting technicians, production assistants, set dressers, costume and make-up people performing all the tasks that have to be accomplished to create a convincing world of make-believe. But in very small windows of time existed moments of reality, and I wandered through the set watching and waiting for those moments to materialize. An accumulation of those brief fragments of time created a meta-reality that became a mental point of departure, and I stepped back into history as if in a time machine.

Images from the American Civil Rights Movement had motivated me to become a documentary photographer in the first place, and the values, ideals and working principles of the Movement have continued to inspire me throughout my career.

James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues.

Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s deputy director of photography.

TIME Culture

How ‘Selma’ Reclaims Hollywood’s Sanitized Versions of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The most successful films on the civil rights era, and King's legacy, have been conflated with a simple story of American racial progress

Ava DuVernay, the director of the highly lauded film Selma, says that “in the 50 years since Dr. King’s death, there has never been a feature film casting him as a protagonist. That’s a jaw dropper.” This deficit is not because of a lack of interest. At the beginning of 2011, there were rumored to be no fewer than five King-related projects in Hollywood; at the end of that year, due to pulled funding or the King family’s objections, only Selma and an HBO miniseries remained.

In this context, Selma, in limited release Christmas Day and wide release January 9, is not only remarkable for its rich, nuanced, and–thanks to British actor David Oyelowo–deeply textured portrayal of King, but simply for its successful arrival on the big screen at all. To make a film on King turns out to be as complicated and controversial as the man himself.

Ironically, the most obvious reason for this deficit on the big screen has been King’s children and good friend and fellow Civil Rights activist Andrew Young. Young’s quite public statements about historical inaccuracies might have impacted the viability of King movies, like Paul Greengrass’ Memphis—about King’s assassination and final days—which got its funding pulled two months before filming after Young reportedly voiced his concerns to Universal executives. On the other hand, Selma has received tacit approval from some of King’s children, and Young was spotted on set. But they still did not grant DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb permission to use King’s actual words. As a result, all of his key speeches and dialogues in the film were written in a style inspired by King.

To date, the King estate has granted the actual rights to King’s life story exclusively to Dreamworks, for a film to be produced by Steven Spielberg. And even that film has been marred in drama: two of King’s three children, Bernice and Martin, originally threatened legal action against their brother, Dexter, because they had neither been consulted on the deal nor given their approval.

And just last January, its director, Oliver Stone, tweeted that he would not write or direct the biopic because he wanted to deal with “issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation into a higher, more radical being.” He went on to say his King ran up against the image of a “saint” that the estate wanted.

Such desires to sanitize King are not his family’s and close friends’ alone. In our collective memory of King, most Americans only know his 1963 “I Have Dream” speech that celebrates racial equality, while his later radicalism against a rising American military state in Vietnam and increasing class inequality are all but footnoted or forgotten. We remember him as a monument, not a man, unblemished, frozen in time, and as America’s ultimate racial reconciler who now lives on the National Mall.

King, as Michael Eric Dyson, author of I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to me in an email, “is a supreme paradox: on the one hand, he is the ultimate symbol of our racial progress, and on the other hand, the most undeniable reminder of the bloody price we paid for that progress. Thus he is at once soothing and subversive, both reassuring and troubling.” In other words, for a biopic to capture successfully the power of King’s dream, it would also have to recognize the tragedy of his death, a visceral and violent reminder that America’s racial crisis is ongoing and that the dreams of the civil rights movement are still unfulfilled.

This is not to say that filmmakers have not tried. Several award-winning documentaries, most notably King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis and PBS’ Eyes on the Prize and Citizen King, have consistently provided us with King’s image and words within the tumultuous context of his time. And in 1978, Paul Winfield played King in Abby Mann’s six-hour mini-series King on NBC. Winfield, Cicely Tyson who played Coretta, and Ossie Davis as King’s father all earned Emmy nominations for their roles. Its conspiratorial ending, on the other hand, courted so much controversy that it prompted an inconclusive congressional investigation of King’s murder.

Between then and now, King’s legacy not only increasingly became conflated with a simple story of American racial progress, but Hollywood’s most successful films on the civil rights era (with the important exception of Spike Lee’s 1992 Malcolm X)—Mississippi Burning (1988), The Long Walk Home (1989), and most recently The Help (2011)—all told a story of resisting segregation through the more conciliatory experience of interracial friendships or white heroes.

Contrastingly, DuVernay’s Selma not only redirects our attention to the myriad of African Americans – organizers, students, and everyday citizens – who pushed the demands of the Civil Rights movement, but in the process, rescues King from the tomb of American memory. Through her eyes, and now ours, King emerges as a lover and leader, preacher and philanderer, a genius strategist and a vulnerable citizen. Through the film, he leans on others, his wife, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, young activist John Lewis, even Malcolm X, as they all lean on him.

In this way, Selma is the big screen bookend to HBO’s 2001 television movie Boycott, based on King’s first major campaign, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott to desegregate public transportation. Directed by Clark Johnson, Boycott starred Jeffrey Wright and Carmen Ejogo as a Coretta (a role that she brilliantly reprises in Selma), but showcased King, as a young leader, learning from and organizing with veteran activists like Jo Ann Robinson, E.D. Nixon, and of course, Rosa Parks.

Perhaps, the best movies about King are not based solely on him. Rather, they tell the history of the civil rights movement as it was: ideologically conflicted, multifaceted, and marked by big losses and mini-victories. And through such renderings of the past, we discover a new King who was both a man and an engine of a movement. He is more radical, more complex, and perhaps more prophetic. And even though this King might not be the hero that we thought we knew, he is the one that our time desperately needs.

Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently working on a book on the civil rights artist, Nina Simone. She is the co-founder of A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based non-profit that uses art to end violence against girls and women.

TIME movies

The Japanese Studio That Launched the Franchise Is Making a New Godzilla Movie

Godzilla Eats A Commuter Train
Toho/Embassy Pictures/Getty Images Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

“The time has come for Japan to make a film that will not lose to Hollywood”

Director Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot was a box office rainmaker, earning $525 million worldwide. But Godzilla was born in Japan, and the Japanese studio that produced the first Godzilla movie in 1954 wants back in on the lucrative franchise. According to Variety, the studio, Toho, plans to begin filming next summer and release the film in 2016, a few years ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The most recent of Toho’s 28 Godzilla movies, out in 2004, was to be the last, largely thanks to disappointing revenues. But the overwhelming success of this year’s American version along with advances in computer graphics, says Toho producer Taichi Ueda, inspired the studio to get back in the reptilian monster game.

Looking to compete with the U.S. and develop a character that “will represent Japan and be loved around the world,” Toho is convening a committee of directors and studio executives, the Godzilla Strategic Conference, or Godzi-Con for short. There is still no word on a director or casting. But a competitive spirit will surely fuel the producers as the film takes shape — Edwards’ Godzilla 2 is slated for release in 2018.

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