For All Mankind: From the Earth to the Moon

Last Updated: Sun, Jul 28, 2019 14:00 hrs

Al Reinert's 1989 For all Mankind documents the Apollo missions with a focus on the human aspect of the space flight

As stargazers across the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United States’ Apollo 11 lunar landing and India’s successful launch in the Moon bound Chandrayaan 2, 1989’s For all Mankind marks a great tribute to those who reached out to Earth’s only natural satellite.

For all Mankind, directed by Al Reinert, concentrates on the beauty of the Earth as seen from space with the experiences of Apollo crew members and mission control staff played over original mission footage. The movie covers the period between 1968 and 1972 during which time 24 individuals went to the Moon as part of NASA’s nine Apollo missions.

For all Mankind eschews many conventions of documentary films, instead combining NASA's archival footage, overlaid with recorded radio communications from the missions and abetted by commentary from the astronauts themselves. Reinert distils 80 minutes of a singular narrative from literally thousands of hours of archival footage.

We see astronauts being suited up, boarding their shuttle, their flight into space, landing on the Moon, exploring its surface.

We see the mission controllers spend their time staring at screens, talking to the astronauts. The voiceover lets you access the astronauts’ mental state. One realises, that to these individuals this once in a lifetime opportunity brings along with it a massive responsibility.

Sequences such as the view of our blue planet as seen from the rear end of an escaping rocket or vision of lunar surface stretching away into a black horizon punctuate the entirety of the film. One astronaut featured therein describes as the Moon mission’s feeling of “supreme elation.”

For all Mankind won’t teach you anything technical about going to the moon; its interest is in deeper things. What did the men who saw our Earth from the Moon think of it? For all Mankind boasts images of sunrises over the lunar surface, stunning visuals of the Earth rendered as a sliver of coloured light suspended in black infinity. Its truth is an experiential truth not an empirical one.

Instead of being a newsy documentary, Reinart focuses on the people on board the flights. The only voices heard in the film are the voices of the astronauts and mission control. Reinart employs the astronaunts' own words from interviews and mission footage.

The Moon is 3,84,400 kilometres away from Earth, making For all Mankind is certainly the most 'out there' movie humanity has yet produced.

And the music for this very arduous but deeply spiritual journey is Brian Eno’s majestic score. Eno, known for his contribution to ambient music, truly carries this film’s visuals on his musical back. Without the score, which aspires to recreate the weightlessness of outer space, this movie would never take off. The score by Brian Eno underscores the strangeness, wonder, and beauty of the astronauts' experiences.

Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to have reached outer space, once said, “I hope we don't export conflict from this planet into the others. None of the paradigms that define us here on earth – the borders, the parochialism, the divide, should mar our presence in space”. One of the astronauts in For all Mankind says of his experiences looking at Earth from that far a distance: “You don't think of it as Texas or United States, you think of it as Earth. The three things that I associate with Earth were people, and green trees and fresh water.”

This sentiment of universality is reflected in the choice of the movie’s title as well. The title for derived from the lunar plaque left by the Apollo 11 astronauts: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The brave individuals who dared to go to outer space and then to the Moon were unlike any other pioneers before them. They were one part military, one part scientist, all adventurers. They represented not merely a nation but all mankind.

This review is part of a series titled 'Cinematheque' centered around canvassing lesser-known films.

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