Article Title

Humility and greatness in Damien Chazelle’s First Man

Abstract

While philosophical debates about the ethical dimension of cinema have flourished over the last few decades, discussions of cinema and virtues are still limited. And, even if virtues are explored with regard to film, humility is not often the most obvious virtue that comes to mind. As this article argues, this might in part be due to humility’s lack of expressive action and its tendency to remain in the background. In addition, the wide range of philosophical views on what actually counts as virtuous humility, if it is to be considered a virtue at all, further problematises the discussion. One aspect of these disagreements is the question of humility’s compatibility with great achievement. This article aims to demonstrate both how humility can be shown on screen and reveal greatness and humility can go together in practice. For this, the author draws on contemporary philosophical accounts of the virtue of humility to examine Damien Chazelle’s 2018 film First Man, a Neil Armstrong biopic based on James R. Hansen’s biography of the same name. The article outlines how both the distinct portrayal of its main protagonist and the film’s aesthetic features, such as mise-en-scène, sound and editing, are used to convey an idea of humility that reconciles achievement, ambition and greatness with a recognition of sacrifice, serendipity and sometimes the futility of human endeavours. Consequently, First Man is not only a film about a humble main character, but also indicates how cinematic techniques can be used effectively to enable us to experience humility, thus demonstrating how films can make a distinct contribution to philosophical debates about virtues beyond mere illustration.

Keywords

humility, First Man, Damien Chazelle, virtues, ethics and cinema, biopic

Link to Publisher Version (URL)

10.3366/film.2022.0192

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