The following contains spoilers for First Man.
First Man purports to be a true story, but at least one moment in the film was likely not true to life. James Hanson was Neil Armstrong’s biographer and the writer of the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, on which the new Damian Chazelle movie is based. The author has now confirmed that one key moment near the end of the film is entirely made up. In the film’s finale, once Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin arrive on the moon, we see Armstrong, as played by Ryan Gosling, leave a bracelet once belonging to his deceased daughter on the surface. It turns out, there’s no evidence that actually happened. According to Hansen…
The truth isn’t that we know the moment never happened. Instead, the truth is simply that we don’t know. While James Hanson interviewed Neil Armstrong himself about his life for the book that would eventually become the film First Man, what personal items Armstrong brought with him is apparently a topic of speculation. Hansen tells NBC that each astronaut brought with them a personal property kit (PPK) which contained personal items they wanted to bring to the moon, either for themselves or for others. While Armstrong apparently had one, the record of what was actually in it has been lost to history. The astronaut was going to dig through his own records to find it for his biographer at one point, but Armstrong died in 2012 without doing so.
However, it turns out there is one piece of information that lends some credence to the scene as it is depicted in First Man. It seems that while the bracelet itself is not a historical reality, Neil Armstrong‘s time spent alone at the Little West crater, the place where he lets the bracelet go, actually is known to have happened. Nobody knows why he went there or what he did, so perhaps something like the events in First Man actually did happen.
While the moment may never have really happened, the biographer of Neil Armstrong doesn’t seem to mind that it was included. He found it to be a powerful moment worthy of the man and the occasion.