Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 ½ : A Space Age Childhood is set in the year 1968-69. It captures the story of a boy who’s 10 ½ years old during the real-life event of the first Lunar landing. I was not alive in the year 1969. Far from it. Yet, the details present on screen made me nostalgic. The colour, characters, topics of discussion, shared activities and games, all reminded me of my childhood. Why did Linklater’s memory of a by-gone era remind me of my childhood which, on the human timeline, occurred around 40 years later? The answer lies in the universality of the childhood experience.
Apollo 10 ½ captures what it is like to be a child growing up in a middle-class household. It proves that certain experiences are common for people around the world; maybe Marx was right about class being the sole unitor of future humans. The cultural specificity of Linklater’s characters aside, the themes of innocence, pre-pubescent confusion, identity formation, and widening awareness of the world around us are present in the movie. These stages of growth are common to all of mankind, no matter where you are. The environment might change, thus your experience, but these stages you will complete, these themes you will encounter. Linklater is successful in embedding this human journey in his narrative about personal and cultural change in 1960’s suburban America. That is why no matter where you are, if you’ve had a middle-class upbringing, you will relate and feel nostalgic while watching Apollo 10 ½.
Most importantly, you will always feel nostalgic about your childhood. The movie captures how the memory of being a child is unequivocally jovial; no matter at what time you’re born or where you are born. Unless you belong to those who have had unfortunate circumstances, you will think of childhood as the best time of your life. It is the innocence with which you look at the world around you and how, without you noticing, it ends up shaping you that make the experience memorable. More aptly, how you stop looking at the world through that lens once you grow up. We miss those selves. Miss those tiny things that gave abundant joy.
Secondly, it is an uncharacteristically Linklater movie. It is propelled by a voice-over that connects everything together. Linklater spoke of the movie as a memoir and the voice-over does make us feel like it is one. Since the voice-over narrates the story, the movie unfolds in slick montages. Majority of the runtime is dedicated to jumping from one experience to another, which without the narration would feel disjointed. The music sets the rhythm, the voice-over sets the context, and the images start jamming a tune that is comforting, rocking, and memorable. The narrative device feels boring after a while because of its repetitive use, but the contents of the movie ensure that the boredom is shrugged off with ease as the movie progresses.
Thirdly, the visuals are marvellous with enormous details. They form the core of the movie. Similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. They hint not at the material authenticity of the recreation but the experiential value of its presence. Knowing that these fleeting specificities of existence are bottled up in a space-rocket ride of a movie makes Apollo 10 ½ a fun movie.
This certainly is the most personal of Linklater’s movies. Maybe that kind of makes it the best
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.