Apollo 13 ★★★★★

What struck me the most watching this film this time was the sense of longing and loss. This film understands the primal urge to travel into space and explore the universe, and it mourns the fact that our efforts to do so have stalled.

There’s the personal aspect of that, of course; the sequence where astronaut Jim Lovell, flying past what was to have been his lunar landing site in a damaged spacecraft that can no longer make the landing, imagines himself on the surface of the moon is almost too heartbreaking for words. This is thanks in part to one of James Horner’s best scores, and to a beautiful, wordless expression of anguish from Tom Hanks as Lovell.

But that sense of longing and loss extends to the macro, as well; the film is mourning the loss of the Apollo program, and the fact that no one’s set foot on the moon since 1972. The film makes this explicit in several places, not just in Lovell protesting to a senator “imagine if Christopher Columbus had come back from the New World and no one followed!” but in the dramatic irony of statements like “when I go up there on 19 I’m taking my entire collection of Johnny Cash,” when the viewer (those familiar with the Apollo program, at any rate) knows that there never was an Apollo 19.

The film is as much a celebration of the hard work and ingenuity which saved the lives of the three Apollo 13 astronauts as it is a memorial for the program—and, viewed in a post-Shuttle world, American space flight in general.