The space race and the resultant moon landing is a story that’s been told many times over. But, First Man isn’t so much the story of America beating the Soviets to the moon, as it is one man’s personal journey to get there. Starting in 1961 and carrying through to the Apollo mission in ‘69, director Damien Chazelle gives us a visually-stunning, emotional, not-quite biopic of American icon Neil Armstrong.

When we meet him, Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is an “egghead” engineer whose distractions on the ground are keeping him from success in the skies. He has a series of near-fatal incidents culminating in a flight test in which he bounces off the earth’s atmosphere and has to pull some risky maneuvers to land safely. The reason for his split focus is revealed to be his daughter, Karen, who is at home suffering from a malignant brain tumor. Unfortunately, after rounds of radiation therapy and exhaustion of treatment options, Karen soon passes away, and Armstrong throws himself into his work as a means of coping.

The opening few minutes set the tone for the entire film, showing both the intensity and rigors of space travel and the high emotional cost involved, particularly during that time. For Armstrong, it wasn’t only his daughter he lost too soon. Several of his friends and fellow astronauts — all with designs on a moon landing — died tragically. And Armstrong, like most men of the time, was expected to have a stiff upper lip.

Equally, emotionally-taxed is his wife, Janet, (Claire Foy) who spends much of her time either single-handedly raising their two boys or glued to a NASA radio transmitting flight details to the families of the astronauts. She laments to a fellow astronaut’s wife at one point that she married Neil to have a normal life, but theirs is anything but. They don’t communicate, and there are several tense stand-offs in which Armstrong, whose burden and drive are so great, is lost in his own head.

Though the film has some pacing issues (a good 20 minutes could have been sheared off with no complaints), it is largely successful. We know the story’s ending, but the journey still manages to inspire and surprise. Gosling portrays Armstrong not as the idol we all know from our history books, but as a dedicated and loving friend, husband, and father. Further, there is an excellent supporting cast portraying the astronauts and Houston ground personnel, with standout performances from Jason Clarke as Edward “Ed” Higgins White and Corey Stoll as a, particularly blunt and ambitious Buzz Aldrin.

Before you run out to see the film, one word of caution: if you suffer from motion sickness, know that about 80% of it is shot with a shaky cam that could give even the iron-bellied astronauts of the Apollo a hard time. It was clearly an intentional move on Chazelle’s part to mimic the disorientation and chaos of space, but it might be a little too accurate.

If you’re ready though, take one small step for man and see First Man in theaters this a Friday, October 12th.