3 Stars – Challenging
The Walk is a love letter to New York; a love letter to the World Trade Center before we lost it. Director Robert Zemeckis, who has brought us such ground-breaking films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back To The Future, and Forest Gump, brings to the screen a scrumptious view of America’s greatest buildings in a remarkably realistic re-creation.
This true story was portrayed in a 2008 documentary Man On Wire, telling the true story of high-wire artist Philippe Petit who stunned the world with his surprise trespass of the twin towers on the morning of August 7, 1974 prior to the completion of both buildings. In Zemeckis’ semi-fictional recreation, we experience the abundance of technology that now makes possible a film-maker’s computer-generated masterpiece.
Philippe Petit is portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levett who himself learned to walk the high-wire in order to make the film experience real. Although he did it over a green screen only 12 feet off the ground, Gordon-Levett admits that it was a heart-stopping moment when he filmed the crossing.
Philippe Petit learned his craft from one of the best, a circus family headed by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley). Petit dreamed for years of pulling off one of the greatest stunts in modern history when as a boy in Paris he read about the soon-to-be-built World Trade Center. He practiced night and day to learn his skills, and with the help of a rag-tag group of friends, he tried out his ever-more-dangerous experiments in public places. One of the most notable was a walk between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Petit was often accused of being a narcissistic performance artist, not really concerned about his impacts on those close to him or the costs to others. He readily admits that they were correct in their assessment, but he justified what he wanted to do as a contribution to the world of artistic expression that would benefit everyone – including himself. In the end he could marinate in the public adulation, even though he would have to do it alone since his self-absorbed antics and isolation would cause his friends to abandon him.
The portrayal of New York in 1974 reminds us how we no longer take certain freedoms for granted. The fact that you could stroll casually into the twin towers while they were being constructed and head to the roof seems almost fictional in today’s world where everyone is watched and suspected of being a potential terrorist. There were no cell phones or Internet to capture these adventures moment by moment and put them on Facebook. There were no immediate social media judgements or global condemnations. This was just a prank to fulfill an individual’s fantasy, and most people would never know about it, except for a film showing up 50 years later.
Artists are risk-takers by nature, and often what they reveal isn’t appreciated by large groups of people going about their own daily lives. What Petit did was noteworthy in its daring audacity. What Zemeckis has done in his film recreation is no less audacious. It is a masterpiece of artistic expression, and it prompts us to ask the question when we witness the breathtaking views of New York from the wire above Manhattan, “Would we do something this risky?” If not this, then what risks are we willing to take to share what we believe?
1. Petit received this call on his life to walk the wire between the towers as a child. What childhood calls are you ignoring or fulfilling?
2. The loss of the towers is a national sorrow. How did it affect you to experience their cinematic recreation?
3. The driven nature of Petit’s desire to fulfill his dream left him emotionally and relationally impoverished. Have you had any similar experiences? How did it end up for you?