Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Tight Rope: About “The Walk”

Over the course of the past year, I’ve made the effort to expand my dialogue about storytelling by going beyond the boundaries of books and out into the mediums of TV and movies. I do so by devoting a least one post every other month to an overview of a TV show or movie that’s reached a significant time in its history (i.e. series premiere, series finale, film release, anniversary of a release, etc.). Previously, I discussed my thoughts about the mini-series (and spin-off of the TV show “Heroes”), “Heroes Reborn.” Today, I head back to the silver screen with an overview of a visually dynamic biopic about one of the craziest events in American history, “The Walk.”

When I was nine, I learned about the existence of the Twin Towers that made up the original World Trade Center in New York. The two buildings were just as distinctive as the Statue of Liberty, and at the time of their completion back in the 70’s, they were the tallest buildings in the world. At the time I learned about them, it was also then that I realized that I would never be able to visit them, because the day I learned about them was on September 11, 2001.

When I was thirteen, I learned even more about the Twin Towers. In my eighth grade history class, we devoted a class period to watching a documentary about them, and it was from that that I learned about a really bizarre experience involving them that took place over a year after they opened. On the morning of August 7, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit, who at the time was just a week shy of turning 25, walked across a tight rope multiple times that stretched across the void between the roofs of the Twin Towers. Two things came to mind when I learned about this: a. this guy is absolutely nuts and b. this is definitely a much better part of the World Trade Center’s history.

It was this sliver of history that stuck out in the back of my mind for the longest time, and was eventually brought to the forefront late last year when I learned that a film based on this event, simply titled “The Walk,” would be released this year. It was then that I made the decision that regardless of the reviews it would get, I would go see this movie. “The Walk” was released last Friday and I went to see it by myself earlier in the week… and I left afterwards being absolutely wowed by it.

It’s not unusual to see a movie nowadays where the source material is anything but an original script, and that showed even more during the previews prior to the feature presentation where they were all for movies either based on a book or a real-life event. It’s imaginably redundant. But after seeing “The Walk,” I now am a firm believer in making an exception for films that are based on something that’s absolutely extraordinary; especially regarding something that can never be done again.

While the visuals and recreation of the Twin Towers were fantastic- so much as to where I was clutching the sides of my head as I watched Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit walk across the void several times on the tight rope (and I was watching it in 2D might I add)- it was his portrayal of Petit that really caught my attention. While I don’t know how accurate it was to the actual man, Gordon-Levitt made him passionate, strong-willed and stubborn; not only in his words but his actions as well. I loved seeing how Petit has had a love for tight rope walking ever since he saw it performed at a circus when he was a boy and how he was able to learn it himself overtime. I loved the moments of research, the spy work, how he went about recruiting his elite team members, and his ability to brush aside the naysayers. Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal made Petit a fierce dreamer who was willing to do anything to make it happen.

It was with such a character as that that really drove the story; a story that, apart from recapturing one of the most bizarre events ever seen in American history, was also a story about pursuing a dream, regardless of how impossible it may seem to others. The Twin Towers and the void between them were symbolic of just that; the tight rope representing the fine line between the road to your goal or failing (or in this case, falling to your death). That’s what made the film especially fascinating, and I think even Petit recognized the symbolism the Twin Towers played in the struggle to achieving a dream. It’s also because of this story that makes me want to learn even more about it.

This is what I took away with from “The Walk,” and I hope other viewers take away the same message when they see it as well.

People ask me “Why do you risk death?”. For me, this is life. -Philippe Petit, “The Walk”


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