Sunday, August 10, 2008

The wire

Treated myself to a movie this afternoon for another contest deadline met and it was well worth the exorbitant upscale arthouse ticket price. "Man on Wire" is a documentary that chronicles the efforts of French wirewalker, Phillippe Petit, to string a wire between the two towers of the then-newly-opened World Trade Center and transverse the void. It works amazingly on multiple levels.

First, it's a fantastic heist movie (although technically Petit and his crew never stole anything). One does not simply walk, or elevator, to the roof of the World Trade Center with a ton of wirewalking gear. Months of reconnaissance and planning by Petit and his crew went into pulling off the audacious feat: staking out the buildings, figuring out the security, analyzing the architecture in order to determine how to string the wire. But that was only half the battle. The real fun begins once they are inside and -- true to heist movie form -- things don't go quite as they had planned . . . Especially for screenwriters, it's a storytelling clinic unto itself on a driven protagonist overcoming ever-escalating obstacles to achieve his goal.

Second, although it may seem obvious, Petit's high-wire act is also a metaphor for life. In his case, his dream to walk between the towers came to him the instant he saw a newspaper article about the commencement of their construction. From that day forward, his entire life became about preparing himself for that moment. The bigger message the viewer takes away from Petit's quest is that life itself is like a tightrope walk. Not that each of us has to climb 1350 feet into the air and walk across a wire, but that there is something in every person's life that they have always wanted to risk doing. And if you're not dodging security guards to haul your gear to the top of the building, then are you really doing everything you can to make that dream a reality? Are you willing to step out onto the wire and put it all on the line, so to speak, in pursuit of that goal?? For me, I suppose it was coming out here to become a screenwriter -- although I have no idea if I'm still just hiding out in the building waiting to climb up to the roof, or if I'm already out on the wire, halfway across to the other side.

Finally, even though the September 11, 2001 attacks that would eventually bring the towers down are never mentioned, it's impossible to watch the film and not think of them. We see footage of their construction from the ground up. The foundation pit is almost identical to "Ground Zero" as the world would see it nearly 30 years later. Seeing each steel frame section lowered into place, each floor of concrete poured, you know their inexorable destiny. But the cathartic power of "Man on Wire" is that, for 90 minutes, the viewer is given dispensation to commune with the structures and that space without being told how they should feel about their destruction. At least for the duration of the film, it's as if they exist again. And what Petit is able to do in fulfilling his own destiny gives rise to a surreal, beautiful moment in that place, which would one day become emblematic of the ugliest side of humanity.


  • That's as glowing a recommendation as I think I've heard for any movie. I'll def add it to the list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    By Blogger Fun Joel, at 10:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home