Some stories are obvious. That does not mean that they are predictable. In fact, far from it. A story can have twists and turns and take its audience on an unsuspecting and surprising ride. But the audience still knows what the story is about. The twists and turns simply fill the void between the beginning at Point A and the inevitable conclusion of Point B.
The Walk is different.
In The Walk (2015), director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Contact) uses all of the incredible imagery we have long come to expect from his many films to tell the true story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high wire walk between the 110-story towers of the World Trade Center.
The story begins with Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun, Inception), speaking with an unconvincing French accent to the audience from atop the Statue of Liberty. As the narration continues, we are transported to Paris to see a younger Petit making his way as a street performer. The young Philippe sneaks into a circus and sees his first high-wire act, performed by “Papa Rudy” (Ben Kingsley: Ghandi, Schindler’s List), and shorty after begins his training. Philippe keeps a short red piece of string with him that he uses to imagine a wire filling the void between two points that he sees at any given time. The only requirement he has for Point A and Point B is that they both be “beautiful”.
Petit eventually meets a fellow street performer named Annie, wonderfully played by the stunning Charlotte Le Bon, and the two become inseparable. All the while, he continues to get lessons and advice from “Papa Rudy” on the art of wire walking and showmanship. He eventually gets enough training and confidence to walk the void between the towers of Notre Dame. But this is not enough for Philippe. In a magazine he sees a picture of the Twin Towers under construction, and he spans his red string to connect the two beautiful points. The towers call to him, and he must answer. Knowing his feat will be both incredible and illegal, he begins to enlist “accomplices” to aid him in his “coup”.
As one might imagine if given a moment to think about it, it’s no small task to get a wire across the 140 foot span between the Twin Towers, and much of the story is devoted to the careful planning that is required to get the wire and stabilizers to the top of the towers and then across the void. At this point, the audience begins to understand that this story is more about getting ready to take the walk than it is about the walk, itself.
Once the wire is in place, Petit begins his walk. True to the historic facts, he makes several passes back and forth, most of which are prompted by the urge to taunt police waiting on both ends of the wire. Eventually his walk ends, and he, along with one of his multiple accomplices is arrested. His debt to society is paid by a court-ordered wire walk in Central Park for an audience of children. A debt he happily pays. When asked by reporters “Why did you do this?”, he simply replies “There is no why. When I see a beautiful place to put my wire I cannot resist.”
The story ends with Philippe still narrating from atop the Statue of Liberty. By now, the audience is told that he has brought life to the new towers previously compared to “two giant filing cabinets” by New Yorkers, who, from that point on, took pride in being witness to his daring feat. He tells us that the architect of the towers gave him a pass to go beyond the observation deck atop the towers, with an expiration date that read “forever”. Then, as the camera pans out and we see the Twin Towers in the background before the screen slowly fades to black, we realize that the story is just as much about the towers as it is about the walk–and we inevitably remember a much different story, and perhaps shed a tear for its conclusion.
The Walk was released on DVD in January, 2016 and should be easy to find for anyone who looks for it.