Based on Philippe Petit’s account of his stunning high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 in his book “To Reach the Clouds,” director James Marsh revisits that event in “Man on Wire,” which won the best documentary category at this year’s Academy Award.
Using actual footage as well as interpretive reenactments and contemporary interviews with many of the participants, Marsh succeeds in recreating the tense and suspenseful atmosphere experienced by Petit and especially his accomplices as they case and eventually break into the then recently completed World Trade Center. Paradoxically, it is at the point of no return, when Petit confidently steps onto the precarious wire–seemingly counter to human nature–does the film achieve a peaceful quietness that leaves the viewer in awe and wonder. However, throughout the documentary, one also views snippets of the narcissism and obsessive force of Petit’s exuberant personality. While no one was ultimately physically injured, it is clear that there were emotional casualties, especially in the frenzied aftermath of his walk.
Although it is never mentioned, the specter of 9/11 looms large in the background, and one can’t help but make comparisons at times between Petit’s crew and the terrorist attacks years later, particularly when they describe the various methods including impersonating a reporter to enter and gain access to the towers’ rooftop. Yet the sight of this Frenchman casually resting on his back high above the streets and staring up at the clouds above New York City, provides a cathartic counter to the monstrous and horrifying collapse of the World Trade Center.
I highly recommend this movie. And if you don’t believe me, it has a 100% rating with 137 review over at Rotten Tomatoes.
Relatedly, this was the New Yorker cover on the 5th anniversary of 9/11:
[Thanks Kate for Netflix’ng this movie and the New Yorker cover connection!]