Opening Night Gala Presentation and World Premiere of "The Walk
New York, NY – September 26, 2015 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Philippe Petit at the Opening Night Gala Presentation and World Premiere of TriStar Pictures’ “The Walk”.
I lie against this narrow strip of unknown land, looking up, until I comprehend: it is a landing field for extraterrestrial vessels. No! A takeoff field: the clouds give it direction – a limitless runway into heaven. It is definitely not man-made, nor of any use to us humans. So uncertain is its length – call it height – and so alien its design, the dreaded word has now infiltrated my heart: Impossible! Impossible! Impossible! it pounds. I can no longer breathe. (From the book, To Reach the Clouds)

The Frenchman looked straight up and knew he had no choice – he had to lay a wire across the two towers of the World Trade Center, and walk into the void.

I just saw the film, The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, based on one of my favorite books, “To Reach the Clouds“, by one of my life heroes, Monsieur Philippe Petit. I watched as if in a dream.

Philippe Petit color

Philippe Petit is not an Olympian, but he is an athlete nonpareil. The wooden balance beam that a female gymnast leaps and flips on is four inches (10 cm) wide. The steel cable that Petit walks is steel braided cable 5/8″ in diameter – essentially a toe or two wide. A woman on the balance beam would stand four feet (1.24 meters) above the floor. Petit danced on his wire 1,368 feet (417 meters) above ground. He crossed the 138 feet (42 meters) expanse between the two towers, not once, not twice, but 8 times. Petit traipsed, bowed, stood one legged, spun 180 degrees on this very highwire on that August 7 morning in 1972….for 49 minutes.

The “Coup”, as Petit has called this act of defiance and triumph, has a degree of difficulty unthinkable in any competition at the highest levels.

The Walk, as a movie, was a technical masterpiece. It is the first time in my mind that 3D and IMAX have come together with narrative and directorial vision to produce a story telling event of such visceral impact that you feel suspended a quarter mile high. (Yes, in the scenes depicting “the Coup”, my palms were sweating, and the nerves in my rear were tingling.)

the walk joseph gordon levitt
Joseph Gordon Levitt in The Walk
Petit is an inspiration. People can say “Do the impossible”. But Petit did.

It starts, as it does with all incredible achievers, with a dream.

You need dreams to live. It is as essential as a road to walk on and as bread to eat. I would have felt myself dying if this dream had been taken away from me. The dream was as big as the towers. There was no way it could be taken away from me by authority, by reason, by destiny.

Watch an interview of Philippe Petit from this fantastic documentary by Ric Burns called “New York – The Center of the World“, a history of the World Trade Center.

Philippe Petit doing the impossible.
Philippe Petit doing the impossible.

This is the movie I want to see this year. Even more than the first of the J. J. Abrams Star Wars trilogy. I want to see the Robert Zemeckis film – The Walk.

On the morning of Tuesday, August 6, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out onto a wire that was suspended between the rooftops of World Trade Center Towers, and took a walk…a quarter of a mile in the air. He didn’t tip toe for a few seconds, or steady himself with shifts and drops against the winds that plied the space between the towers. No, he walked back and forth, for a total of 40 minutes, most certainly defying death. And he did it with joy. He danced, he jumped, he reclined and stared peacefully at the sky on his back on a steel wire about an inch in diameter.

He was happy.

We all aspire to something great, or at least something better than we currently experience. Olympic athletes are high-performance beasts who understand the power of visualizing achievement and victory, and using that as motivation to greater heights. But rarely would they be in a situation so off-the-charts unimaginable, so high in difficulty level, as the idea of walking on a tightrope between two towers so high they would often get lost in the clouds.

This act, or as Petit calls it, Le Coup, is so beyond the understanding of even the greatest of thrill seekers that the New York Times wrote an article describing it as art. The article quotes Colum McCann who wrote a novel called “let the Great World Spin” based on this act, and claimed that Petit “has the commitment and consciousness of an important artist.” His work “takes place primarily in the brain. The body follows the brain. He outthinks his body. And he takes over new spaces. He reappropriates public space. He turns our public spaces into things that we have to think about again.”

Was Petit’s Coup a piece of performance art? Was it an act of incredible athleticism? It doesn’t matter as it must inspire all who walk this planet.