Man on Wire

2 Stars – Shallow Reflections

The life of our World Trade Center towers and Philippe Petit are remarkably intertwined. At the age of 17, Petit as a young Parisian street performer saw a picture of the two towers which were going to be built in New York City and explains that he knew then that it was his goal in life to walk a wire between them. He does so on August 7, 1974 When he is successful his life's purpose seems to collapse around him. This walk of consuming passion is presented on film by James Marsh in the documentary named: "Man on Wire."

Taking the title from the actual words on the arrest papers by the NYCPD, "Man on Wire" is a composite work. Actual footage is woven seamlessly with actors who allow us to walk with a small group of friends through years of their lives as they come under the spell of Petit and his obsession to not only walk the wire, but do so in illegal venues from Notre Dam Cathedral, to the towers of a bridge in Sydney, to walking between the two tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers.

With a clear sense of needing to walk above the usual rules of life, Petit (played by Paul McGill in dramatizations) calls companions to join him. His first recruit is a young woman named Annie Allix (played by Ardis Campbell in dramatizations). Explaining that Philippe never really asked her if she had any goals of her own, Allix is willing to give herself to following him in his – something she literally does on the practice wire in the garden of his home. But in her words, Annie explains that when they are successful in traversing the towers then it is as though their purpose for being together is also finished. Their love story is somehow connected with the towers and ends with them.

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Other companions play slightly different roles. Jean-Louis Blondeau and Jean-Louis (played by David Demato) are life-long friends who care about Philippe as a person and because they know the depth of passion he has for this are willing to be arrested to assist him. In a very different role are a collection of people who are simply willing to assist him from helping him fake security badges to helping secure the cable. These people are described by Jean-Louise as "losers" who simply want to be a part of the escapade itself.

As Americans there is something deeper that happens in watching the film. As we watch Philippe grow-up and learn how to be a street performer we watch the towers themselves being built. Put side-by-side on screen we watch their two forms mature together and accept Philippe's explanation that the tower's very existence is linked with his own destiny to walk a wire between them. Though the film does not address the fact that the towers are no longer here, it is clear that in a mystical way something died with Philippe once he walked between them. Perhaps that's because his passion was not high enough.


1. Allix explains that part of the passion for Philippe was the illegality of his walk. She thinks its because of his strict upbringing. Why do you think people become fascinated with doing things that break the rules?

2. The amazing complexity of the feat required breaking the security of the Twin Towers. How did that part of the tale effect you? Was it unsettling or exciting? Why do you answer that way?

3. What is the passion in your own life? Is it large enough to transcend this world?

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