Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Between the towers

Man on Wire explores daredevil stunt

Published: September 12, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


Possibly the most common question asked in human history encapsulated in one simple world.

While watching Man on Wire it’s hard not to shake your head throughout the movie and continually ask the question “why,” marveling the stunning true story of Philippe Petit – the French tightrope artist who climbed and conquered the world by setting up high-wire routines on the world’s tallest structures.

Director James Marsh had a hefty task in front of him in creating a documentary that fully captured the spirit of Petit and his companions’ mission to help Petit live his dream of tight roping between the World Trade Center twin towers.

Marsh lives up to this task by intermingling heist-style dramatization that feels straight out of an Ocean’s Eleven movie with traditional documentary-style interviews with Petit and his closest friends and cohorts.

Much of the dramatization focuses on the strings Petit and his accomplices pulled in pulling together the knowledge, photos, and paperwork needed to get up 1,350 feet to the 110th floor of the twin towers with a 450-pound cable and a 26-foot long, 55-pound balancing pole.

Petit’s dream formed in 1968 when he saw an advertisement for the World Trade Center in a magazine at his dentist office. Upon seeing a picture of what the twin towers would look like, Petit drew the first of many subsequent drawings of the two buildings with a line hanging between the roofs of the twin towers.

It would be six years, and three trips to New York, before Petit would attempt “le coup,” as he called it. Petit camped inside the lobby of the WTC for weeks to observe how the people walk, what they wear, and most importantly, how they go through security. He also produced counterfeit documents to fake himself as a French journalist and interviewed workers on the top of the twin towers to observe and take pictures.

The intriguing story of Petit’s vision to walk between the two towers would be enough the capture any audience but it’s the work of Marsh and composer Michael Nyman that help make Man on Wire a true work of art.

The interviews with all the characters capture the emotion that everyone involved felt in preparing for “the coup.” It is not Petit who sheds tears of joy and pain during the interviews, but his friends who became just as wrapped up as Petit in his dream. Marsh captures this emotion by changing the camera angles on the interviewees as they change their emotions in a way to draw the audience into all the interviews.

Petit makes for a intriguing interviewer as he possesses a charisma that can only belong to someone who has (literally) gone to greater heights than almost any human being.

Michael Nyman’s score also ads a magical element to Petit’s accomplishments. The music present during the most dramatic shots of Petit walking across his wire does not feel like Hollywood score with overly majestic brass and horns, but Nyman uses more strings to pull at the heart of the audience that holds its collective breath throughout the movie.

By the end of Man on Wire there is no more asking “why?”

When the credits roll, you can understand Petit when he answered that question to a reporter and said, “Why? There is no why.”