PARIS. I imagine most of us watching the tragic news unfold this past Friday thought back to 9/11. In the City that Never Sleeps, a blue-sky September morn is reduced to a single mirror image: the imploding Twin Towers. Fast forward 14 years. In the City of Light, a crisp November evening is transformed into scenes of unforgettable carnage. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. Not the carnage or the deaths or the terror or those responsible for it. Reporters and eye-witnesses in Paris will tell those stories. And they should.
I’m a former New Yorker living in the U.S., and I want to talk about the feature film The Walk because it takes place in the air space between the Twin Towers, two iconic buildings that we can’t forget even though they no longer exist. And because the man on the wire who crossed the void and accomplished the impossible was a Frenchman, Philippe Petit, who is as diminutive as his name suggests. Except it’s a sacrilege to call him small. Forty-one years ago on a windy August morning, New Yorkers learned that Philippe’s passion and determination were infinite.
When he arrived in New York (a year before ‘the walk’) to take his first real look at the Towers, he thought: my dream, it’s impossible. His next thought: somehow I must do it. And do it he did. Two hundred feet across a wire, a quarter mile in the air, no safety net or harness, forty-five minutes of back and forth ballet. Up until then, most New Yorkers weren’t too thrilled with the double giant in their midst. Critics called the buildings ugly and impersonal. Then along came a Frenchman who put a human face on the towers. His strange high-wire dance was a thing of beauty. New Yorkers fell in love with the buildings, and years later as a young working girl, I was one of them.
My sons are both in their twenties now, but they never knew the Twin Towers, apart from watching them come tumbling down. Over and over for months on the TVs playing non-stop everywhere they went. And what of all the school children born after 9/11? What’s their visual when someone mentions the Twin Towers? The film The Walk is a chance to see the North and South Towers as the Rock Stars they were, before 9/11 happened. Cinematic wizardry and a director revered for his special effects (Back to the Future, Polar Express, Contact) recreate them for us. As for suspense, think Mission Impossible. Up on the wire with the actor portraying Philippe, it’s that kind of scary. You’ll be begging him to get down long before he does.
The Artistic Crime of the Century. That’s what it was called, back in the day. Call me crazy, but I like it as a message for kids. Dare to dream. Dream Big. Surround yourself with a small group of people who support and believe in you. Never Give Up. And, most importantly, if you need to break any laws, don’t do it to be wicked or mean or hurt people.
Two giant Towers. One small Frenchman. Think about it. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, please run–don’t skip–to see The Walk on the Big Screen. Take your kids or your neighbors, and tell your friends and family. Do it as an American, but pay your respects to the French.