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Man on Wire: Beauty and the Challenge of Impossibility

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No longer in theaters, Man on Wire is a documentary film you will have to rent at a library or video store near you, watch through Netflix, or purchase off a site like Amazon. That does not change the fact that this film, which won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary, is an exhilarating and powerful film that all should make an effort to see.

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At a time when the economy is terrifying everybody on this planet and wars raging in the Middle East are impacting families whose loved ones are in harm's way, Man on Wire is a film for one to lose his or her self in; for one to find that in the middle of madness, hope and joy can be found.

Phillippe Petit, a French man who has gone through life doing magic, unicycling, street performances, and wire-walking, becomes inspired by the proposal for the World Trade Center towers while in a dentist’s office. Petit senses the beauty of the towers, imagines what it would be like to put a wire between the two towers and walk between them, and ultimately, embarks on a quest to assemble a crew that will give him the chance to experience the challenge of impossibility that the two towers create for an experienced wire-walker like his self.

The audience sees what Petit is capable of before he goes to walk between the WTC towers. Petit walks atop the Notre Dame Cathedral. He is shown with his friends intrigued by his personality and ambition working on setups in clearings where he perfects his wire-walking technique.

The audience is met with the idea that “life should be lived on the edge” and that “you have to exercise rebellion.” 

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Petit, the wire-walker, believes rebellion requires one to “refuse to taper yourself to the rules, refuse your own success, refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge.” By doing so, you can “love your life” as if you are “on a tightrope.”

The documentary is a vibrant metaphor. It’s about pursuing one’s passion and believing that what you are doing is righteous no matter what the fiercest critics have to say, no matter what the largest obstacles may be.

Petit is a climber who believes nobody can stop him. He also thirsts for escape---a chance to see the world from a new perspective.

The public reaction to Petit’s wire-walking is revealing. Wanting to understand the mystery and practicality of Petit’s endeavor, the public asks, “Why?”

For Petit, “there is no why.” The public cannot accept it. While Petit’s act gives them a breath of fresh air in the middle of their grueling and tiresome lives, a man driven by love and passion is alien to them.

The images of the World Trade Center are now tainted with what occurred on 9/11, but Man on Wire carries itself from beginning to end in a manner that does not let the tragedy overshadow the magnificence of the towers or the daring scheme which Petit carried out in the 1970s.

A combination of stills, stock footage, and drama reconstruction move the liberating and powerful film from beginning to end in a first-rate manner that makes this thrilling.

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Wrapped in the story of passion and beauty lies a finely crafted heist film for all to enjoy as Petit and crew had to plot their way into the towers and meticulously prepare supplies so that the wire could be extended from one tower to the other for Petit to walk on.

The score by the Michael Nyman Band provides a lush, tender, and anxious atmosphere for the film’s characters to tell their refreshingly subversive tale in.

Based on the book “To Reach the Clouds” by Phillippe Petit, Man on Wire compels one to consider living his or her life as if it is a work of art like Petit did. And, when you think about it, the sky’s the limit if you shed your doubt and approach the world with confidence like Petit did when faced with the unlikeliest of inspirations.


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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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