THE WALK (Robert Zemeckis, 2015)
THE WALK dramatizes an act that would be unthinkable for almost everyone. In 1974 street performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) went out on a tightrope he and friends secretly strung between the top of the World Trade Center’s towers.
Whether or not one knows Petit’s story or saw MAN ON WIRE, the 2008 documentary about his achievement, THE WALK makes no secret that Petit doesn’t die doing the seemingly impossible. The character narrates the story from the platform at the Statue of Liberty’s flame as if telling a magical tale to a child at bedtime. The danger is readily apparent in what Petit attempts, but the film’s tone treats the act as a flight of fancy that transforms the imaginative power of buildings some considered ugly. Gordon-Levitt plays Petit as a whimsical scamp, just the sort of plucky misfit who grants others the ability to see what is before them in a different light.
While THE WALK works from the knowledge that nothing bad befalls the protagonist, the act of viewing it, particularly in IMAX 3D, can be fraught with triggers for the acrophobic. When director Robert Zemeckis shows Petit balancing on a wire one hundred ten floors above the Manhattan ground, it gives an almost dizzying sensation despite being safely planted in a movie theater seat. I found even the build-up to Petit’s daring performance, as he and a collaborator skitter about the roof of one of the towers, to induce uneasiness regarding the height at which they are working. Like GRAVITY, which granted viewers the feeling of hurtling through space, THE WALK is marvelous as an experience that tricks the brain into what it is like to be in a precarious position.