A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Man on Wire is a 2008 documentary about a French tightrope walker who performed a high-wire act of epic proportions in 1974: He walked between the World Trade Center towers. There's a scene that is a time-lapse reenactment of a sexual encounter that Philippe Petit had with a female fan after he was freed from jail that includes male and female nudity. Also, one of the men who helped with the planning of the walk between the towers talks of being a marijuana smoker for 35 years and of being high throughout the planning and execution of the walk. There's cigarette smoking throughout. Aside from this, this documentary is a study in the practice, planning, and persistence it required to complete one of the strangest, one of the most daring, and, ultimately one of the most incredible examples of guerilla performance ever attempted.
What's the story?
On August 9, 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit performed an incredible and very illegal act: He walked across the World Trade Center towers on a high wire rigged between the two buildings. From the moment he first learned of the construction of the World Trade Center, Petit, who had performed similar stunts across the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was obsessed with finding a way to pull this off. This documentary details the careful planning, intense practice, teamwork, subterfuge, and complicity in making Petit's daring ambition a reality. The documentary combines archival footage, present-day interviews with those who took part, and reenactments to show the years of preparation, the act itself, and the immediate aftermath of Petit's achievement.
Is it any good?
This is an unforgettable documentary about not only a daring stunt but also on the necessity of following one's inner voice that impels us to attempt and follow our own dreams of greatness. One can only hope that future generations, when picturing the World Trade Center, won't immediately have the horrific images of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath but instead will have the image of one man on a high wire, in total and complete concentration, maintaining perfect balance while precariously perched between the WTC towers as onlookers thousands of feet below marvel and worry. For it is this image -- Philippe Petit high above 1974 Manhattan -- that is the most lingering, the most beautiful, and, in light of 9/11, the saddest. And what this documentary reveals is a kind of madness far removed from the madness of the terrorism by which the WTC is currently most remembered, but the madness of daring to put in the time and effort to follow a dream, no matter how ludicrous it seems to most of us.
Though Petit sounds romantic as he speaks of how there would be no better way to die than "in the exercise of your passion," this legendary "performance" required a great deal time and effort, practice, and preparation -- to say nothing of the complicity of some who worked in the WTC and men and women potentially risking their own freedom (had Petit fallen to his death, many would have been charged with complicity in his murder) -- and Man on a Wire goes far in showing everything required to pull this off.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries. How are archival footage, present-day reflections from the participants, and reenactments combined to tell the story?
When asked in 1974 whether he feared falling from the wire between the tops of the World Trade Center towers, Philippe Petit discussed how he would not have a problem with "[dying] in the exercise of [my] passion." Do you feel the same? Why, or why not?
What aspects of the planning and execution of this act surprised you?
- In theaters: July 25, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 9, 2008
- Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean Francois Heckel, Annie Alix
- Director: James Marsh
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Some sexuality and nudity, and drug references.
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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