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‘The Walk’ tests the limits of personal resolve

“The Walk” (2015). Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Steve Valentine, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel, Soleyman Pierini, Yanik Ethier. Director: Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne. Book: Philippe Petit, To Reach the Clouds. Web site. Trailer.

When we set our minds to accomplishing something, there’s usually nothing to stop us except for the roadblocks we place in our own way. But, in the absence of such hindrances, we’re generally free and clear to proceed with fulfilling our objectives, no matter how unlikely they may seem to others. That point is driven home with dramatic flair and heart-pounding thrills in director Robert Zemeckis’s exhilarating new historical drama, “The Walk.”

In August 1974, crowds of open-mouthed New Yorkers were captivated when a little-known French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) undertook and achieved the unthinkable – stringing a cable and successfully traversing the space between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, 110 stories (1,350 feet) above the ground. The illegal, unauthorized feat (which Petit called “le coup”) became an immediate sensation, catapulting the daredevil to worldwide fame and inspiring an Academy Award-winning documentary, “Man on Wire” (2008), that chronicled the event. It’s that saga and the back story behind it that inspired this dramatic re-creation.

The story, narrated by the protagonist, opens in Petit’s childhood in rural France, when a young Philippe (Soleyman Pierini) is mesmerized by the high-wire feats of a touring circus company. He soon begins emulating his heroes and subsequently befriends the troupe’s curmudgeonly leader, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), to learn the tricks of his craft. Later, as a Paris street performer, Philippe stages impromptu demonstrations of his abilities (all the while trying to outrun the local gendarmes seeking to collar him for his unlawful shenanigans). However, despite the fun of these mischievous little stunts, Philippe craves greater attention and longs to pull off bigger exploits. And then, while sitting in a dentist’s office waiting room one day, he gets the inspiration he’s been looking for.

While leafing through a magazine, Philippe sees an article about the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, which are still under construction at the time. He immediately becomes infatuated with the gleaming structures, imagining a high wire strung between them – and envisioning himself perched atop it. He thus vows to make it happen.

Shortly thereafter, Philippe begins seeking accomplices to assist him with his undertaking. In addition to Papa Rudy, Philippe recruits Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), an art student, fellow street performer and prospective romantic interest, and Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony), an aspiring photographer eager to document his accomplishments. Jean-Louis, in turn, enlists the support of his friend Jean-François (a.k.a. “Jeff”) (César Domboy), a willing collaborator anxious to join the team despite his fear of heights.

Philippe also prepares for his high-wire feat by conducting dry runs in other locations. Even though these venues are no match for the World Trade Center, they provide good opportunities for practice – and for attracting spectators. The most notable of these locales is Notre-Dame de Paris, where Philippe draws a small but enthusiastic crowd to watch him walk a wire between the Gothic cathedral’s two bell towers.

With the initial planning complete, Philippe and Annie cross the Atlantic to New York, where they get their first in-person glimpse of the nearly finished towers. Philippe is utterly awestruck, and suddenly he seems unsure about being able to pull off his stunt. However, despite this initial trepidation, doors open (quite literally) for Philippe, so he decides to push ahead with his plan. He’s soon joined by Jean-Louis and Jeff and then proceeds to look for additional local accomplices. Through a pair of unexpected but fortuitous synchronicities, two new recruits join Philippe’s team: Jean-Pierre (a.k.a. “J.P.”) (James Badge Dale), a French transplant turned Gothamite, and Barry (Steve Valentine), a rascally New Yorker who witnessed Philippe’s Notre-Dame performance and is anxious to see him do for the Big Apple’s skyline what he did for that of the City of Lights. Barry also just happens to work on one of the WTC’s upper floors, enabling easy access to the rooftop, a huge logistical break for planning his high-wire caper.

As the date for the walk draws near, Philippe and his collaborators work on ironing out the last-remaining details. But are all the contingencies sufficiently accounted for? What if unexpected complications arise? What’s more, Philippe has serious reservations about the commitment and competency of two additional last-minute colleagues recruited by J.P. (Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel), one of whom endlessly worries about the legality of the plan while the other is perpetually stoned. If there’s any benefit in all these complications, though, it’s that it leaves little time for Philippe to worry about the stunt itself.

When the day of the event arrives, Philippe and his accomplices set about their respective tasks. But, even with all the team’s planning, things don’t go entirely as expected, in some ways for the better, in some ways not. The hours before the walk are full of surprises, some amusing, some scary and some necessitating eleventh-hour adjustments. And, once it’s time for the performance, the real magic begins. What was initially envisioned turns out to be even more spectacular than what anyone might have imagined – including Philippe himself.

When mountaineer George Mallory was asked about why he was attempting to climb that imposing rock known as Mt. Everest, he replied with his infamously pithy response, “Because it’s there,” an expression that has since come to justify attempts at taking on the unimaginable. Some might see such a comeback as the height of arrogance, a conclusion some would say was predictably borne out by the outcome of Mallory’s third (and fatal) assault of the mountain. Yet, were it not for such a fearless, unflappable attitude, many of mankind’s most daring achievements, such as visiting the Earth’s Poles, going to the moon and even subsequent successful climbs to the top of Everest, may well have gone unattempted, let alone attained. So it was also with Petit’s stroll through the clouds.

That adventurous spirit of trying the untried is a hallmark of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. By pushing the limits of our imagination, we’re able to accomplish the truly remarkable. This applies not only to engaging in daredevil stunts, but also to successfully realizing anything thought to be out of reach, like landing a plum job, writing a book or finding the love of one’s life. The example set by Petit thus provides us with a potent jolt of inspiration, one that we can draw from in overcoming our fears and doubts and in galvanizing our belief in ourselves.

Taking on audacious feats, no matter what they may entail, presents us with a prime opportunity to test our degree of faith in our beliefs. This is crucial, because the level of resolve we place in our intentions plays a significant role in our likelihood of success. The more certain we are about what we can accomplish, the more we can clearly envision succeeding at our personal triumphs, the greater our faith in being able to rise to such occasions. Philippe’s experience illustrates this with extraordinary clarity.

When we have such supreme confidence in our vision and capabilities, the pieces of the manifestation puzzle begin to fall into place. This is where synchronicities enter the picture. These helpful, meaningful “coincidences” are signs from our divine collaborator that we’re on the right track, that our beliefs are on their way to becoming realized. They show that we’re successfully using our power of attraction to draw into our lives exactly what we need to reach our goals, to bring the intangible out of the world of potential and into the realm of the tangible. Again, Philippe’s experience exemplifies this phenomenon remarkably, proving to himself – and us – that he’s mastered this aspect of the conscious creation process, making it possible to draw him ever closer to the achievement of his objective.

Of course, none of the foregoing would happen were it not for our ability to envision desired outcomes. This is made possible in large part by tapping into altered states of consciousness – some might even say different dimensions – that enable us to see and feel what we’re striving for. The more adept we are at being able to imagine such probabilities, the more likely we’ll bring them into being. Philippe makes use of this ability routinely, both in his planning and during the execution of his performance. This ability, when applied skillfully and inventively, allows us to realize results that amaze others – and sometimes even us – as the wire walker proves time and time again.

“The Walk” is an entertaining re-creation of a remarkable, envelope-pushing event with fine special effects and a solid lead performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film is admittedly a little thin on character development (especially among the supporting players), and some of the setup to the main event seems padded to fill out the runtime. But, those drawbacks aside, the picture is a genuine crowd pleaser, especially in its gripping, breathtaking climax.

The film is also a loving tribute to the buildings that Petit helped make famous. The Towers are re-created in all their glory, coming to life almost as much as their counterpart human characters. As they’re portrayed here, they have a soul of their own, one that Petit is said to have helped give them. His high-wire feat helped to humanize a pair of structures that many New Yorkers initially found cold, ugly and impersonal, buildings that were initially perceived as looking like “two enormous filing cabinets,” as one character dismissively observes before Philippe’s walk. But, through this story, viewers see how the Towers are given life, both at the time of their inception and again in this cinematic rebirth.

Would-be viewers should heed a word of caution, however: Those who have a fear of heights may want to carefully weigh their decision to screen this film. The picture’s concluding sequence is so convincing that you feel like you’re on the wire with the protagonist, an impact heightened by the film’s stunning 3D visuals. Director Robert Zemeckis serves up a truly visceral experience, but it’s one that could make the faint of heart a little queasy (which might account in part for the film’s underwhelming box office performance thus far, despite its widespread critical acclaim).

All too often, we unfortunately allow excuses to interfere with the pursuit of our most cherished desires. Fears, doubts and undue worries about perceptions, logistics or other considerations frequently intrude upon our dreams, keeping us stuck on the launching pad and never getting off the ground. That need not be the case, however, if we trust in ourselves, our resolve and the personal beliefs that underlie them. With unswerving faith and a clear vision, there’s no telling what we can achieve. Like Philippe, we, too, may find ourselves with our heads in the clouds.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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