by Laura Sillerman


If you are a bit weary of trying to piece together how we got into this economic mess, I recommend viewing “Man on Wire” released in theaters in summer of 2008 and now available on DVD.

It is the story of Philippe Petite, the high wire artist who cunningly, brazenly, crazily, enlisted others to realize his compulsion to, in 1974, sit, stand, dance, lie on a wire strung between the highest points of the World Trade Center towers.

It is a story of devotion, seduction, friendship, obsession, miracles, missions, and mostly it is a metaphor for what it means to be alive on this earth.

No, the metaphor isn’t the obvious one: we are all on the high wire strung between birth and death, not knowing when we are going to dance on air and when we are going to plunge, though I’m certain the experience of seeing this film keys into that curiosity we all have about the perils of simply being alive.

It is about the wonder that we walk around in our own skins believing we truly can relate to one another enough to make friends, find lovers, marry, have hope about the futures of our children and grandchildren and care about the welfare of others.

It’s about the miracle of mattering to each other.  And the truth:  even walking a mile in Monsieur Petite’s shoes would never help most of us to understand him nor help him to understand the groundlings among us.


Early on in the film, the mature Philippe faces the camera with his eyes focused on some distant high point and explains that when he saw the photo of the proposed towers years before they were built, he said to himself, “They are being built for me.”

Riveted though you very well may be (I certainly was) to the subsequent story of all the high – really high—jinx of the young tight rope walker and the truly suspenseful outlining of his trajectory to the towers.  Touched as you will be by the story of those who literally supported him as he realized this impossible dream.  Bemused as one is by the cast of both shady and light characters surrounding the caper, one can’t help but ask the question, “What planet is this man from?”

The answer is of course ours.  And therein is the answer to the question all of us is probably going to ask at least once today.  What was he/she thinking?  What was my husband thinking when he forgot to do A,B or C.  What was my friend thinking when she said D, E or F?  What was my colleague thinking when she suggested I should do X, Y or Z?  What were those bankers thinking?  The answer is: they were thinking what I would never think because, among other things, though I am the same species as Philippe Petite, my brain would never cause me to think that I would like to walk anywhere besides terra firma.

Man on Wire is nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Feature category.  I recommend you see it before the Awards are announced.  It reminds us that just as most of us would never go into Notre Dame Cathedral with an eye toward frolicking high above the Ile de la Cite, it’s possible to care that someone did.

We are all separate on this earth, as unique as fingerprints or snowflakes, and still we love one another and love the same movies, try to forgive or fix things and try to get along.  We stare in disbelief at a young man a quarter mile above Manhattan’s streets on towers that hate brought down 27 years later and still we try to understand one another.

That’s miracle enough for today and reason enough to, grounded or not, go on.

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