Until this day, I was aware of my big scare of highs. It had prevented me of getting to the top of Eiffel Tower. I had put some second thoughts on my desire to sky diving, for example. And it had represented a bit of a problem when I had to take a course because of work on a terrace 20 floors above the ground.
But I was never ever so aware of being so afraid of highs as during The Walk, the movie about Phillipe Petit and his walk on a wire between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.
With the help of a clever use of CGI, we are put right on Petit's motivations and planning for what he called "the coup". We know that what we see is not there anymore, but it feels truly real. We know it is not, though, and that is one of the pacts created between a movie and its audience. We can forget that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with a bizarre French accent, a bit caricatural manners (who can blame him after all?) and his amazing performance, is not in fact Petit. We forget it, just to remember again when we praise his performance. And at the next moment the actor disappears to became Petit once more.
This way, it was easy to me lose the sense of where I was - at my seat in a movie theater - to embark in this crazy plan to cross the void between the two towers on a wire. I was having fun, the narrative presented by Levitt is fun, the atmosphere is very bohemic and so. Until the moment Petit and his faithful mad gang arrive at the top of the tower. At this moment, all hell broke lose for me.
Because, yes, my afraid of highs is severely more serious than what I had realized. There's a scene with Petit and Jeff hiding from a guard that led me to such a state of despair that I had to breath deeply in order to put myself together. Barely. From then, it was a roller coaster ride for me, because things only got worse, scare of highs wise. You see, I know the images I was seeing were being projected on a screen. I knew for sure. But that was not what I was experiencing at all. Because I was there, on that extremely high roof with that crazy and brilliant gang. I was witnessing it, especially through Jeff, who is scare of highs just like me. What he had to endure in order to help Petit, you won't believe. Maybe that character is a clever way of putting a regular audience inside what represented being there. it worked, at least with me it did.
I wouldn't be able to even go up that wooden stairs leading to the roof. I'm sure I would have been paralysed right at its first step. But Jeff goes on, and he is incredible. However this fact didn't prevent me of being overly scared, in the cusp of a meltdown actually. When Petit gave his first step on the wire, letting go of the roof's railing, I was in fact in shambles. in the verge of a breakdown, crying so hard, I attempt to get a grip over my fear. It seems too much? Well, that's fear: insane, irrational, uncontrollable. It didn't work the reminding of it was "just a movie", because that line had never worked for me. That's why movies are such a way to be in the world for me. They are not just anything... They are a experience of life so intense that there's no way to turn my back to it.
And Petit, that arrogant s*b (sorry)... He made me cry even more. At first, from fear. I felt like screaming to him to get out of that roof. But slowly, I was emotional for another reason: the kind of experience that makes us aware of how fundamental life is can be overwhelming. An experience shared only by that man and the world around him, the clouds above his head, the wire below his feet, the immense feeling of gratitude for being able to experience it. This movie put us right there with him, and it does that beautifully.
Of course I was relieved when, finally (!!!), his feet were on the roof again, after what looked like a lifetime of nerve-wracking walked between the towers. The man is crazy, that's for sure. And what a blessing to be so.
Being able to breath again, I was once more overwhelmed by the amazing homage to the Towers. Another special ability on the cinema is how it can manipulate time. The Towers being built on the Screen are not there anymore, we know that. Past, present and future time are involved in a movie... As have been said by Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time - that's what cinema does. And without any explicit mention to the attack to the Towers, what they means to us today are still addressed in a respectful and compelling way.
An spectacular movie in all its features, no doubt. It took me a long time to plant my feet firmly on the ground again.