I recently watched a great documentary called Man on Wire. It is the story of a tightrope walker named Philippe Petit, whose dream, nay, obsession was to tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. This obsession devoured every waking moment of his existence until he finally consummated it. Like a black hole, he sucked everyone around him in with his passion, and they were driven to help him, even at great cost or risk to themselves. In the end, despite many close calls, he achieved his dream.
The story is interesting enough, but it is not most fascinating thing to me about Man on Wire. That distinction belongs to the characters and how one moment in time changed their lives forever.
Philippe Petit – What sort of man becomes a tightrope walker in the first place, and what goes through his mind when he�s on the wire? Philippe is a nonconformist, a rebel, a free spirit. He thinks of nothing but his art. His intensity and concentration on the wire is incredible – it is as if the world falls away and nothing matters except the moment.
His friends – What sort of people would devote their lives to helping somebody achieve his crackpot dreams?
In that one moment of ecstasy, Philippe catapulted to the heavens while all those that help him fell to earth, cast aside, no longer needed. The birth of his immortality extinguished the flames of their fellowship. Philippe Petit no longer belonged to his friends but to the people and to history. There’s something beautiful and sad about this.
The story ends, but we are left with far more questions than answers. How does Philippe live the rest of his life knowing that nothing will likely match this moment? How do his friends feel? You can read up on Philippe Petit online to answer the first one, but the second one is somewhat answered in the film.
His friends seem to feel more wistfulness and sadness than bitterness and regret. They understood their roles in this drama. They had been a part of greatness, no matter how brief or minor their roles were.
What if this story had been yours? Who would you have been: Philippe Petit, his friend, or just a bystander? Is the purpose of life to produce something noteworthy? What price, if any, would you have paid for greatness?
Blade Runner – Would you burn twice as bright but only live half as long?