Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.
There have been many great movies made over the years, where the hero has to overcome crazy odds to succeed. There’s a goal, a quest, or a challenge. Of course, the stakes are relative, based on the world of each particular film. Maybe he gets the girl, solves the case, or even saves the world.
Since the early days of the Nickelodeon (1903), where patrons paid .05 to watch a short motion picture, the first order of business was to entertain. Even in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Studio chief Samuel Goldwyn would say, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”
To begin with, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at specific movies, where we get a good mix of entertainment value, powerful themes, AND redeeming characters. Then I decided to take it a step further. I wanted to explore the common habits of heroes in these movies. Yes, heroes all have flaws, but it’s important to focus on the positive here, connect to the traits that can spill off the screen into our own lives.
For a motion picture to connect with audiences, it helps to identify with one of the characters, their persona or their quest. And for a hero to accomplish his or her goals, there is often some measure of commitment, and perseverance.
But what if that quest becomes an obsession? This is a question that comes up often with Man on Wire, a brilliant documentary celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
This movie works on so many levels, beginning with the basic dramatic quest: A 24-year old daredevil (Philippe Petit) wants to perform on a thin wire strung between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Plotting this feat like a master cat burglar, Petit enlists a motley group of partners, analyzing every detail. Other than the obvious danger of losing his life in a fall, they are breaking the law.
Real Life is Stronger Than Fiction
Petit was 17, nursing a toothache, when he picked up a newspaper in a dentist’s office and found his calling. He pulled off the feat just shy of his 25th birthday, in 1974. Talk about perseverance. And yes, this high-wire act really happened; and the movie intercuts the real footage with re-enactments and interviews with the actual players. This is not Hollywood fiction.
Of course, this movie resonates even more as a result of 9/11, knowing the towers are no longer standing. Their historical significance, on multiple levels, adds a powerful emotional layer.
“There was peace and immensity and in the middle of all this madness I suddenly had hope and joy.” Philippe Petit
A few months before Man on Wire won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, I was honored to have screened the movie at a film festival in Abu Dhabi. Audiences were in shocked, yet appreciative. While I’m not suggesting we go walk a tightrope above city streets, I do see the value in setting high goals that push our limits, even if they take time. The rewards are always greater than simply checking the easy box.
As of this writing Man on Wire is available on the following platforms:
Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes