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SPOILER WARNING: As you may have gleaned from the headline, the following article is about the final scene of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, and goes into detail about how the movie plays out. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this wonderful film just yet, we recommend clicking away to another one of our wonderful articles.
In the making of his latest film, The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis did much more than just create a 3D spectacle centering on one of the greatest public stunts of all time. In telling the story of legendary acrobat Philippe Petit and his famous wire-walk between the Twin Towers, the filmmaker also found a beautiful way to honor the tremendous history of an incredible monument, which we sadly lost back on September 11, 2001. Nowhere in the movie is this more poignant than in the final scene, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s vision of Petit discusses his “forever” pass to the top of the New York buildings, before somberly looking back at them in the distance. It’s a beautiful moment, but what you may not know is that it’s as reflective of Zemeckis’ memories of 9/11 as well as Petit’s personal relationship with the Twin Towers.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk on the phone with Robert Zemeckis about The Walk, and it was at the very end of our conversation that I asked him to discuss his approach to the emotional finale of the film as well as his views on how it connects to the events that occurred on September 11th. Opening up about the legacy of the Twin Towers and what they ultimately meant to Philippe Petit and himself, the director said,
Philippe’s illegal walk between the towers is probably, I think, the second most significant thing that ever happened to those towers, right? Of course, their destruction being the first – but the walk was a human moment, and it was an artistic moment. It was a beautiful moment. When I started talking to Philippe in the very beginning, he spoke about the towers as if they were living, breathing entities, that they were his partners in his art. They were his collaborators, his co-conspirators, and he always referred to them as partners. And so I thought, ‘Okay, well, this is what I have to do.’
Of course, Robert Zemeckis and Philippe Petit were far from the only two people emotionally hit by the destruction of the Twin Towers, and that was a strong influence on the filmmaker’s approach to the scene as well. Recognizing that there are many people with many different thoughts and memories from September 11th, Zemeckis made the conscious decision not to make some sort of big comment about the attack, but instead let audiences bring their own feelings to it with the help of Petit’s perspective. He explained,
We all bring our own memory to this, and there was no reason for me to editorialize about it at all. I just thought what I need to do is present it obviously, the way the towers were seen through Philippe’s eyes, and that’s what I tried to do.
After experiencing The Walk’s magical and dizzying third act, the emotional punch that comes from the movie’s September 11th tribute at the end hits shockingly hard, and is truly a beautiful and honest moment with which to leave. The film does an amazing job celebrating the amazing monument that we once had, while also making us deeply miss it and recognize what it now represents. Amazing as the Petit’s wire-walking is, the very last scene is on par with being just as memorable.
The Walk is now in theaters nationwide.