NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stands atop the Statue of Liberty telling the audience that he does not fear death and never says the word (except for when he is explaining himself), and that is why he walks the wire. This inspired him to follow his dream to hang a wire between the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center and walk across it.
He takes us back to France in 1973 where he used to be a street performer playing to dazzled crowds, but Philippe was always running from the police for performing without a permit. While collecting money from the viewers, he tosses a jawbreaker that a girl gave him, which he catches in his mouth and accidentally bites into, naturally causing him pain.
Philippe goes to the dentist and finds a magazine advertising the unfinished towers. He is instantly amazed and swipes the page out the magazine. His dream has now been born.
We see a flashback to when Philippe was a child and he first saw high-wire walkers at the circus. He would practice at home, to his father's dismay. One day, as an adult, Philippe attempted to walk the wire in the circus tent, only to be caught by the circus owner Rudy Omankowsky, aka "Papa Rudy" (Ben Kingsley). Rudy chases Philippe away, until Philippe grabs some items off the ground and starts juggling them, impressing Rudy. He later asks Rudy to help him practice wire-walking with the promise of payment.
Philippe leaves his home and parents behind to pursue his dream. His mother cries while his father thinks he's a clown. Philippe rides his unicycle into town with his bags and sees a lady named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who is singing and playing her guitar before a crowd of onlookers. Philippe decides to set up his own little performance circle and quickly steals Annie's audience. She later approaches him with disdain, but Philippe defends himself and says he only wanted to share the audience with Annie. It starts to rain, and Philippe walks with her under his umbrella. Quickly, he wins her over and they fall in love, leading Annie to become Philippe's first "accomplice" in setting up his wire walk.
Philippe meets and befriends Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), a photographer who becomes Philippe's second accomplice, as he is also a skilled archer that can shoot an arrow with the proper wiring from one tower to the other. Philippe practices a wire-walk in the park over a lake while there is a fishing contest going on. The fishermen boo him, causing him to break his concentration and fall into the lake.
Ever determined, Philippe decides to use the towers of Notre Dame as part of his next performance. He sets up the wires at night and walks as the tourists show up in the early hours of the day. Although his walk is successful, Philippe is arrested.
Philippe next meets Accomplice #3, Jean-Francois, or Jeff (Cesar Domboy), an algebra teacher that only speaks English in math equations, and he also happens to be deathly afraid of heights. Together, they, along with Annie and Jean-Louis travel to New York for the first time to get a good look at the towers, still under construction. Philippe panics at first when he enters the South Tower because he fears that the tower is too tall to scale and it would be impossible to hang the wire. However, he sneaks in through the construction elevator and makes it to the unfinished observation deck. There, he walks over a beam to get a feel of how he will accomplish his task, and his passion is instantly refueled.
Upon returning to France, Philippe plans what he calls "The Coup" for August 6th, since it'll be right before the towers are complete and the weather will be fine. Rudy urges Philippe to use a safety harness, as he would not even let his own sons (all experience high-wire artists) walk at a great height without safety harnesses, but Philippe refuses, saying it would defeat the purpose of what he hoped to accomplish. Rudy decides to stand behind Philippe's choice and he gives him all the payment money back to allow him to pursue his dream.
The crew returns to New York, and Philippe begins going undercover in different disguises to learn measurements, distance, and the like to get an idea of how he's going to pull off The Coup. He hits a snag when he accidentally steps on an nail that impales his foot. Despite this, he refuses to seek treatment and wants to keep going.
Philippe gathers more accomplices, starting with Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine), who becomes the inside man since he works on the 82nd floor of the South Tower. Philippe next meets Jean-Pierre, or JP (James Badge Dale), an American that speaks French and gives Philippe a wired radio to avoid having the cops pick up their chatter. JP then introduces Philippe to Albert (Ben Schwartz) and David (Benedict Samuel), the final two accomplices.
As the date of The Coup approaches, Philippe appears to be losing his mind. He gets a crate with the wires, which he refers to as his coffin. He bangs the nails on the crate loudly at night, waking Annie and making her angry when he refers to it as his coffin. She expresses her concern for his well-being.
August 6th arrives, and the crew begins to initiate The Coup. Philippe, Jeff, JP, and David disguise themselves as delivery men to take the wires to the top of the South Tower. They are not allowed access to the elevator as they're being rented out by other workers. JP talks down one of the men working in the tower and allows the men to make the "delivery." After getting everything to the top, David bails in a pot-induced paranoid episode when he thinks the cops are coming after him, leaving Philippe and Jeff up there. The men prepare to set up when it's nighttime, but their work is interrupted by a guard, forcing the two to hide in a tarp that happens to be placed over a shaft. Jeff becomes terrified, while his fear only makes Philippe hallucinate briefly.
The guard passes out, allowing Philippe and Jeff to get to the roof. They see Jean-Louis and Albert on the roof of the North Tower, and Jean-Louis shoots the arrow with the string attached. Philippe doesn't hear the arrow making an impact, so he frantically tries to feel for the string, going as far as taking his clothes off and jumping around. He spots the arrow hanging over the side of the roof, and he catches it before it falls. He and Jeff continue to set up the wiring, only to hear the guard approaching the steps. The two hide, and the guard is called away for some pizza.
It's almost morning. Albert decides to bail because he thinks Philippe will fail, and he also plans to sell off photographs himself. The wiring is almost complete, when an unknown man (Yanik Ethier) goes up to the roof. He says nothing and only looks around briefly before looking at Philippe approvingly. Philippe (in his narration) states that he referred to this man as the "mysterious visitor".
The wiring is complete, and Philippe starts to put on his costume, but his turtleneck falls over the building. He is angry because he doesn't want to do the walk in his undershirt, but he decides to do it anyway. And so, Philippe grabs his balancing pole and begins to make his daring walk over the wire. Annie, Barry, and JP watch from the ground, calling attention to the other New Yorkers. Philippe carefully makes his steps over the wire before making it to the North Tower. The people cheer and applaud him from below. Not feeling completed, Philippe claims that he felt the wire was still calling to him, so he walks back toward the South Tower. Two officers show up on the roof and detain Jeff. Philippe decides to walk back toward the North Tower to taunt the cops. More cops show up on the North Tower as he approaches it. The cops try and carefully talk him into walking back toward them, but Philippe only frightens them by laying on the wire before getting up when a bird passes over him. Philippe finally walks back to the South Tower and surrenders calmly. Later, a construction worker tries to saw the wire, but Philippe pleads with him not to do so, as the wire could snap and hurt someone. The cops agree, and Philippe tells them where the wiring is hidden within the wall.
Although Philippe is arrested, the cops are more amazed than angry. Philippe's story becomes worldwide news, and even Rudy is proud of Philippe. He and his crew celebrate their victory.
Philippe says that the judge mandated that he do a free high-wire performance in Central Park for families, which he was more than happy to do. Sadly for him, Annie decided to return to France so she can follow her own dreams. Philippe also states that he was given a pass to access the top of the towers whenever he wanted. He noted that the passes have an expiration date, but the WTC director crossed out the expiration date and wrote "forever"...and the smile fades from Philippe's face before he walks offscreen.
The film closes with one last shot of the towers.