That crosshatch construction is familiar, though we haven’t seen it for a long time. And when we do see it, we tend to picture it in smoldering ruins—not gleaming, strong, and new.

Then there’s the young man standing atop those 110 stories, stepping to the edge, balancing precariously on an I-beam that juts out into the void.

This is the first glimpse we’ve seen of The Walk—a new drama from director Robert Zemeckis, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt—and it might be easy to misconstrue the plot from these few brief moments. The movie tells a true story, but it’s not about 9/11. It takes place nearly three decades before, when the Twin Towers were newborns. And the man Gordon-Levitt plays isn’t contemplating suicide. He’s actually hoping to grasp a bit of immortality.

In 1974, a group of foreigners staged a pre-dawn plot to infiltrate the skyscrapers at the World Trade Center. But their mission was to bring joy, not terror, to the world. Gordon-Levitt is starring as Philippe Petit, the French aerialist, juggler, and entertainer who recruited a handful of colleagues to help him string a wire between the corners of the two towers so he could walk across it.

“The caper is really compelling. It’s outrageous,” Zemeckis tells EW. “It’s the story of an artist who risks his life to create a performance.”

The film is adapted from Petit’s 2002 book To Reach the Clouds, although part of the story was also told in the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man on Wire. The Walk aims to tell the story from a different perspective by not only dramatizing the plot to commit literal high crimes, but by doing so in IMAX 3-D and 3-D, adding death-defying depth to the scenes of Gordon-Levitt placing one foot in front of the next on a narrow band suspended 1,350 feet in the air.

“You get a sense from the teaser of the visual scope and the spectacle,” says studio chairman Tom Rothman, who has made The Walk the first film greenlit by his revitalized TriStar Pictures. “When it comes time to step on the wire—and take you where only one human being in history has gone, and no one will ever be again—[Zemeckis] does it in visual ways that abso-fucking-lutely blow your mind. There are shots in the third act of this film that literally take your breath away.”

Zemeckis described The Walk as not just a acrobatic heist story, but a longing look to a bygone time in which the towers were not only still standing, but the world was a little less fearful and mistrustful.

“Nobody does this anymore—something that is, uh, anarchistically benevolent,” Zemeckis says of Petit’s stunt. “Banksy is the only guy who does this anymore. I wonder why that is, why people have gotten so … boring.”

The answer is depressingly simple: ours is a society that no longer looks at a group of people sneaking into a building with unusual tools in the middle of the night and hopes they’re just planning to put on a show. Some of the wistful humor in The Walk comes from the benefit of the doubt (and occasional helping hand) that a few World Trade Center workers give the infiltrators.

Not seen in this teaser trailer are co-stars Charlotte Le Bon (pictured in the still above), James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, and Ben Kingsley as Petit’s mentor, Papa Rudy, the circus wire-walker who taught the young man everything he knows … and worries the World Trade Center will be the end of his ambitious protege.

The Walk will debut October 2, 2015. Check out the teaser poster below, which clearly tips a hat to the late, great one-sheet designer Saul Bass.

The Walk
2015 movie
  • Movie
  • 123 minutes