Production Company: DreamWorks Pictures
Director: Steven Spielberg
Principles: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chi McBride and Stanley Tucci
Rating: PG-13 (language and mild sexual content)
By Gregg Tubbs
(UMCom) -- At this point, I believe Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks could make a decent film out of a man reading the phone book-so long as Spielberg directed and Hanks played the man. With The Terminal, their third feature together, they pull off another winner, in this whimsical, heartfelt and parable-like tale of an airport terminal and the colorful group of people whose lives intersect and connect there. Some are passing through, others make their living there, and one, just like a flight, has been indefinitely delayed.
Inspired by a real-life event, The Terminal takes place almost entirely at New York’s JFK airport. Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), who has just arrived from a fictitious European country, is unaware that because of a military coup, his native land of Krakozhia, legally speaking, no longer exists. His passport is no longer recognized by the U.S and he is, in the words of blustery immigration agent Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), "a citizen of nowhere." As Dixon tries to explain his status to Viktor (who speaks no English), he finally settles on a word that seems to click-"Unacceptable!"- a term that will echo throughout the film and come back to haunt the insensitive Dixon.
Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) can only wait when a coup in his homeland leaves him stranded at the airport. © 2004 Dreamworks Pictures
Unable to enter the United States, or return to his war torn country, Viktor is told to return to the international terminal and wait. And wait he does, but not passively, and not without touching the lives of those around him. He plays matchmaker, peacemaker, repairman and moral guidepost as he takes up residence in a place designed to only pass through. Over the months (yes, months) he is stuck at the airport, Viktor becomes an almost archetypical American immigrant, conquering the challenges of language, culture and livelihood that so many others faced as they brought their hopes and dreams to America’s shore.
Dixon, on the other hand, has somehow lost his compassion for the other airport employees, and sees them, particularly Viktor, as impediments to his promotion out of his dead-end job. Unable, or unwilling, to help Viktor regain legal status, he schemes to make him "someone else’s problem," even if it means Viktor’s arrest. The contrast between the honest, kind and industrious Viktor and the cynical uncompassionate Dixon, builds a strong morality lesson throughout the film. One of Dixon’s supervisors chides him saying, "Compassion. That’s what this country was founded on. Sometimes you’ve got to forget the rules and focus on the people." It’s a lesson that’s lost on Dixon, but not the audience.
Airport official Frank Dixon shows Viktor why he has no intention of allowing him to enter the United States. © 2004 Dreamworks Pictures
Hank’s Viktor is a wonderful creation, similar to Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful or even Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. He is the little guy, struggling to hold is own against abusive authority, an indifferent bureaucracy or a cruel twist of fate. He’s the "everyman" who just wants to get along, build a life, find some happiness and maybe even love-all without sacrificing his principles or dignity. At first, he seems comical and helpless, but when tested, he shows unsuspected reserves of determination and resourcefulness. By the end of the film, Viktor has become a hero to the workers at the terminal, who cheer him on as he gets closer to his release.
The running theme in the film is "waiting." Flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is waiting for her married lover to leave his wife, Dixon is waiting for his promotion, and even the janitor Gupta is just biding his time, hoping to evade prosecution for an earlier crime. Surrounded by so many lives in limbo, only Viktor is truly living, or perhaps "waiting with purpose," despite his own captivity in the terminal. When Amelia asks him "What are you waiting for?" it could just as easily be a question to the audience. Are we waiting for our lives to start? Waiting for "things to get better?" Or are we just stuck like Amelia, in a pointless, or destructive situation, but unable to break free? Taking our cue from Viktor, a better question might be, "How are you waiting?" Are we making the most of the time given to us? Helping those we can, working to improve our situation, while staying true to our principles?
Viktor Navorski finds himself surrounded by friends and well wishers in his quest to finally leave the airport and visit New York. © 2004 Dreamworks Pictures
This promises to be another typical summer, jam-packed with oversized films, bursting with special effects, unreal action and generic bombast. The Terminal could be an oasis for audiences looking for real human comedy, touching relationships and characters to root for and be inspired by. As they said in the film-"What are you waiting for?"
Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.