Arrive and Survive: A Review of The Terminal

14 Apr

The Terminal is a funny and cute movie starring Tom Hanks, directed by Steven Spielberg, and released in 2004. Tom Hanks plays the part of Viktor Navorski, a tourist coming from an Eastern European country called Krakozha, to visit New York City. His country was already at war, and during his flight his government collapses, causing his visa and passport to be invalid. Without a country, and without valid national identification, Viktor cannot enter the United States, and he cannot get back on a flight to go home because technically there is no country for him to go home to. Viktor is stuck in an international limbo, or rather JFK Airport. Director of Customs, Frank Dixon, played by Stanley Tucci, delivers the news to Viktor upon his arrival and his guard Thurman, played by Barry Shabaka Henley, leads Viktor to the International Transit Lounge where Viktor has no choice but to make himself comfortable until his country’s government is stable again.

Viktor arrived as a tourist, but he must make his way like an immigrant on new land, as he is forced to survive in the airport terminal, thus beginning his one-dimensional adventure. He meets an array of characters as he settles in. Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as a love interest in a sense. She is the flight attendant Amelia Warren, who Vikor realizes is revolving her life around a married man. He befriends several of the airport staff such as Mulroy (Chi McBride), Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), and Dolores Torres (Zoe Saldana).

Interestingly, this “what-if” plot was inspired by the true story of an Iranian refugee, Merhan Karimi Nasseri. Instead of not actually having a country though, Nasseri’s passport and United Nations refugee identification were stolen as he was passing through a French airport. Without his documents he was unable to leave the airport for a while. Eventually he was given permission to leave the airport; however for whatever reason, he decided to stay for seventeen years. He now resides in a Parisian shelter.

A number of themes are swirling around in this film. The three most obvious are nationalism, survival, and the importance of doing what is right. The themes intertwine and play off each other, creating a light-hearted comedy that in real life could probably feel like a horrible disaster. Nationalism is everywhere in this film. It is as subtle as the “I Love New York” commercials playing on the terminal televisions. It is as obvious as Viktor’s breakdown when he realizes just how bad the crisis is in his homeland. His survival instincts are also very obvious throughout, from his discovery of how to earn quarters from the luggage cart system to his ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard cracker sandwiches. Last but not least, and certainly not the most obvious, is the determination of both Viktor and Frank Dixon to do what is right. Frank wants Viktor out of the terminal. He constantly wishes for, and manipulates situations for Viktor to illegally leave the airport. This way he can be arrested, and no longer a concern for Frank. Thurman suggests to him that he could lie and have Viktor arrested, but Frank clearly states, “I won’t lie.” On the other hand, Viktor is also determined to do what is right, and instead of making a mad dash for the exit, he settles in until he can legally enter New York City. Although some are led to believe certain things about his situation, he never outright lies about what is happening to him. During his time in the airport, he does not cheat or steal, and manages to make do with what is around him.

One of the funniest and most revealing scenes is when Frank thought he may have come up with a legal way to get Viktor out of the terminal. He brings Viktor into his office and explains to him that he must say that he has a credible fear of returning to his own country in order to plead for asylum. It could take up to six months for Viktor to see a judge and make his plea. Therefore Frank would have to let him leave the airport. So Frank asks, “Are you afraid to return to Krakozha?” Viktor calmly answers, “No.” Frank begins to carry on dramatically about militia walking the streets of Krakozha with guns, and bombs dropping around the country. Viktor agrees with him that the country is unsafe. Frank sees an opportunity and implies again, “So you are afraid to go home to Krakozha?”  To which Viktor replies, “Its home. I’m not ‘fraid from my home…” Frustrated, Frank throws up his hands and begins to usher Viktor out of the office. Viktor begins shouting, “Okay I’m ‘fraid from ghosts! I’m ‘fraid from dracoolia! I ‘fraid from wolfman’s!” This scene not only made me laugh, but it also made me recognize Viktor’s allegiance to his country. He was standing in the United States, a country many people come to, eager to assimilate in order to achieve their dreams. But Viktor was not at all willing to denounce his homeland in any way, and like Frank, he was unwilling to lie.

The film is a little unbelievable until one realizes, something very similar really happened in France. Of course Hollywood embellishments are necessary for laughs. Tom Hanks is very believable as Viktor Navorski, as his accent is unwavering, and his attachment to a fictional country appears to come from his heart. This is not surprising for all of Tom Hanks’s acting accomplishments. All of the actors respond well within the boundaries of their respective roles. If I had to rate this film according to a five star system, I would probably give four out of five stars. Four because although I know a little Hollywood glitter is necessary, some of the situations are a little too hokey and cheesy. Still, this has become one of my favorite Sunday afternoon relax and laugh films. It is definitely not one to be bypassed when scrolling the movie channels.

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