The Terminal

Maybe you’ll consider this film just a light summer romantic comedy. Maybe you simply want to see Catherine Zeta-Jones in something other than period cabaret costumes. Maybe you’ve heard something about the “true” part of the backstory here.

Regardless, it’s worth checking out this Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg collaboration (Saving Private Ryan; Band of Brothers; Catch Me If You Can), even if you don’t like Hanks or Spielberg, and even if it doesn’t deal with World War II. When the film first opened, the website provided interesting 3-D virtual tours of the set, a wealth of interactive features, and special offers from the enterprises in the terminal.

As for the film, other reviewers have commented on its Frank Capra qualities, and there’s certainly a feel-good story here. The Terminal also shows us the Capra-like life and dilemma of the good-guy Everyman hero, Viktor Navorsky (played by Hanks), who must deal with the unforeseen negatives thrown at him, all while doing his best — as patiently as possible.

The basic story in The Terminal — being stuck in an airport — will be familiar enough to anyone who’s been an air traveler and has spent time waiting for a delayed or canceled flight — which means just about everyone who’s alive in the 21st century.

On another level, the film shows the fierce reality of landing in a country where you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, can’t gain legal entry because of heightened security concerns and paperwork snafus, and can’t go home again because political upheaval back there has just toppled the government, making your documentation worthless. Besides that, you have a promise to keep, which is why you made the trip in the first place.

As a sophomore in college, I went on my first excursion to London and signed up for a companion weekend jaunt to Paris. At the time, having taken multiple years of high school French and having tested out of first-year college French courses, I thought my passable command of the language would get me where I needed to go. Wrong.

Like Viktor Navorsky in The Terminal — although the government of my home country hadn’t collapsed while I was in transit — when I was dropped off in the middle of Paris with only a place to stay and my wits about me, I faced the true reality of figuring out an unfamiliar world and how to survive in it. What I thought I mastered about speaking French — and being understood — quickly went up in smoke. Luckily, I knew I’d be picked up again in two days. In The Terminal, Navorsky isn’t as fortunate. He’s told only to wait — a process for which there’s no end in sight.

In the film and within the microcosm of the airport’s international terminal, Navorsky meets the melting-pot cross-section of American life we like to portray to the world, although that diversity is found mostly in our country’s larger cities. When he realizes he cannot go home and that he can only make the best of his waiting period, Navorsky learns how to cope, how to survive, and how to thrive. In the end, he’s even able to keep his promise.

As for the backstory, the film and the website for The Terminal mention only that it’s an idea of the two writers and that the main character is completely fictional. But a similar real-life situation played itself out in Paris, where a man who arrived without proper documentation on a flight from another country lived for at least 17 years in Charles deGaulle Airport. Even after his paperwork finally cleared, this fellow apparently liked the home he’d made for himself in the terminal so well, he decided to stay!

Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna, Chi McBride,
Barry Shabaka Henley, Zoe Saldana, Michael Nouri
Director: Steven Spielberg
Theatrical release: June 2004

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos