During a transatlantic flight, Viktor Navorski’s eastern European country suffers a coup and simply (bureaucratically and practically) ceases to exist. Unaware, Viktor (Tom Hanks) lands at JFK eagerly awaiting an NYC vacation filled with Broadway shows and Nike shoes. Instead he finds that his passport has been revoked. He is presently not the citizen of anywhere. Airport official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) cannot allow him to step onto U.S. soil but nor can they board him on a plane home. There is no home. No passport, no visa, no valid currency, and a very tenuous grasp on the English language.
Days later, Frank is very surprised to see that Viktor is still inhabiting the airport. He’d assumed Viktor would just disappear through the cracks and be somebody else’s problem. Turns out Viktor is kind of a stickler for rules.
I’d seen this movie before, of course. I don’t often miss an offering from Hanks or from director Steven Spielberg. I remembered the gist: a man trapped by circumstance in an airport. Indefinitely. Broad strokes, but I didn’t remember the fine brushstrokes delivered by a masterful performance by Hanks (is there any other kind?). I hadn’t remembered the heartache and devastation of a man learning that his country is in violent turmoil. We don’t know much of what he’s left behind: a mother or brother who worry? A home that’s being repossessed? A dog that needs to be fed? A job from which he’d be summarily dismissed, not having shown up? Instead Spielberg focuses on the life he’s building in an empty terminal of the airport: what he’s eating, where he’s sleeping, how he’s passing the time. And the friends he makes!
First it’s beautiful flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who he often sees dashing from one flight to another. Then it’s Enrique from food services (Diego Luna), who feeds Viktor in exchange for information about Dolores (Zoe Saldana) in customer service. [And who, for extra credit, reveals that she’s a trekkie, 5 years before she’d go on to play Uhura.]
You may know that The Terminal is actually inspired by the real life events of Merhan Nasseri, an Iranian refugee. In 1988, he landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, after being barred from entry into England, because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen. French authorities wouldn’t let him leave the airport. He remained in Terminal One, a stateless person with nowhere else to go. He was eventually granted permission to either enter France or return to Iran but chose to continue living in the terminal and telling his story to those who would listen. He lived there until 2006. 2006! Eighteen years! He only left in 2006 because they hospitalized him (I’m not sure for what, but his mental state had certainly deteriorated). He has since lived in a Paris homeless shelter. DreamWorks paid $250K for his story though in the end they chose not to use it.
Hanks and Spielberg have collaborated what, five times now? Perhaps The Terminal is not their best, but it’s not to be discounted either. Viktor is too pure and perhaps a little too slapsticky to seem like an authentic human, but Hanks is all charm and Spielberg’s interpretation of the American dream is something to behold.
Which Hanks-Spielberg collab is your favourite?