Although it’s been 12 years, I still feel a strong connection to this film. At the age of 9, I hadn’t felt any of the emotions that Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) goes through but I felt empathy. Now, I know of love, confusion and disappointment. My life has felt like a waiting room for quite some time now. I guess that’s why this film by Steven Spielberg is so powerful, because although it’s minimalist, the emotions are grand. And now, I feel like I can relate.
The premise of The Terminal is fairly simple. Viktor Navorski enters the JFK airport, he can barely utter a word of English and he doesn’t understand what is happening to him when his passport is refused. He can’t set a foot in New-York because of a national coup that is currently setting the politics of his country ablaze. Until the war is over, Viktor is a human citizen of nowhere and he can’t exit the airport. Most people would feel defeated, but not him. He’s fighting for survival, eating crackers drowned in ketchup and tries to help people around him all while waiting, always waiting.
Arguably this might be Spielberg’s film with the least happening. For two hours, we see Viktor wait. He keeps himself busy, he falls in love and those tiny microcosms are grand and have their importance, but this movie isn’t filled with action and suspense. At some point, we simply admit to ourselves that he will never leave the airport and morph into a piece of this on-going organised chaos. So much happens in the daily routine of the workers at JFK, yet they are all stuck waiting for something or for someone.
To me, Spielberg created a perfect vehicle to showcase emotions in a beautiful way. We follow mostly Viktor who can’t help but fall in love with Amelia the gorgeous flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is trapped in her own waiting room. She’s the mistress waiting for the call and she has been for so long that she has forgotten what it’s like to simply live on her own agenda. Through her eyes, we get to see the ugliness of the matters of the heart. She can’t pull herself away from a man who will never be available to her and we hope that she will fall for Viktor as he builds a fountain for her, woos her with the help of his airport worker friends, but the reality sinks in. We all wait for someone and most of the time, it’s in vain.
The Terminal is a minimal film compared to anything Spielberg has done and yet it wields quite a few messages. It speaks of politics and of being a bureaucratic nuisance. Viktor faces Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) who would do anything to bring him out of his sight and back into someone else’s “problem bin”. Yet, Viktor won’t budge, he’s patient and honest, two qualities that drive the airport official out of his mind into a constant state of rage. Those little moments of animosity break the otherwise “bubblegum-y” feel that the movie might have. The protagonist is so pure that it’s imperative to have an archnemesis track him down to create different scenes throughout the film.
I will conclude by saying that here Spielberg has shown that not much needs to happen to entice a viewer. The stunning cinematography helps build this idea of a new world set in an area of consumerism where only the ephemeral can survive. And yet, Viktor Navroski who stays there for months with an enemy waiting for his downfall will still come out triumphant.