The Terminal (2004)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating: V-1; L-4; S/N-1.

And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Hebrews 6:15 (NIV) And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath… Mark 2:27

The Terminal

Despite some improbabilities, director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks are such masters at their art/craft that this Capraesque tale will please audiences as much as the poignant comedies of Chaplin or Tati did the audiences of their times. Hanks is Viktor Navorski, flying into New York City’s JFK Airport from his eastern European nation, Krakozia He is on a mission that centers on a mysterious Planters Peanuts canister that he keeps safely stowed in his carry-on bag. Unfortunately for him, while his plane has been landing, a military coup overthrows the government of Krakozia, and so his passport flashes a warning signal when a Customs agent interrogates him. Speaking only a few words of English, Viktor is whisked off to the office of Assistant Security Chief Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). The official tries to explain to Viktor that his passport is now invalid, throwing him into a state of limbo until the State Department determines what is the legal government of Krakozia. Viktor does not understand the explanation, only that he cannot enter upon U.S. soil. Clutching a handful of food vouchers that Dixon has given him, he bewilderedly wanders, luggage in tow, into the International Arrivals Lounge, to which he has been confined. While ineffectually trying to help a teenaged traveler close her suitcase, he drops his food vouchers on the floor, from which they are swept up by Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallanatucci), a janitor who turns out to be very territory-obsessed. Viktor finds himself having to draw on his ingenuity in order to survive—not just for a night or two, but what turns out to be stretch of weeks and months.

Hanks is perfect as the little man caught in a situation beyond his understanding and control, whose innate goodness affects those whom he meets (Jimmy Stewart would have taken this role sixty years ago). At first he survives on meager sandwiches of crackers, mustard and ketchup packages purloined from fast food outlets, and then he discovers that by returning stray luggage carts, he can obtain enough quarters to buy real food (well, as real as fast food can be—see Supersize Me!). Finding a bi-lingual travel book, he works on his English vocabulary. All the while Dixon keeps watch on Viktor through the hundreds of surveillance cameras that are posted throughout the terminal. He tries to get Viktor to leave by withdrawing the guards from the terminal’s exit, thus passing on his problem to someone else in the city. A bureaucrat who respects the rules and regulations, he is nonetheless at heart humane enough not to want to prosecute the unwelcome visitor. When Viktor sees that the exits are unguarded, he approaches the doors, hesitates—he knows that leaving would be illegal, and he too respects rules and regulations—and then, to the dismay of Dixon and his chief guard Ray Thurman (Barry Shabaka Henley), turns back into the terminal.

Airline stewardess Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) represents the romance in Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson’s script. She meets Viktor enroute to her plane. She stumbles and breaks the heel of her shoe, Viktor retrieving it and telling her where a new pair can be bought by giving her an ad for the store. The two meet at various other times. She is confused by an affair she is carrying on with a married man, and put off by Viktor’s inability to converse and thus explain why he turns down her impetuous invitation to go out for a dinner. Like Viktor, who has been waiting to leave the terminal, Amelia has been waiting passively for her lover to decide what to do. Only after she gets to know Viktor does she make her own decision as to future plans.

Others, too, are affected positively by Viktor. We could call him an agent of grace—maybe not a Christ figure, but pretty close. Janitor Gupta moves from suspicious hostility—he thinks Viktor’s lingering about the terminal means that he is a government agent spying on the employees—to such warm friendship that he shares with him the secret of why he cannot return to his native India. Airport food service employee Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), observing that every day Viktor approaches the beautiful INS agent Dolores (Zoe Saldana) with a freshly filled-out form in the vain hope that this day he would be allowed to leave, offers the émigré a deal he cannot refuse: find out all he can about the woman Enrique loves from a distance in exchange for first-class meals. Viktor does, and thus enters into a Cyrano-like role that leads to the fulfillment of the shy Enrique’s dream. Gruff baggage handler Joe Mulroy (Chi McBride) also becomes a good friend when Viktor joins his late night card games. Indeed, virtually the entire contingent of fast food employees becomes a cheering section for the stranded man when Vitkor defuses a tense situation involving a stand-off between the security guards and a Russian émigré. The Russian is returning from Canada with a valise full of medicine for his dying father when he is stopped. Dixon confiscates the drugs, so the distressed man holds a knife to his own throat, threatening to use it if the guards come any closer or if the medicine is not returned. Brought in as a possible interpreter, Viktor is able to communicate, and negotiates with Dixon and the man an outcome worthy of a Solomon.

In accepting Viktor’s translation and settlement, Dixon shows that he has listened to his superior’s answer to his comment, “I was just following the rules”— “Sometimes you have to ignore the rules. Concentrate on the people.” Thus, although Dixon is the heavy in the story, there is hope that his humanity will not become totally submerged when his longed-for promotion comes through. Indeed, his last act in regard to Viktor is a wonderful moment of grace. Romantics will love this film, and church folk will have fun discussing some of the issues it raises, especially during the season of Advent.

For thought and discussion: 1) If you have ever been alone immersed in a different culture without knowing the language, how did you feel? Note how poor Viktor has trouble trying to use the telephone.

2) The Advent theme of waiting is important in the film: Besides Viktor, who else is waiting, and what are they waiting for? Are they as fortunate as the author of Hebrews says that Abraham was? What are some of the things that you have waited for? What was the result?

3) How is Dixon like those to whom Jesus addressed the words about the Sabbath being made for man? How is he different? At what points do we his humaneness? What is his act of grace at the end of the film?

4) What other moments of grace do you see in the film? Look at each character and see how each is better off for having known Viktor. When Viktor and Amelia throw away their pagers what do you think the act symbolizes?

5) What do you think of the contents of Viktor’s peanut canister, revealing his mission? What does this reveal about his relationship with his father? How was each piece in the container a little moment of grace?

6) When asked what was in the can, Viktor replies, “A promise.” What promises have you made, or were made to you: were they carried out as faithfully as Viktor’s.