I’m currently sitting in an airport, so even if I don’t write the entire review here, I will write a bit so I can say I wrote about The Terminal in a terminal.
The Terminal is a film directed by Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European visitor to the United States who becomes stuck in diplomatic limbo at the JFK International Airport when the government of his home country Krakozhia is toppled in a mostly bloodless coup.
Interesting premise? Certainly. But an interesting premise alone does not a classic make, even when in the capable hands of Spielberg (see also 1941 et al).
I’ve not completely given up on Spielberg’s ability to make films I find interesting. However, as of late his films have a hollow sort of feel to them. Epic and click-baity on the outside, rather bland and lacking a driving force on the inside (Lincoln, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, though The Adventures of Tintin was a step up). The terminal felt as if it were a series of thinly connected incidents occurring in a terminal prior to Victor’s escape. And when he does escape it is to complete a task not terribly well explained until too late in the film. Once explained, it felt like a disappointing payoff for all the waiting we and Viktor went through to get to that point.
Spielberg’s more recent films seem to have lost a bit of the bite or sense of grandeur and interesting character development of his earlier films. Yes there are wide shots of the interior of the airport terminal, and an old guy tilting at a jumbo jet with a mop like a 21st century Don Quixote, but none of the photography or big moments were particularly inspiring to me.
Now, I will give Hanks a lot of credit for his versatility as an actor. Not everyone can play a toy Sheriff, an astronaut, a cargo ship captain, and even Walt Disney. But I’m afraid the eastern european immigrant persona doesn’t work quite as well as I had hoped. Despite finding inspiration for the role in his Bulgarian father-in-law, I still didn’t quite buy the accent. Much of the writing doesn’t help the character much either. Viktor comes off as less intelligent than he should have been. The absurdities of living in an airport is essential to the plot, but is someone who is afraid of getting arrested really going to knock out the lights in a portion of the terminal so he can sleep better? Viktor’s motivations are weak in the film. This is unusual for Spielberg, as so many of his films are clear as to what is at stake for the characters. Yes we want Viktor to make it into the United States, or go home. But for most of the film we’re not sure why.
The film also lacks a compelling climax. So many of Spielberg’s films have a confrontation that we have been anticipating and wanting to see. A man facing off against a shark on a sinking fishing boat, racing the Nazis to the Holy Grail in the ancient city of Petra. In The Terminal the airport police put a jacket on him and he walks outside into the snow. Granted the scene tries to be more than that, but it doesn’t work for me.
The film has an interesting theme: Everyone is waiting, but what are they waiting for? This is a intriguing theme, one which reaches deeper than most films these days, and for that I am grateful. But what makes for an interesting philosophical discussion doesn’t necessarily translate into blockbuster drama. The main characters don’t seem to know what they’re waiting for, but perhaps that’s the point?
It’s strongly suggested in the film they’re waiting for romance. There’s the nonsensical and creepy marriage proposal and wedding subplot for the airport employee dude. And Viktor even tells what’s her name annoying flight attendant lady that he’s waiting for her (but I guess she wasn’t waiting for him?) Further discussion of the romantic subplots is rather pointless, as they could have been cut or rewritten entirely (easily the worst dialogue sequences in the film).
So what is the point of this film? Often times we can answer that by asking how did the main characters change? In Jaws, a lawman in a sleepy town gains the courage to confront a force of nature and triumphs. Indiana Jones lets the Holy Grail slip from his fingers and reaches out to restore his relationship with his father instead. Viktor does…exactly what he came there to do? So all this time in the airport was wasted? He changed a few things at the airport, people get married and the Indian guy gets to go home, to prison presumably.
But before you go, I’ll leave you with something interesting to thank you for reading this, and as a reminder that truth really is stranger than fiction.
Check out the story of the man who inspired The Terminal:
And apparently the list of people stuck in airports goes on and on…
Anyways, I think I’m gonna go watch Blade Runner again.