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Film / The Terminal

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The Terminal is a 2004 comedy-drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, and (in an early appearance) Zoe Saldaña. It was loosely based on the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian man who fell into a legal loophole at Charles De Gaulle airport and had to live there for 18 years.

Victor Navorski (Hanks), a man from the fictional country of Krakozhia, has arrived in New York City, more specifically at JFK International Airport. But there's a problem: During his flight, Victor's country ceased to exist due to a civil war. He can't leave the airport to go into the city, and he can't fly home, since his country technically doesn't exist anymore. So he starts living in the airport terminal, making friends with various workers, and developing feelings for a flight attendant named Amelia (Zeta-Jones).


This film provides examples of:

  • 555: The number which keeps paging Amelia begins with 555.
  • Anti-Villain: Dixon. He's just doing his job after all. Besides, he arguably has a point since not all the newcomers have good intentions (see the drug dealer). Though he definitely crosses the line when he tries to stop Victor from leaving the airport once it's legal, for seemingly no other reason (wasn't this what he wanted all along?) than pure spite.
  • Arc Words: I'll wait, and variations using "wait".
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Victor's driving license is from Belarus. And while the name on the license is Victor Navorski in English characters, in Cyrillic it is "Гульнара Надыраўна Гуліна" (Gul'nara Nadyravna Gulina), which is an obvious female name.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Victor manages to get a visa for JUST long enough to complete his goal, but his immigration status is still up in the air, and he might end up staying in the airport for several more months while they figure out if he even CAN return to his home country again. And that's not even mentioning that he and Amelia end up going separate ways.
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  • Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Dixon tries to explain to Victor what happened in Krakozhia while having lunch. Since Victor barely understands English at this time, Dixon demonstrates what the revolutionaries did to the government, using his apple and a bag of chips. All that results is a big mess on his desk and Victor is still hopelessly confused.
  • The Cameo: Legendary jazz saxophonist Benny Golson, whose appearance is very important to the film's plot. He's the last musician that Victor needs to complete his father's autograph collection of every single jazz musician featured in the legendary "A Great Day in Harlem" photograph.
  • Central Theme: The rules of bureaucracy, while well-intentioned and generally useful, can sometimes prevent good people from getting the help they need.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Gupta explains to Victor why he is so obsessed with keeping his janitor job: he was a poor tobacco dealer in India who was shaken down by a corrupt police officer. Eventually, Gupta stabbed the bastard in the chest after several days of extortion, and fled India and his family to not be charged with assault. By working as a janitor, he can remain off of anybody's radar. Dixon threatens to have Gupta deported if Viktor doesn't leave.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: It's strongly implied Victor left America at the end of the film, so never pursued his relationship with Amelia.
  • Dramatic Drop: Dixon's reaction to Gupta delaying Viktor's flight.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Dixon. He's essentially just following the rules of his job by not letting Victor leave, but that just ties into the Central Theme that sometimes the rules are doing more harm than good and need to be bent or broken.
  • Everybody Is Single: None of the main cast are in established relationships. Middle-aged Viktor's bachelor status is neither explained nor commented upon, except for Delores and Enrique, who both tie the knot.
  • Evil Is Petty: Dixon starts off being an Obstructive Bureaucrat that cannot allow Viktor to enter the country because it's the law. It eventually evolves into a vendetta because Viktor has the gall to stay inside the airport (where he's at best an annoyance in the legal sense but not a deportation-worthy threat) and furthermore get lucky at thriving in it.
  • Flying Dutchman: Victor, of the "man without a country" variant.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Viktor says "Мамка му!"note  in "Karkozhian"note 
  • Heel–Face Turn: Having threatened retaliation against all of Viktor's friends at the climax if he does anything other than go back to Karkhozia, Dixon declines to have officers pursue him when Viktor finally does manage to get out of the terminal and go to Manhattan for Golson's autograph.
  • Heel Realization: Dixon knows he's crossed a line when he takes a jab at "Krakozhians waiting in line for crappy toilet paper" to Viktor. Dixon's not really a bad guy, though - he just wants people to follow the rules.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gupta gets himself deported to delay Viktor's flight back to Krakozhia because he values Viktor accomplishing his dream more than his own freedom. The movie implies that he was going to get deported anyways, and chose to buy Viktor some time if he was going to be shipped off regardless.
  • Honor Before Reason: Victor could easily get sanctuary status in the U.S. by saying he is afraid to return to his country. Since people are getting blown up in the streets in his home country, he has reason to be afraid. Yet, he doesn't feel afraid and refuses to say he is.
  • Hope Spot: Viktor finally gets a visa that would allow him to enter New York. Unfortunately for Viktor, Amelia had to go back to her lover. And just when Delores is about to approve it, he finds out he needs approval from Dixon, who threatens to destroy the careers of his friends if he doesn't go home.
  • Humble Goal: Victor just wants to get into New York to complete the autograph set of his father's favorite jazz musicians.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The cranky Indian janitor who likes to watch people who ignore his "slippery floor" signs and throws away Victor's food card turns out to let Victor finish his task by delaying the flight he's supposed to be bound to. Also Dixon in the ending, where having previously done everything possible to stop Viktor leaving the terminal, decides he's no real threat to anyone and doesn't pursue him after he finally leaves.
  • Lens Flare: Twice: when Viktor and Amelia kiss for the first time, and when we see his POV of his friends waking him up to tell him the war in his home country has ended and he can return.
  • "Live in the Airport" Plot: This film is basically this trope: The Movie; Viktor can't leave the airport, so he decides to live in it.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Russian guy is able to keep the pills for his father when Viktor gets him to say the pills are for "a goat", since medicine for animals doesn't require documentation. While Dixon has it in for Viktor after this incident, the rest of the airports warms to him.
  • Magnetic Hero: Viktor slowly becomes this, especially after he helps out the Russian man with the pills. At the end of the movie, when Viktor finally leaves to enter the city, everybody in the airport wishes him well and offers him gifts.
  • The Mistress: Amelia, having an on-and-off affair with a married man throughout the movie.
  • Mr. Fixit: Viktor is good with his hands. He converted an out of order terminal into his own little home, and eventually got a job in the airport for his skill.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The commercials advertised this film as if it was just a situational comedy about a guy caught in a wacky situation and can't leave the airport. It's really more serious and slice-of-life than that, though there are plenty of comedic portions.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Victor's native language, Krakozhian, is actually Bulgarian, while Krakozhia itself seems to be loosely based on Yugoslavia.
  • Noble Demon: Despite constantly trying to get Victor arrested and deported, Dixon refuses to do so without Victor actually giving him cause. He also refuses to lie as well. He'll use most any other questionable tactic, though.
  • Non-Residential Residence: The entire plot is about a man who is forced to live in the JFK International Airport after his home country suffers a coup, rendering his passport invalid.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Frank Dixon at the end of the film, trying everything he can to keep Victor in out of spite. Technically, he's just following the rules.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: A variation. The Planters Peanut Can that Viktor carried around with him contains the signatures of all jazz musicians who were included in the famous photograph "A Great Day in Harlem". Viktor's father, a jazz enthusiast, collected all of the signatures except for Benny Golson's before he died. Viktor now took on the task and flew to New York City to complete the collection for his father.
  • Product Placement: And hownote . It's inevitable given the setting, but still:
    • Viktor gets a lot of his food at Burger King, and is shown more than once with a Starbucks cup in hand.
    • He shops and applies for work at many of the retailers in the lounge, whose logos and product lines are shown amply.
    • Amelia works for United and makes sure to mention that once or twice.
    • It even applies to government agencies. U.S. Customs and Border Protection gets to look really good herenote , and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which in real life runs JFK, also gets favorably mentioned.
  • Really 17 Years Old: Inverted by Amelia saying she's 27 to passengers and 33 to coworkers, then finally telling Viktor she's actually 39, because she's still single. Her actress was 35 at the time.
  • Reduced To Rat Burgers: With no source of income, Viktor relies on free crackers and condiments for food. He susses out that he can return luggage carts for change and uses the coins to buy burgers but is forced to go back to the crackers when Dixon puts a stop to the practice. He eventually finds a steady source of airplane meals from Enrique in return for assistance in romancing Dolores, and later gets a job as a construction worker.
  • The Reveal: When Viktor finally shows Amelia what's in the peanut can.
    • Also the phone conversation where we learn that the man who has greeted Amelia so romantically more than once is not her husband but her married lover.
    • Later, when she lets on how old she actually is.
  • Ruritania: Krakozhia.
  • Stamp of Rejection: Used as a Running Gag. Victor keeps filling the same form out every day and takes it to Amelia, who has to stamp it "Denied" each time because he still doesn't have a visa to go with it, and he can't get one until the US officially recognizes his country again.
  • The Stateless: Viktor Navorski's passport is no longer valid because of a revolution in Krakozhia.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is partially inspired by the 18-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I, Paris, France from 1988 to 2006.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Towards the end of the movie, Dixon suffers one when he sees his subordinates let Victor exit the airport after the latter's flight gets delayed by Gupta.
  • Wham Shot: In-Universe, Victor, unable to understand anybody, reacting to the violence in his home country on TV.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Ultimately Frank decides, after Victor goes away to get his autograph, that he is not a danger to anyone and lets him go.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Viktor's home country has become a failed state and he is declared legally stateless as a result.
  • You No Take Candle: Viktor has very little understanding of the English language, so his sentences suffer. He slowly improves throughout the film.