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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 (1945-2022), an Iranian man who fell into a legal loophole at Charles De Gaulle airport and had to live there for 18 years.

Viktor 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, Viktor'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 is based on the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian national who was stranded at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for eighteen years, starting in 1988, only released when he had to be hospitalized in 2006. He returned to the airport in 2022 and died there a month later.

This film provides examples of:

  • 555: The number which keeps paging Amelia begins with 555.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: After Dixon fails to trick Viktor into innocently breaking the law by leaving the airport, several customs officers gather around the CCTV monitors in the security room and are clearly amused at the sight of their boss being outsmarted by a foreigner who doesn't even speak English.
  • Anti-Villain: The main antagonist, 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 Viktor 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: Viktor's driving license is from Belarus. And while the name on the license is Viktor Navorski in English characters, in Cyrillic it is "Гульнара Надыраўна Гуліна" (Gul'nara Nadyravna Gulina), which is an obvious female name.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Viktor 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.
  • Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Dixon tries to explain to Viktor what happened in Krakozhia while having lunch. Since Viktor 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 of potato chips across Viktor's lap and Viktor is still left 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 Viktor needs to complete his father's autograph collection of every single jazz musician featured in the legendary "A Great Day in Harlem" photograph.
  • Catapult Nightmare: During his first night staying in the airport, Viktor is awakened by the lights of an incoming jumbo jet and bolts up with his hands above his head shouting "Don't shoot!" and is clearly shaken up.
  • 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 Viktor 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.
  • Determinator: Despite being stuck in a legal crack and hounded by a naturalization services agent, Victor insists on following the rules, staying put, and making the most of the situation.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: It's strongly implied Viktor 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 Viktor 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.
  • Dramedy: The film features a severe situation (a man stuck in an airport and made stateless) with the occasional moment of farce.
  • 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 Cannot Comprehend Good: Dixon is more "self-centered careerist" than evil, but he is confounded by Victor...actually following the rules and staying put than doing anything that would allow Dixon to arrest him. He also doesn't get Amelia's interest in Victor.
  • 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: Viktor, 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: Viktor 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: Viktor 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 Viktor's food card turns out to let Viktor 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.
  • Language Barrier: Most of the drama early in the film comes from Viktor having a very poor grasp of the English language and Dixon's inability to communicate with him or find anyone who can interpret for him. As a result, Viktor doesn't really understand why he's being detained at the airport until he sees the news on TV about the situation in his home country. He eventually manages to teach himself English during his extended stay at the airport, and by the end of the movie can speak it quite well.
  • 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.
  • Limited Social Circle: Joe, Enrique and Gupta seem to have so little personal life outside of their work they hang around the airport playing poker after hours and helping Viktor. It is mentioned that Joe has a family at home however.
  • 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.
  • Nice Guy: Viktor Navorski doesn't really have a bad bone in his body. He's just an innocent man who finds himself stranded in a foreign land because a civil war in his country has rendered him stateless, and as a result is unable to leave the airport he arrived at or take a flight home. Throughout the months he spends at the airport, he manages to win over practically every member of the terminal staff just by being himself, so much that they all mutiny against Dixon when Viktor finally has a legal means to leave the airport and travel into New York City.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Viktor's native language, Krakozhian, is actually Bulgarian, while Krakozhia itself seems to be loosely based on Yugoslavia.
  • Noble Demon: Despite constantly trying to get Viktor arrested and deported, Dixon refuses to do so without Viktor 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 is an extreme case. He tries to trick Viktor into breaking the law, and tries to stop a Russian emigrant from taking medicine out of the US....specifically, medicine doctors in Canada had prescribed to give his grievously ill father in Russia, that he had with him when his plane landed for a layover. Since he's now on US soil, Dixon tries to seize all of it, even when he's literally on his hands and knees begging for mercy. Technically, Dixon's just following the rules. When Viktor uses those same rules to help the Russian traveller to get his father's pills back, Dixon is so upset he marks Viktor as his enemy.
  • Oppressive Immigration Enforcement: Frank Dixon, the Acting Field Commissioner of John F. Kennedy International Airport, is an Obstructive Bureaucrat who refuses to allow Viktor Navorski to enter the United States of America because his country is undergoing a civil war and his passport has been disavowed. He then goes on to perform a number of petty acts to make Viktor's life whilst stranded in the airport a living hell in the hopes that Víctor will try to leave the airport and put him in the hands of Immigration. By the third act, Viktor's continuous refusal to leave turns Dixon's obstructiveness into a vendetta and culminates with him threatening Viktor to take the first flight back to his country when the civil war ends or else he will have all of Viktor's friends - employees of the airport - fired or deported. Ironically when Viktor finally leaves the airport on a one-day visa to fulfil his Humble Goal, Dixon decides it's too much of a hassle to call the cops on him and lets him go.
  • 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.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Thurman and Dixon's other officers help Dixon keep Viktor stuck in the airport, but they are not remotely malicious to Viktor. They all practically mutiny against Dixon and allow Viktor to peacefully leave.
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Dixon zigzags between being an Obstructive Bureaucrat, being helpful, or being a spiteful Jerkass who wants Viktor gone. In the end he lets Viktor leave the airport without a fuss.
    • Salchak, Dixon's soon-to-be retiring superior, is a far more down-to-earth guy. After the incident with the pills, he calls Dixon out for his spiteful attitude and tells him that sometimes you have to bend the rules to do what's right.
  • 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 is an eastern European country in the midst of a violent upheaval, reminiscent of the political turmoil in Yugoslavia in the late 90s. Viktor speaks Bulgarian and Russian, and when he's woken up by a jet after his first night in the airport, he immediately puts his hands up as if he's been interrogated in the middle of the night before.
  • Sherlock Scan: Dixon uses a minor one to deduce that a smuggler is hiding drugs in a bag of walnuts.
    Airport Security Officer: How did you know they weren't for his mother-in-law?
    Dixon: If he's married, where's his ring? If he's divorced, who in their right mind still talks to their mother-in-law?
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: An adult version, necessary for the plot to move forward. Viktor is not given an interpreter to ensure he understands what is going on in the months he spends at the terminal, when he obviously doesn't. Despite his status - which was completely beyond his control - he is not given any financial support. He is not put in contact with a lawyer or the local Krakozhia consulate, which would still be operating in some capacity - even if they weren't sure what was happening back at home - despite the issues in the homeland. note 
  • Stamp of Rejection: Used as a Running Gag. Viktor keeps filling the same form out every day and takes it to Delores, 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.
  • Surprise Vehicle: The plane which surprises Viktor his first night trying to sleep at Gate 67.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Dixon goes from being just a guy following the rules to being a spiteful Jerkass who is willing to destroy the livelihoods of Viktor's friends to get Viktor to leave even when a legal way for Viktor to enter the country is found.
  • 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 Viktor exit the airport after the latter's flight gets delayed by Gupta.
  • Wham Shot: In-Universe, Viktor, unable to understand anybody, reacting to the violence in his home country on TV.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: The protagonist, Viktor, is a guy who simply wants to fulfill his dead father's request and get Benny Golson's autograph. The antagonist, Dixon, is a guy who wavers between spite and following the rules to the letter. After Viktor goes away to get his autograph, Frank decides 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.