‘The Terminal’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Perhaps that is what endears Viktor so much to the audience in this film is that he does not give up hope, makes the best of the awful situation he is in, and even starts to befriend other airport workers who are often ignored, underpaid, or even mistreated at times by both customers and their employers.”

A lot of us know what it is like to wait in an airport and have to stay overnight at one because your flight runs into an unexpected delay whether it’s due to a plane’s mechanical issue, or there are weather complications, or if a global pandemic cancels your flight unexpectedly. Whatever the cause of your delay, I am sure you never have had to live in an airport for months on end let alone for more than a day. The questions you should ask yourself though if you could put yourself in this following hypothetical scenario: What if you couldn’t leave the airport upon arrival in a new country? What if the country you just left, your home country, underwent significant political changes or even revolution overnight leaving you stranded? The very underrated yet enjoyable ‘The Terminal’ movie asks these unique questions.

A mix of fiction and non-fiction, a concoction of drama, comedy, and a little bit of tragedy all together, ‘The Terminal’ is a 2004 American film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones. The premise may seem out there of someone being stuck in an airport for months or years but ‘The Terminal’ is partly based on the true story of a real-life refugee. Mr. Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee lived in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport and was considered ‘stateless’ for many years and was denied entry into France while also not being expelled from the airport. In total, he lived in the de Gaulle airport for over 18 years and only left from there in 2008 when he was moved for medical treatment and then a Paris shelter.

Nasseri, like ‘The Terminal’s main character have that premise in common of not being able to enter their new chosen destination but also having the right to live in the airport without being expelled. Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) is on his way to New York City from the fictional Eastern European country known as ‘Krakozhia’ looking to fulfill a personal mission, which is unknown to the viewer right away. We see images of him arriving at JFK along with thousands of others looking to visit America from far-flung countries. However, a routine Visa check and Passport stamp ends up as a nightmare for poor Viktor.

While Viktor was flying into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, his country underwent a political revolution and civil conflict leaving him without international recognition of his Passport since Krakozhia no longer has a recognized government. Since his passport is no longer valid, he cannot enter the United States because the U.S. does not recognize the country anymore due to the ongoing civil strife. Viktor is now ‘stateless’ as he cannot return home and he cannot leave the airport rendering him stranded there. Viktor is forced to remain in the international transit lounge and is not given much help by Frank Dixon (played by Stanley Tucci) who would much rather Viktor leave the airport to get arrested so he becomes someone else’s problem. Mr. Dixon, the Acting Field commissioner for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, gives Viktor only a handful of food vouchers and a calling card but not much else to get by on.

Viktor has a destination in mind for his New York City trip but has limited English skills when he arrives and is only able to tell the CBP officer the name of a local hotel but does not go into much detail about why he is going there and what the purpose of his stay might be. Without his passport and his return ticket, Viktor’s life shrinks down to the international transit lounge at JFK airport where he spends his days collecting luggage carts to order Burger King, accidentally breaks a young girl’s luggage, and slips, falls when he runs to see news about Krakozhia because the Indian American janitor enjoys seeing people slip for his only entertainment.

Eventually, Viktor becomes accustomed to living in an airport and at first, while both daunting and scary to the stateless refugee, he adapts to his new living conditions with some ingenuity and perseverance. He constructs his own bed by dismantling the arm rests of the seats at an abandoned terminal, he learns English through travel guides and by watching the scroll of news information come across the screen to keep up to date with what is going on with his beloved Krakozhia and can both shower and shave somehow when using the airport bathroom.

Human beings have an innate need to adapt to our surroundings even when they are unfamiliar, foreign, or stressful for us. Perhaps that is what endears Viktor so much to the audience in this film is that he does not give up hope, makes the best of the awful situation he is in, and even starts to befriend other airport workers who are often ignored, underpaid, or even mistreated at times by both customers and their employers. The power of perseverance in the face of obstacles makes ‘The Terminal’ a heartwarming and memorable film. Instead of getting down on life and giving up on his situation, he turns the tables on Frank and the border agents by not falling into their traps that they set for him. He makes his own happiness. One of the best moments of this film is when a random gentleman is shaving alongside Vikor, stops for a second, and says to Viktor, “Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just living in an airport?”

Being stuck in an airport terminal means a lot of time on your hands too. Viktor spends his almost limitless time in waiting by honing his skills as a carpenter and a painter even getting himself a job that allows him to earn money ‘under the table’ as a contractor mostly so he can eat. He befriends the CBP officers he sees each day even though they continue to deny his tourist visa due to his invalid passport. One CBP officer whom he gets to know very well is Dolores who Enrique (Diego Luna) has a massive crush on and would like Viktor to ask her questions to start an eventual conversation with her.

In return, Enrique gives him some extra airplane meals that he delivers on to the planes. Gupta, the janitor who at first makes fun of Viktor for slipping and not seeing the ‘wet floor’ sign eventually gains respect for Viktor because he makes him feel less lonely. Viktor befriends other transit lounge employees, plays card games with them over ‘lost’ items never picked up by passengers, and is able to win the admiration and possible affection of Amelia, a wayward flight attendant who ends up caught in a ‘love triangle’ between Viktor and another man.

While Amelia is always on the go and can’t seem to stand still in her relationships or in her job, Viktor is the exact opposite in that he can’t go and must always stay. Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones have real chemistry in this movie and represent how different their characters are from each other but can bond over their shared humor, interests, and lust for life even if they are opposites in an ironic sense with where they are in their lives, one stuck in limbo and the other always on the go.

The main mystery that I will not spoil for you is why Viktor flew halfway around the world to be in New York and what exactly is in the Planters peanut can, which he won’t let go of even after being in the airport for nine months. More important than his passport or return ticket, the closed Planters can contain the reason for Viktor’s trip and how he ended up this limbo state even though he has a place to go to before he returns to Krakozhia.

By the end of the film, you and the rest of the audience are rooting for a happy ending for Viktor and even for perhaps with Amelia as well. You also see heartwarming stories of Viktor helping a fellow Krakozhian in need of translation help, aiding Gupta with staying in his job and the U.S., as well as getting Enrique and Dolores to successfully date and marry each other.

‘The Terminal’ is perhaps Spielberg’s most heartwarming, underrated, and emotionally uplifting movie in his storied career as one of the world’s greatest directors. With great acting and an impressive accent by Hanks, lovely humor and touching romantic scenes with Zeta-Jones and the excellent Stanley Tucci who plays a man who can be cruel but also compassionate in the same scene but ends up as the film’s antagonist. This film has a little bit of everything and will make you laugh, cry, and even cheer at the ending.

‘The Terminal’ is a reminder that we are all waiting for something or someone in the winding road that is life itself. Sometimes, we get sidetracked, turned around, or even stuck in an airport for days or months even, but we always can find a way to make the best of our new surroundings, even find happiness or love in the place where we least expect it. Viktor Navorski as I would say is a real mensch who finds himself in a terrible situation, one not of his own making, but is able to create an odd life out of being given nothing and is able to help others and become a favorite of the JFK international transit lounge, which is a place that people want to get out of as soon as possible. He can’t leave but he ends up enjoying the long stay thanks to his compassion, kindness, and genuine warmth as a good person.

The Whiskey Philosopher

“In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in.”

In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in. I first heard about Mr. McConaughey’s book when he appeared on the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Mr. Rogan coined the book as being ‘whiskey philosophy’ with McConaughey being the philosopher over a glass of whiskey.

I found this metaphor to be quite fitting for the book ‘greenlights’ as the author talks about his life foremost as an observer and a reflector who is able to take a step back and analyze his decisions, his perspectives, and his overall views on his life and how he got to be who he is today. You immediately feel comfortable with McConaughey’s narrative and his ability to tell stories like you were sitting with an old friend over a fire pit drinking whiskey and regaling each other with both good times and bad. Throughout the book, you feel welcomed in and embraced as if you were right there with Matthew having a chat.

What I do love most about ‘Greenlights’ is the raw honesty and the ability to peer into a life like his, which I would argue is different from your average celebrity. Instead of obsessing over the glitz and glamour of being famous in Hollywood, you spend more time with McConaughey in different places around the world. I, for one, did not know that he was an avid traveler ever since he took a gap year in high school to go to Australia on an exchange program. He has often felt the call to go out in the wild, to be secluded from others, and to meet new people along the way.

Surprisingly, the book takes us from the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas to the autobahns of Germany to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and across the ocean to the small villages of Mali. One story of Matthew’s that stood out in particular was his wrestling match with a local Malian villager who challenges him as the only white man who has shown up as a guest to wrestle together. It’s not clear to the reader who wins the match, but it doesn’t matter to the village who sees Matthew wrestle. What is most important to them is that he accepted the challenge and not about who won or who lost.

I find that this particular story resonates across Matthew’s life so far and his willingness to put himself out there. Whether it’s going up to ask the woman he eventually marries if he can make her a margarita to seeking his permission from his father to go into acting as long as he doesn’t ‘half-ass it’ to keeping his promise to become a father because that was the most important thing for him to do in life, McConaughey is always willing to accept a challenge and embrace the possibility of failure. His ten guiding goals of what he wanted out of his life back in 1992 when he begun to keep a journal and of which he details in the book of what they were shows the readers how he may have taken a few detours but was able to stay true to his values and his desires even though he’s still working on a few of them.

His main goals of being a father, meeting the woman who was best for him on Earth, putting family first, and even winning a Best Actor award did not happen automatically and he had to run through a number of ‘red lights’ in order to get his ‘greenlights’ eventually. While ‘red lights’ would dissuade a lot of people to keep pushing such as being placed in romcoms for over ten years like Matthew was or perhaps having a falling out with his mother due to his having children out of wedlock, these ‘red lights’ did not discourage him from staying committed to who he was as an actor and as a person.

I think the main message of ‘greenlights’ is to not let the inevitable ‘red lights’ stop you from pursuing your goals and once you see an opportunity, you have to run with it and work hard to turn those lights green. Another particular example from the book that stood out to me was Matthew’s insight to playing Ron Woodroof in the acclaimed film, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, an immensely emotional role, which led McConaughey to win the Best Actor award for his performance. The role itself wasn’t probably the highest paying role for an actor nor was it going to be a huge box office hit like his previous romcoms.

I believe Matthew took the role because how moving the personal story of Woodroof was and how he was moved to tears talking to Ron’s family and learning about his life through Ron’s own personal journals. While the actor and the man portrayed are very different, they are both native Texans and avid journal keepers. Matthew details his intense diet of losing up to 50 pounds to play the role in the movie and how he had to put himself in the mind of a man quietly dying from the horrific AIDS virus, which was stigmatized at the time. Even if they had to do the film over-budget, it was being made because Matthew, like all good actors, knows a good passion project when he finds one and puts all of his effort into acting the role to make the film as good as it can be. In this case, he won the Best Actor award and made his father proud who tells him the book to not ‘half-ass it’ and those words of encouragement stuck with Matthew.

In addition to seeing Matthew’s life play out since he was a child growing up in Texas, you get to see his really well-written poems, notes, anecdotes, and short stories, which really do convey an intuitive wisdom to them. From discussing love to pleasure to pain to truth to meaning, these poems scattered throughout the book are refreshing to read and relate to his life as a whole. His scribbles, notes, and recollection of different events in life is quite impressive. I do believe even more so after reading ‘Greenlights’ how I should start keeping my own journal for the long-term. Matthew was successfully able to turn his journal full of notes, memories, poems, and stories in a really good book about self-discovery, personal growth, the stages of life from childhood through adulthood, and one’s journey in seeking out ‘greenlights’ even when they can be few and far between as they have been for many of us throughout 2020.

At 285 pages, this is a great memoir and autobiography that doesn’t feel like its length. It is very much an easy page turner that doesn’t feel forced or slow-going. It really grips you for the ride and McConaughey’s life has been full of adventures, events, and precious memories up to year 50 where the book concludes. My only suggestion for improving the book or adding on to it in the future is to really focus more on the ‘red lights’ that happened in the author’s life and what specifically did he learn from those lean times as someone struggling as an actor or having family troubles or being tired of singledom.

I would be curious to learn more from Matthew about what advice he would give to someone during those ‘red lights’ times and how to make the most of them or how to best turn them green in the future. I did find that part to be missing from ‘Greenlights’ a bit too much as the ‘greenlights’ got a lot of the book space whereas I think it’s the ‘red lights’ in life that cause us to reflect more, learn more about who we are, and challenge us to be more creative in overcoming adversity.

In conclusion, ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey is one of the best books of 2020. It is an engaging, emotional, and insightful look into a man’s life who has been one of the most important actors and entertainers of the past few decades. You learn a lot more about who Matthew is, what drives him, what’s important to him, how he views family, friends, his career, and what truly matters in life. I enjoy his whiskey philosophy and if I happened to be hanging out in Texas with anyone such as having a stiff drink and swapping stories together, it would be with Matthew McConaughey.