The Terminal is a 2004 American comedy-drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is about a man who becomes trapped in New York City’s JFK International Airport terminal when he is denied entry into the United States and at the same time cannot return to his native country due to a revolution. The film is partially inspired by the 18-year stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Paris, France, from 1988 to 2006.
Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), a traveller from the fictional nation of Krakozhia, arrives at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, only to find that his passport is suddenly no longer valid due to the sudden outbreak of a civil war in his homeland. As a result, the United States no longer recognizes Krakozhia as a sovereign nation, and he is no longer permitted to either enter the country or return home as he is now considered to be stateless. Due to his inability to communicate in proper English, the airport’s branch of the US Customs and Border Protection seize both his passport and airline ticket, whereupon its temporary director, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), makes him stay in the terminal he came through. Left with no other choice, Viktor decides to settle in at a closed off section of the terminal, Gate 67, with only his luggage and a peanut can, soon making a home out of it. Much to the frustration of Dixon, who is being considered for promotion to director of the US Customs branch, Viktor chooses not to break out of the terminal but wait patiently until he can legally enter the United States. Dixon, who wants him to illegally attempt to enter the country so he can deport him, decides to try finding ways to make it difficult for him to survive in the terminal, slowly becoming obsessed in doing so. During his initial days at the terminal, Viktor encounters and helps out a flight attendant named Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) after she slips on a wet floor and breaks the heel of her shoes, who assumes he is a contractor of sorts from the pager he was given by Customs but is surprised by his respectful kindness to her.
When Viktor is unable to secure himself some food after Dixon cuts him off from an avenue of money, his plight is noticed by a food service worker at the airport, Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), who offers him food in exchange for helping in learning more about an immigration officer that he is infatuated with, Dolores Torres (Zoë Saldana). After meeting with Amelia once again and wanting to take her out for a meal, Viktor begins improving his English while attempting to find work, and is soon hired by an airport contractor and paid under the table after he impulsively remodelled a wall at a gate that was scheduled for future renovation. During this time, he also befriends some of Enrique’s friends whom he plays poker with, including a cargo handler named Joe Mulroy (Chi McBride), and an Indian janitor named Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), learning from the latter that they had come to the States in order to avoid being arrested for assaulting a corrupt police officer back in India in 1979. When a Russian traveller creates a delicate situation when Customs try to remove the medicine he is carrying for his father, Dixon is annoyed when Viktor, whom he uses to persuade the man to leave the medicine behind, claims he misheard his Krakozhian dialect for “father” as “goat” so the traveller can leave with them. Shortly after the traveller leaves, Dixon strong-arms him over a photocopier, nearly blowing his chance for promotion, before later promising Viktor that he will never let him leave the airport. When the airport employees hear from Gupta of the incident in customs with the Russian and what Viktor did, Viktor finds himself respected and admired for his kind-hearted actions, with many stores showing off photocopied images of his hand that had been accidentally made.
When Viktor meets with Amelia once again and takes her out for a meal, he slowly begins taking an interest with her, even wooing her, before offering to surprise her with a gift when she returns, based on his recent knowledge of Napoleon, soon creating a majestic fountain. After helping Enrique finally marry Torres, Viktor awaits the arrival of Amelia. Unbeknown to him, Dixon pulls her aside to question her about Viktor, revealing his true situation in the process. Feeling that he lied to her, Amelia confronts Viktor in Gate 67, shocked at his predicament, and tries to learn why he came to New York. Agreeing to tell her, Viktor reveals the contents of the peanut can he was carrying, explaining that his late father, a jazz enthusiast, had discovered the famous portrait, “A Great Day in Harlem”, in a Hungarian newspaper in 1958, where after spending a week looking at it, he vowed he would collect the signatures of all 57 of the jazz musicians featured on it. Viktor reveals that the can contains not only a copy of the portrait, but the autographs of all the musicians his father received, bar one – tenor saxophonist Benny Golson. After his father died, Viktor had promised to collect the last signature by coming to New York to find Golson. After hearing his story, Amelia kisses Viktor.
After having spent nine months in the terminal, Viktor is awakened by his friends who give him news that the war in Krakozhia has ended. Overjoyed, he celebrates in an airport bar, where Amelia meets with him and explains that a man she had been having an affair with, a government official, helped her to secure Viktor with a one-day emergency visa to fulfil his dream. While delighted, Viktor is saddened when he learns that her “friend” did so in order to renew their relationship. Despite this, Viktor heads off to Customs with renewed hope of going to New York, only to find that Dixon must sign the visa. Seizing the opportunity, Dixon instructs Viktor to go home to Krakozhia, threatening to cause trouble for Viktor’s friends by deporting them if he refuses. Unwilling to let that happen, he agrees to do so, despite his friends offering to prevent this happening. When Gupta, assuming he was acting a coward, learns of the situation he was put into, he decides to take the burden off Viktor by running in front of the plane to Krakozhia as it taxies to the terminal, choosing to let himself be deported back to his home country in order to let his friend go to New York.
Dixon, shocked by this, attempts to stop Viktor leaving as he receives gifts from employees for his trip into the city, but is thwarted by his Custom agents, who allow him to leave. As Viktor leaves, seeing Amelia once more before taking a taxi, Dixon decides to finally not pursue him further. Meanwhile, Viktor arrives in New York at the hotel where Benny Golson is performing, and finally collects the last autograph. As he steps into a taxi and places the last signature into the can, he soon tells the driver, “I am going home.”
Some have noted that the film appears to be inspired by the story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris from 1988 when his refugee papers were stolen until 2006 when he was hospitalized for unspecified ailments. In September 2003, The New York Times noted that Spielberg bought the rights to Nasseri’s life story as the basis for the film; and in September 2004 The Guardian noted Nasseri received thousands of dollars from the filmmakers. However, none of the studio’s publicity materials mention Nasseri’s story as an inspiration for the film.
Steven Spielberg traveled around the world to find an actual airport that would let him film for the length of the production, but could not find one. The Terminal set was built in a massive hangar at the LA/Palmdale Regional Airport. The hangar, part of the U.S. Air Force Plant 42 complex was used to build the Rockwell International B-1B bomber. The set was built to full earthquake construction codes and was based on the Düsseldorf International Airport. The shape of both the actual terminal and the set viewed sideways is a cross section of an aircraft wing. The design of the set for The Terminal, as noted by Roger Ebert in his reviews and attested by Spielberg himself in a feature by Empire magazine, was greatly inspired by Jacques Tati’s classic film Play Time. Hanks based his characterization of Viktor Navorsky on his father-in-law Allan Wilson, a Bulgarian immigrant, who according to Hanks can speak “Russian, Turkish, Polish, Greek, little a bit of Italian, little a bit of French”, in addition to his native Bulgarian. Hanks also had some help from a Bulgarian translator named Peter Budevski.
Everything functioned in the set as in real life. There was real food, ice cream and coffee in the appropriate outlets. The escalators were purchased from a department store that had gone bankrupt. Each of the outlets featured in the concourse building was actually sponsored by the real company. Many stores are seen and Viktor seeks a job at the Brookstone, La Perla and Discovery Channel stores, eats at the Burger King, buys his New York City guide book at Borders and buys his suit at Hugo Boss. Enrique proposes to Dolores at Sbarro.
Most exterior shots and those featuring actual aircraft were shot at Montréal–Mirabel International Airport: additional interior shots were also done there including the mezzanine overlooking the immigration desks and the baggage carousels directly behind them, the jetways showing Aéroports de Montréal signs, and many Air Transat planes in the background: New York is not one of their regular destinations. Additional pre-production shooting was done at Los Angeles International Airport and at Spielberg’s offices at DreamWorks. Montreal is also mentioned on the loudspeaker at the beginning of the film, around the point where the customs officer tells Viktor to wait in a special line.
The 747 was provided by United Airlines. The Star Alliance was a major sponsor and provided uniforms, equipment, and actors in addition to those cast. In spite of the heavy presence of the Star Alliance airlines, a Delta Air Lines pilot passes Viktor in a scene during the last five minutes of the film.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 61% of 198 sampled critics gave the film positive reviews and that it got a rating average of 6.2 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 55 based on 41 reviews. Michael Wilmington from the Chicago Tribune said “[the film] takes Spielberg into realms he’s rarely traveled before.” A. O. Scott of The New York Times said Hanks’ performance brought a lot to the film. However, Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal thought that “The Terminal is a terminally fraudulent and all-but-interminable comedy.”
The film grossed $77,872,883 in North America and $141,544,372 in other territories, totaling $219,417,255 worldwide.
Krakozhia (Кракозия or Кракожия) is a fictional country, created for the film, that closely resembles a former Soviet Republic or Eastern Bloc state.
The exact location of Krakozhia is kept intentionally vague in the film, keeping with the idea of Viktor being simply Eastern European or from a former Soviet Republic. However in one of the scenes, a map of Krakozhia is briefly displayed on one of the airport’s television screens during a news report on the ongoing conflict, and its borders are those of the Republic of Macedonia. The film presents a reasonably accurate picture of the process of naturalistic second-language acquisition, according to professional linguist Martha Young-Scholten.
John Williams, the film’s composer, also wrote a national anthem for Krakozhia.