Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” is an interesting and entertaining story about a man stranded in an airport after his country ceases to exist.
Of course, his country does not cease to exist at all: the people are still there. But there’s a government coup. Some members of the government were taken hostage, and some limited violence ensues. What concerns the narrative is this: the United States does not recognize the new government of Victor Navorsky’s country. Without a valid passport and visa, he cannot enter the United States.
Not to worry: the good ol’ Department of Homeland Security is here to help. Victor is given food vouchers (he promptly looses them is a series of unfortunate events) and told he can hang out at the airport indefinitely. He does so. He is also given a pager so that when the time comes for him to leave, he can be notified.
The story is largely about Victor’s struggle to discover a meaningful community in the most transient of communities: a bustling international airport terminal. There is the initial stiffness, resistance, and even coldness one associates with people in an airport, at least at first. The world he finds himself in is a strange and unfamiliar place. But slowly, he begins to understand his world, adapt to it, and even thrive in it.
He gets a job, makes friends (working-class airport employees), and even helps arrange a marriage. Of course, there’s the inevitable love interest.
His nemesis is the head of airport security, Frank, who seems perpetually at odds with Victor: he is an annoyance and a struggle. He seems in the way. In a way, Frank represents the complexities of the modern managerial state: interested in minutia, and less in principles and people; not tolerant of aberrations or deviations from the accepted norm; and unwilling to accept responsibility for failure. In the same way, Victor represents the individual, the capitalist protagonist: good-natured, resourceful, intelligent, hard-working, friendly, curious, flexible, etc.
There is irony that a man from an Eastern European country represents the free market individual, while the big cheese in America represents the central state.