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The Terminal

Steven Spielberg's 'The Terminal' is the worst film I've ever watched. We rented it from the library of 64 DVDs that are available at Tokyo's Hundred Stay hotel. We chose this film because we had somehow come to believe that it was a film about a number of spies, counterspies and criminals trapped in a train terminal. That sounded fun and stupid. Unfortunately 'The Terminal' is actually not fun, and much stupider than I'd hoped.

What the terminal is about

'The Terminal' is a film about a stateless person who gets trapped in an airport departures lounge and is slowly ground to dust beneath the heels of American bureaucracy.

The film which is OVER TWO HOURS LONG, stars Tom Hanks who puts on an entirely incomprehensible faux Russian accent. You can never tell what he's saying, but it doesn't matter anyway because all of his lines in the film consist of the words 'Krakozhia', 'Unacceptable', or 'payless shoes' re-arranged randomly. If the writers ever let him say anything else, it's so they can have him amusingly conjugate a verb incorrectly.

The film is as structureless as a deboned chicken. Our man, Tom, has a reason to visit New York - but this reason is only revealed to us in the last twenty minutes of the film, and is then immediately resolved. For the rest of the running time he just wanders around an airport because, as far as we know, he really wants to go to New York.

There is a subplot to the film where Tom Hanks helps one of the workers in the airport seduce another one. He does this by asking them one question every day, and eventually delivers a wedding ring for them. As far as the audience knows, the two characters involved in the romance never speak to each other until the marriage proposal - despite working in the same building every day for years. They decide to get married because it turns out they both like Star Trek.

Is Tom Hanks actually bad?

Before watching this film I vaguely thought that I liked Tom Hanks as an actor, but on reflection I realise that I've not seen anything he's in besides Forest Gump, which I don't remember, and this, in which he is awful.

The wider context

The film is somewhat inspired by the real life of Mehran Karimi Nasseri. I knew this watching the film and having a quite disturbing story turned turned into a 'heartwarming romantic comedy' feels somewhat icky to me. Here are some interesting things about the real events that this film was based on which I learnt from Wikipedia:

  • The Ostensible reason that Mehran had to remain in Charles De Gaule airport for 18 years was that he was expelled from Iran. However it appears that he was never expelled from the country.
  • France and Belgium both offered Mehran residency 'but he refused to sign the papers as they listed him as being Iranian (rather than British) and did not show his preferred name, "Sir Alfred Mehran".'
  • Steven Spielberg's production company paid him something like 275,000 dollars to make a film of his life, and then decided to make this film, which is a bit like his life, instead.
  • His autobiography is called 'The Terminal Man'. There is a 1974 novel with the same title by Michael Crichton, which Crichton described as being his 'least favourite work'.
  • After 18 years Mehran left the airport because of a medical emergency.
  • At some point he became homeless. In 2022 he returned to living in the airport terminal, where he died.