Although The Terminal is not a new movie, it has several worldview issues that lend themselves to commenting. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, this movie received much critical attention in the months leading up to its June 2004 theatrical release due to the reunion of the dynamic duo that brought Saving Private Ryan to the silver screen. While viewers will leave this movie less emotionally impacted than Ryan, it does leave an impression nonetheless.
The movie opens with Navorski attempting to enter the United States via JFK airport in New York. Navorski has traveled from his native country of Krakozhia, which, it turns out, has been upended by a coup while he was in the air. Unaware of this, Navorski tries unsuccessfully to get through customs. His former country’s government has been overthrown and is no longer recognized by the United States as legitimate. This leaves Navorski without a country and, consequently, holding an invalid passport. After much ineffective communication between Navorski and customs official Frank Dixon (brilliantly played by Stanley Tucci), Viktor is escorted to the international terminal shopping area, given a pager and some food vouchers and told to wait while customs works out the problem. And wait he does—for nine long months. The remainder of the movie concentrates on Viktor’s interactions with his new surroundings. Although several others play an interesting part in his new life (most notably Catherine Zeta-Jones as his tentative love interest), The Terminal revolves around Viktor Navorski.
Several issues complicate Viktor’s existence in the terminal. First, is his inability to understand the English language. Second, is his lacking of income and productive employment. Third, is his unwillingness to compromise his view of authority, and finally — his loyalty to his family.
Being an industrious man, Viktor overcomes his first challenge by purchasing two identical books — one in English and one translated into Krakozhian — and studying them side by side. Instead of complaining and waiting for someone else to come to his rescue, Viktor takes the problem into his own hands and works it out. His second challenge is overcome when he begins to take action around his new home and repairs the “under-construction” section of the terminal where he sleeps. The construction foreman takes notice of the unscheduled work and demands that Viktor be placed on his work-crew. Third, Viktor’s unflinching acceptance of his predicament places him directly under the authority structure of the Customs Department at JFK. Viktor’s determination to make the best of his situation becomes a thorn in Frank Dixon’s side. Dixon makes it possible several times for Viktor to escape the terminal and “become someone else’s problem.” A powerful scene is played out when “freedom” is presented to Viktor in the form of a conveniently unmanned security door. Viktor’s internal struggle of whether or not to abandon his present cage without the legitimacy of the proper paperwork is a great bit of acting by Hanks.
This character trait seems to run deep in Viktor, which brings us to his final challenge. Viktor’s loyalty to his family is what brought him to the terminal in the first place. The reason he came to America was to fulfill a promise that he made to his father many years before. I’ll leave the resolution of this one undisclosed because of the key role it plays in the conclusion of the film, but the discerning reader will no doubt see the connection here.
The worldview implications of Viktor’s four challenges and his innovative solutions are numerous and can be made applicable to many groups. However, I would like to connect them to the Christian and his role in society. First, as Christians we have a responsibility to take dominion of this world (Gen. 1:28). We need to understand the language and thinking of the culture in order to accomplish this. Viktor realized that if he was to make the best of his situation, he needed to learn the language. This took hard work and study, but he saw it as a necessary first step to making sense of his surroundings and being able to communicate successfully with those around him.
Second, he put his dominion possibilities to work by changing what he could. He used available construction material that was just lying around waiting to be put to good use and got to work changing his environment in a simple way. He didn’t attempt to rebuild the entire terminal, just his “local area.” Christians often think too large and miss the fact that small changes add up to big changes over time. If we don’t start small and work our way up, we’ll never get anywhere. It’s easy (although mentally tiring) to pontificate about restoring America to its once Christian foundation. We need to start, however, in our own families, neighborhoods and local communities and work our way up. Progress takes time and effort — not just electing a certain man to a certain office.
Third, Viktor realized that even though he didn’t ask to be put in this situation, he needed to work the system from within, instead of bulldozing his own way through from without. We have great liberties and freedoms in this country and any long-term governmental change must be made within the confines of that structure. Jesus did not come to this world to show us how to overthrow Caesar, he showed us how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven while under Caesar’s earthly rule. He showed us how to be IN the world, but not OF it. He prayed that we would NOT be taken out of the world (John 17:15). Christians are to be agents of change (salt and light), and this should always begin by working within the system. God has placed each of us where we are for a particular reason, and He expects us to glorify and enjoy Him in that environment (Acts 17:26). Bonhoeffer knew of a freedom that no earthly system could smother. From his Nazi prison cell, he wrote his most powerful apologetic for the Christian faith. The shackles of the Nazis could not take his eyes off of the freedom that he knew was only found in the Gospel of Christ.
Finally, underlying everything that Viktor did while he was trapped in the terminal stemmed from his familial devotion and sense of responsibility. All of the changes that he made to his environment flowed from his primary motivation of fulfilling his family duties. In our current culture of abortion and euthanasia rights, the family has been completely marginalized. The end result of the humanist worldview, or personal peace and affluence as Francis Schaefer summarized it, has led to a society that refuses to sacrifice its own goals and agendas for the future of its children. This is where Christians have such a great opportunity to raise up children that understand and operate under a biblical worldview. While non-Christians kill off their offspring, we need to train up ours. Instill the right way to think and live in a child and he will not depart from it when it is his turn to leave the “nest” (Prov. 22:6). If we would have the devotion of Viktor Navorski to our own families, we would see a cultural reformation take place in a few short generations. If we think long-term and act short-term, we could live to see many changes come to fruition. Viktor was just one man; imagine if there were ten Viktors in the terminal, how much of a difference would that have made? Christians need to stop complaining and pointing fingers. Absolving ourselves of blame for the moral mess in America does nothing. We’ve isolated ourselves from society for far too long, we need to take action—beginning with our families. Let’s take Viktor’s lead and make tomorrow a brighter day.