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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
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What's the story?
In THE TERMINAL, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at New York's JFK airport from a fictional Eastern European country. While he was in the air, his country suffered a "regime change," and so his passport and visa are now invalid. He can't enter the U.S. but he can't go back due to immigration laws. This creates a problem for Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), a by-the-book bureaucrat who wants a promotion. He hopes the Navorski problem will just go away -- literally. But Navorski, unlike others who are held back by immigration officials, is disinclined to try to sneak out into the U.S. So he ends up living in the airport. The story of heroes who have to go somewhere gives us a chance to see their journeys as symbolic of their learning and spiritual growth. A quest is compelling because we identify with a hero who is moving toward a goal. But this movie is the story of a journey interrupted, and the way that interruption became a journey of its own. It reminds us that like its lovely dual-meaning tagline, sometimes "life is waiting."
Is it any good?
Director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, and star Hanks have created a story of great warmth and depth. Navorski is more at home in the airport than most of the characters are anywhere because he is home in himself. Though based on a true story, the film is more of a fantasy, even a parable. Navorski not only learns English very quickly, but he is an idealized figure. He masters the intricacies not just of eating, sleeping, laundry, and even dating without leaving the airport as well as the immigration and customs laws and even the complete schedule of arrivals and departures. He is ever-patient, wise, and steadfast, enriching the lives of everyone from a bitter janitor to a frantic would-be smuggler, and a vulnerable flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
It would be easy to make Navorski a cute guy with a sitcom accent like Latka in Taxi, and the movie almost falls into that trap with some moments of slapstick that threaten to throw off the tone of the story. But Hanks doesn't go for easy laughs and doesn't allow Navorski to be cute. He makes it work with the warmth, grace, modesty, and dignity he brings to Navorski. Zeta-Jones gives her most accessible performance so far, for once playing not a glamour goddess but a real person. Tucci's Dixon is not an unreasonable man, just a small-minded one. Spielberg may make it too much of a fairy tale, but Nathanson's rich mix of wit and sentiment culminates in a moment so moving that it blooms within you as you watch. This movie is simply lovely, with broad appeal on many levels, well worth sharing with family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of their unexpected delays and other travel adventures. They could also talk about rules and how Navorski, Dixon, and some of the other characters decide when to follow them and when they need to be broken or rewritten. Why did they chose this word for the title? Were you surprised by what Navorski wanted from America and what he did not want? What does home mean to you?
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