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Movies: Tom Hanks in The Terminal

29 August 2004

There has always been something mysterious and intriguing about airports - all those people going to or arriving from exotic places, the tearful departures and the joyful arrivals, all the offices and secluded corners, the shops. . .

Airports are small, self-contained worlds. Airports are small towns . . . and they harbour millions of amazing stories.

Like that of Merhan Nasseri, which is the inspiration behind new Steven Spielberg film The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci and Chi McBride.

Nasseri landed at Paris airport in 1988, after being denied entry into England because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen - he was a 'non-person' with nowhere else to go.

He chose to continue to live in the Charles de Gaulle terminal, telling his remarkable story to anybody who would listen.

In The Terminal, Hanks - once again working with the most successful director in Hollywood history - plays Viktor Navorski, who finds himself in a nightmare, stranded at New York's JFK Airport when a coup d'etat in Eastern Europe destroys his country.

With nowhere to go, he makes the airport his home, befriending the staff, learning English and falling in love with stewardess Amelia Warren (Zeta-Jones).

If you have ever sat in an airport while the airline sorts out your delayed flight, explains Spielberg, and wondered what all the milling throng is doing, you will understand what lies behind The Terminal.

"Almost everybody has been stuck in an airport, sitting longer on an airport bench than on the airplane journey itself," he says.

"And almost everybody has marvelled at the microcosm of the world around them. There are places to eat, places to shop, places to meet people and places to hide away in.

"If you don't draw attention to yourself, there is no reason why you shouldn't eventually become a part of that small, enclosed world, with nobody questioning who you are or why you are there.

"Airports are, too, places of high emotion, where you get to witness a wide cross-section of humanity passing through.

"But while most people consider being delayed at an airport for even a few hours annoying, consider how you would cope if you were trapped there for days, weeks, and even months?"

It could happen all too easily. This is no fantasy story . . . it's about getting lost in a crowd, and of building a life under the most incredible circumstances imaginable.

Hanks loved the idea of playing Viktor: "He comes to understand what is at stake and how the world works.

"He learns how to accept his unusual situation and make what he can of it . . . there is, he discovers, no point in railing against his situation. It may be horrible, but he makes the best life he can for himself."

Adds Spielberg: "I wanted to do another movie that could make you laugh and uplift you, make you marvel at the human spirit caught in such strange circumstances."

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