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© 2004 The Beast

The Simone Show

By Rainer-Atlas Faustbinder

You first hear Tom Hanks’ Eastern European accent and roll your eyes, but at some point during Steven Spielberg’s new film The Terminal, you get lost inside its inner workings, as you do most times when Spielberg is behind the camera; I now am having problems remembering if it was a good accent or not, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because Tom Hanks doesn’t matter. Well, he may in the grand scheme of things, or to his family I’m sure, but it could’ve been anyone playing the part, and the film would remain the same. The dialogue gets so sappy at points, and so melodramatic, that the movie could’ve fallen flat. But it didn’t. It only fell into a curled ball on the floor.

Barely minutes in, Tom Hanks is in the middle of the mall, the camera tight on his mug. It pulls back; you see everyone moving around him, and you realize that he has already been accepted into a culture of people who are lost in the shuffle. Stanley Tucci, a Lefty Rosenthal figure, the pit boss watching the Casino—errr, airport—from televisions above in his antiseptically white room brings Victor, Hanks’ character, into the room to deliver an admittedly farfetched plot device, that the government of his small country has been overthrown while he was mid-air. He goes on to explain that “Your country doesn’t exist, in fact you don’t exist,” and that he will have to stay in the airport until the almighty U.S. recognizes his country.

Hanks leaves the office after finally understanding that he can’t leave the airport, although not knowing why, and catches a glimpse of a CNN-esque news channel displaying his fictional countrymen amidst flying bullets. Shortly thereafter, he loses his food vouchers, and is forced to scrape together change by returning carts for quarters (it makes sense on the screen). What do you think he does in this mini-mall inside of an airport? He goes to “The King” for a fat Burger. And for the rest of the movie, whenever he can get money together to eat, he returns to the BK Lounge. The American way of consumerism will accept anyone, even he, the homeless, living in an airport. This way of life doesn’t discriminate like would-be-bosses he tries to talk into hiring him. The screenwriters show, and I believe it to be true, that you never have to set foot onto American soil to become one of US in the consumerist respect.

Strangely, Victor is similar to Hanks’ character in Castaway. You can draw the parallels once you’ve seen both, but he fashions himself a nice bed out of old benches, proving that he has a great work ethic, especially compared to his American Construction counterparts who look in awe every time they see the craftsmanship that could only be taught somewhere outside of America. He buys a Hugo boss suit, to look nice for a woman who is a lost cause, and doesn’t feel the need to redeem herself, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

One of the most interesting themes within the movie is voiced by the charater Guptar (played by Kumar Pallana from Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums). Guptar is a conspiracy theorist who thinks that Victor is a spy, effectively arousing the audience’s suspicions. One’s mind is set wandering, wondering what is going on and what is, in fact, inside that little can that Victor is carrying about with him.

The writer of The Truman Show wrote The Terminal, as well as Simone. The people of the airport wind up watching Victor for months on the little security camera TV screens, and, of course, rooting for him similar to the way old Truman was cheered on. The unlikely Victor who, as Tucci says, “Doesn’t exist,” becomes a mini-star in his airport microcosm of American society. He becomes a symbol of pride for the people, a celebrity—again, like with consumerism, you don’t need to be an American to fit right in. Basically, these screenwriters thought, “Peter Wier didn’t handle Truman like we wanted, now what is the strangest place someone can get stranded where people can watch him on TV, with the most contrived reason for him being stranded in the first place Oh. I know! A Casino!” And when that didn’t work, they thought, “an Airport!!” Amazing.

I won’t give away the end, but it features both the famous picture “A Great Day in Harlem,” (which shares a documentary of the same name that you should check out) and Benny Golson—who is the man. It becomes so sappy that my brother and I were ready to bounce, but, as usual, Steve somehow kept me enthralled so we didn’t. I know that many people think Spielberg is a big-Hollywood sucker, but he is a master of his craft at the very least, who can handle the steady-cam as well as the crane with an ease probably only paralleled by his film school generation counterparts, and tackle far more aptly, and more subtly, themes that the same screenwriter has been trying to get other directors to tackle.

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