Terminal as Fisher King or Mr. Roberts?
I saw “The Terminal” for the fourth time last night and was stunned how great it was.
All of the flaws I saw in previous viewings seem to evaporate as I got into the intensity of its emotions.
Terminal is a hugely funny film with a secondary level of pathos that drew me back to one of my favorite films of all time: The Fisher King.”
Because I’m over extended in personal study of Back to the Future, ET and War of the Worlds, I’m not yet ready to delve very deeply into Terminal yet, and will have to save that pleasure for later.
But I did notice this time through the film, how Spielberg dropped clues to the contents of the tin can that gives the progression a little more strength.
After reading some time ago about how Spielberg removed some of the references to the mountain in Close Encounters because they seemed so heavy-handed, he may have erred in the opposite direction by not have providing enough in Terminal.
As with Fisher King, Terminal brings together the under classes to counter abuse of power. Machiavelli once wrote that the weak seek to limit the power of the strong. Machiavelli saw this as a fault, but in truth, this is the real balance of power – weak people combining their efforts to cover come those corrupted by their office.
As my wife and I watched Terminal, our respect for the film rose as we connected it more with Fisher King, and that same slow building of emotional bang by the accumulation of events.
Although I am very fond of comparing one film to another, the most interesting thing I think are the differences.
Fisher King’s under class is a collection of people whom life has done dirty, and their common experience allows them to overcome.
Terminal is more consistent with many of the Spielberg themes in that it deals with a class of people who bonded by a common social status, hard working immigrants who are often second class citizens in our society. Terminal is more socialistic in its nature and very much in keeping with the Faulkner concept found in “The Sound and the Fury” that “we endure.”
The hero of Terminal becomes a symbol of their common struggle when he sticks up for one of his own in a society where rules matter more than the people the rules are designed to serve.
His hand on the copy machine becomes the symbol of a secret resistance throughout the terminal, and wins him distinction as someone who can be trusted.
But the film does not stop there.
It is one thing to stand up for another human, but quite another to sacrifice your own dreams for the benefit of others.
When the hero agrees to go back to his home without accomplishing his purpose rather than have others suffer transforms him into something religious, a Christ figure for whom the earlier hand symbol takes on new meaning as perhaps the hand of God.
This scene of self sacrifice compares favorably with the 1950s film, Mr. Roberts in which the first officer seeks to escape a rust bucket in order to get more involved in the war effort. Month after month, he submits his request for transfer and month after month the captain rejects his request.
We see this in Terminal’s hero who makes his daily form request for release and is rejected.
In Mr. Roberts, his release requires the captain’s approving signature. Even the release that the hero of Terminal gets requires the airport security chief’s signature to make authentic.
Mr. Roberts gives up his dream in order to buy liberty for his crew – but does not tell anyone and seems to become one of the bad guys. When the crew finds out about the deal, they help him escape.
The same is true for Terminal, where an Indian worker scowls about the hero’s apparent betrayal, but then learns of the hero’s sacrifice, taking steps like the crew did in Mr. Roberts, to help the hero fulfill his mission.
Terminal during my last viewing came together in numerous other ways, each scene and each shot building towards the conclusion.
I’ll do more study when I get more time.