All of us have experienced the frustration of dealing with a bureaucrat.  Putting their rules before people’s well-being, such individuals have the capacity of dehumanizing us while they smile with polite indifference.  When we respond by asserting our humanity and expressing our needs, some of these persons meet our requests with self-righteous abuse of power, using their position to impose actual harm upon us. But whether responding with indifference or increasing injustice, all bureaucrats are in danger of contracting a terminal disease in which their decisions to dehumanize other only costs them their own humanity.  This truth is insightfully and humorously presented in Stephen Spielberg’s “The Terminal.”

The innocent person whose humanity is threatened is Victor Navorski (Tom Hanks).  Having flown to New York JFK Airport on a quest to keep a promise to his father, he is detained by U.S. Immigration because his fictitious home country of Krakozia has experienced a military coup while he was in flight.  Confiscating his passport and ticket, making him unable to either return home or enter the United States, the immigration official confronted with his problem comes up with an unbelievable solution:  he relegates Navorski to the no-man’s land of the “International Arrivals Lounge.”

Like Inspector Javert of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” Agent Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) believes in rules.  He trusts the rules to solve the problems of his life and to reward him with increasing position and power.  His trust has been rewarded.  Dixon has become the second-highest ranking agent within the customs and immigration bureaucracy at JFK and he is being considered for the top position.  But Victor Navorski doesn’t fit the rules.  His needs are not defined in the writings of the immigration rules.

Dixon’s solution is to try to get Navorski to break the rules so he can get rid of him and get on with his “rule-imposing” life.  But Navorski is a man of integrity, compassion and loyalty.  His humanity is not for sale, nor is he willing to sacrifice his honesty to get himself out of the bureaucratic prison Dixon creates.

As Navorski lives for nine months within the terminal of JFK, his creative ingenuity and his loving humanity endear him to the people who are also caught within the “Napoleon-ego” of Dixon and the mass humanity of an airport’s anonymity.  Finding love, joy and compassion together, Navorski creates a community of people who not only honor him with their love, but sacrifice for his release.

The primary sacrifices come from two persons, a paranoid janitor named Gupta (Kumar Pallanatucci) and a beautiful flight attendant named Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  Both are willing to give in painfully unique ways so that Navorski can complete his quest and return to his homeland with his integrity and humanity intact.  Navorski cannot stand up to the bureaucracy without the assistance of the people he befriends.

With grace, kindness, ingenuity, integrity and an unstoppable humanity, Victor Navorski demonstrates how we must live if we are to find our way in the increasingly dehumanizing world of our modern institutions.  It is a lesson we all need to learn.



  1. In the first film of Stephen Spielberg’s amazing career as a director, he portrayed a “Dual” between an “everyman” (Dennis Hopper) in an old automobile and the “inhuman forces” in a large 18-wheeler.  How do you see this film similar to or different from his earlier work?
  2. When we discover that Victor Navorski is a simple man with integrity who is on a quest to fulfill a promise to his dying father, we realize that the bureaucracy he is up against is blocking his attempts to achieve his goal and so working to take his integrity from him.  How are the institutions in your life trying to take your humanity from you?
  3. The man who lost in this struggle was the immigration bureaucrat.  Although he won the position of being the top man within the institution, it is clear that he sacrificed his own humanity to do so.  If you are now serving an institution, how is your position affecting you?  Are you more or less compassionate, understanding and helpful with the people who come to you for assistance and care?
  4. When the officer under Dixon’s command gives Navorski his coat, it is then that humanity clearly wins out over institutional bureaucracy.  How can you use your position in the institutions of your life to allow people to win over inhumane rules?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 4 STARS, INSPIRING.