The Terminal : Where Life is Waiting, Arriving, Departing (Dharma-Inspired Movie Review)
- Another "Enlightenment through Entertainment" Dharma-Inspired Movie Review:
Where Life is Waiting, Arriving, Departing : The Terminal
Tagline: Life is waiting.
Plot: A man finds himself stuck in an airport when the time of his landing coincides with the moment his native country is overtaken by war and no longer exists, rendering his passport from nowhere invalid. There, he discovers a new life.
In the Bardo Thodol, or "The Book of Liberation Through Understanding in the Between" (commonly known as "The Tibetan Book of the Dead"), existence is nothing but a series of transitional states (bardos) - awaking, sleeping, meditating, dying, wandering in the spirit form, being reborn... (and the cycle repeats). Yes, even life now as you live it is a bardo, a temporary in-between state. Victor (played by Tom Hanks) arrives in America to find himself stranded in a "limbo-bardo" of sorts, when his national identity vanishes with his country freshly overthrown by rebels. He gets grounded in the airport's vast transit section, which could not allow any stateless person anywhere beyond.
Our life experiences consist largely of intervals. Even as you read this, there are minutely momentary gaps between the falling and rising of your thoughts. Yes, we are always in mental and physical transition - all is changing (the first universal characteristic). Viktor realises that the terminal he was in was not his "terminal" condition - he is just in transit, there for the indefinite time being, till his country gets recognised again. The terminal was an interchange more than an end station, a place which interconnects people and places, of hi's and goodbye's, of arrivals and departures. Likewise, this very moment is full of infinite possibilities, where life is waiting... for you to relish, as it arrives and departs quicker than the blink of an eye. Without citizenship in a melting pot of international citizens passing through, he befriends them, becoming an unofficial "citizen of the world" instead. From being a "wandering spirit" unacceptable anywhere, he becomes acceptable everywhere by virtue of his sincerity and compassion.
Instead of fretting and waiting for the uncertain future to hit him, he learns to make himself at home and makes the best of the moment. While Viktor has no choice but to stay put and wait, Amelia, his flight attendent friend, is always on the go, rushing from country to country, living out of a suitcase in hotels, as she too waits, for her elusive lover to contact her once in a while. Realising she might be living for an illusory and indefinitely delayed happiness, she admits she has been waiting her whole life, but without knowing "what the hell for." Tired of waiting, she throws her pager away with relief, deciding her happiness to no longer be at the beck and call of anyone but herself.
The film's tagline, "Life is waiting" holds more than one meaning. Is it to say that life is always waiting to happen, for us to discover, if only we do? Discovery, like Enlightenment, can only happen in this moment. Or is it to say that life itself is full of waiting? We wait for flights, meetings, whatnots... so often, that we forget to relish the only moment that is real - now. You can have countless appointments lined up ahead of you, but if you are caught up in the future, you miss the appointment of your lifetime - now. Do we wait so long for one tiny moment that it feels like a letdown when it arrives? In anticipating one moment, countless other moments are lost when you fail to cherish them. Now IS your life! Viktor though physically displaced, was never lost at heart. Emotionally, he never lost heart - that is how he was able to make himself at home despite his plight - for home is where the heart is. We are constant immigrants in the space and time of life. Spiritually speaking, we are the real "illegal aliens" when we alienate ourselves from the immediacy of life in the here and now.
Near the end of the film, we realise Viktor's purpose of visiting America is to get the autograph of a musician, to fulfill his late father's wish. Seemingly trivial, it is however not the goal of his journey that mattered, but the journey itself, which transformed his life, even before stepping out of the airport. As the saying goes, "It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end." As Viktor heads back to the airport for his homeland, we wonder what will happen next. But what we know for sure is that Viktor will not be waiting for his life to climax - he will savour life - moment by moment. Viktor has already come "home." Have you? Or are you still stuck, waiting at the terminal between past regrets and future fears? -shian