by Rick Pidcock
Last night, we gathered together with a group from our church to watch the Tom Hanks comedy The Terminal. While most of our reviewed movies so far have had more clear messages, this one seemed to be just simply a funny movie, rather than a movie with a point.
However, there are a number of key elements within this movie that ultimately point us to the gospel.
1. What are some major themes throughout this movie?
Foreigners are different.
The Terminal is about a Krakozhian man named Viktor Navorski who travels to the United States in order to fulfill a promise made to his father. However, while he is in the air, his country’s government is overthrown. And as such, he is a man without a nation. He then finds himself stranded in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport for months.
One of the obvious themes that we begin to pick up on is the fact that foreigners operate on different wavelengths. Foreigners speak different languages, have distinct values, and have different governmental structures by which their country is run. This theme has nothing to do with one culture being qualitatively above another culture. It is just a simple fact of life.
People study people.
Not long after his arrival at JFK, Viktor begins to catch people’s eyes. One Indian man believes that Viktor is a CIA agent who is spying on them. Rumors begin to spread about who he is, where he is from, and why he is doing what he is doing.
This is a simple illustration of how people generally study other people. We tend to look on others with skepticism, wondering who they are, where they are coming from, and what motives they may have in their actions.
You must learn the culture you are in if you desire to fulfill your purpose.
The reason Viktor had come to the United States was to fulfill a promise that he made to his father that he would get the autograph of the last jazz musician that his father had idolized. Obviously, he had to leave the terminal in order to accomplish that purpose. But before he could leave the terminal, he had to survive in it. And thus, he had to understand his context by learning their language, values, and governmental structure.
Different living leads to different results.
The very fact that Viktor’s government was overthrown illustrates the idea that men who live for themselves will destroy themselves and those around them.
Another example of this self-destructive behavior comes later in the movie when Viktor meets Amelia, a flight stewardess who makes her rounds with married men. In the end, she ends up destroying her own life, her partner’s life, and her partner’s family. She also hurts everybody else around her.
On the other hand, Viktor spent his time serving and loving others. This lifestyle led to many blessings and friendships that he could have never had otherwise.
2. How do these themes point us to the gospel?
As foreigners in this world, we are different.
“But our citizenship is in heaven.” -Philippians 3:20
As believers, we are citizens of a different kingdom, the kingdom of God. And as such, we naturally operate with a distinct language, with distinct values, and under a different kingdom authority than those who are citizens of the kingdom of this world.
People study us.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”-Philippians 3:17
People watch people. And just as we study the lives of other believers, other people are studying us. The people whose country we are in are studying us to find out who we are, where we are coming from, and why we do what we do.
We are instructed to be ready to answer anybody who asks us about the hope that lies within us. If they see a hope in our lives, it is because they have been studying us and have found that our pattern of living is a pattern driven by the hope of the gospel.
One general observation about the people in The Terminal is that people tend to soften as we get to know them. There are natural barriers that everybody has around their hearts and lives that keeps strangers away. And yet, the more somebody gets to know them, the softer they become towards that person.
This is one reason why relational discipleship is the primary means of discipling others. Sure, it takes a lot of guts to bang on somebody’s door during dinner time and tell them that they are going to hell if they do not repent. It is no wonder why people generally tend to not receive that approach too well. It says nothing of their disdain for the gospel. It is just a natural reaction based upon how we were created. We open up our hearts as people get to know us. And that is why it is important to get involved with the lives of those around us. They are studying us. And their studying implies that we spend quality time serving them, not merely banging on their door for thirty seconds and then moving on to the next spiritual sales call.
We must understand our cultural context if we are to best fulfill our purpose in it.
“Brothers, join in imitating me.”-Philippians 3:17
What is our purpose on this earth? It is to magnify the supremacy of God and the transforming power of the gospel by the making and maturing of disciples. And in this pursuit, we follow Paul, as He followed Christ.
Christ said in John 17:18 that He has sent us into the world just as the Father had sent him into the world. So we must ask ourselves, “How did the Father send Christ into the world?”
John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus came into the kingdom of the world and dwelt among us. He wore our clothes, spoke our language, studied our knowledge, and worked our jobs. And He did it in such a way that the glory of the Father was seen by all—expressed through grace and truth.
This is one reason why having movie nights is so beneficial to us. It is not merely a time of gaining a Christ-centered approach to our entertainment lives, but it is also an opportunity for us to learn the language, values, and governmental structure of the kingdom of the world.
Viktor could never have fulfilled his purpose if he just hid in a corner and refused to study and learn how the Americans operate. And in the same way, we cannot effectively make disciples if we do not know how they speak, what they value, and how they order their lives.
The language, values, and governments of different kingdoms lead to different outcomes.
The Terminal is filled with the theme of waiting. When Amelia finally leaves Viktor in order to continue her self-destructive lifestyle, she tells him, “I’ve waited for my destiny.” Her destiny was one of self-destruction.
During one exchange with Viktor, she tells him a story of how Napoleon once attempted suicide by taking poison pills. Viktor replied, “Maybe he needs glasses to see that it is poison.” Although humorous, it is a reminder of how the poison of sin is so deceptive. It takes spiritual sight to fully see the destructive end of the kingdom of the world.
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” -Philippians 3:18-19
Viktor was also waiting. And when Amelia asks him why he is waiting to do this for his father, he replies, “I wait because my father would have done the same.”
What a beautiful parable of the gospel! While Viktor waited because of something his father would have done if he could, we wait because of something our Father did.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” -Philippians 3:20
There are two spiritual kingdoms, one of which every person is a citizen of. Those who are citizens of the kingdom of the world pursue the things of the world, glory in the shame of what they do, worship selfish pleasure, and will ultimately end in destruction.On the other hand, those who are citizens of the kingdom of Christ are waiting for a Savior. And their end will be eternal life.
During one exchange between Viktor and airport security, the head of security tries to get Viktor to say that he is afraid of his home so that security could legally let Viktor go into New York City. But Viktor, as much as he wanted to go to New York, said, “I am not afraid of my home.”
We as believers are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And we are waiting for our end, which is the beginning of seeing and worshiping Christ in person for all eternity; just as Viktor waited for his end, which was fulfilling his promise.
Our home is a home of life where the Eternal God of the universe calls us His children, where the righteous Son calls us His brothers and sisters, and where the Holy Spirit comforts and intercedes for us. What is there to be afraid of? Let us therefore continue in this foreign land with courage, learning how to be distinct, studying how to interact with this foreign kingdom that is watching us, and pursuing the language, values, and lordship of our kingdom—the kingdom of life.