As far as Steven Spielberg's new blockbuster, "The Terminal," is concerned, the experience of being trapped inside an airport for a year can lead to friendship, comic high jinks, and even romance.
But it's hard to see the life of Mehran Karimi Nasseri through Spielberg-colored glasses. Mr. Nasseri is the inspiration for the movie - a real-life Iranian refugee who arrived at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1988 without a passport and without papers to enter another country. He's been stuck in Terminal One ever since. Like a lost and battered suitcase, he has been claimed by no one.
"The Terminal," which opened Friday in the United States, recounts the hardships of Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), a fictitious Balkan traveler stranded at New York's JFK Airport. His homeland erupts into civil war and his passport becomes void. He can't officially enter the US, but neither can he return to Eastern Europe. So he lives for months in the hermetically sealed microcosm of an airport concourse.
Some of Navorski's survival tactics are similar to Nasseri's, like bathing in the washroom, setting up a living area on a bench, and accepting food vouchers from airport workers. But where the movie has embellished the story with madcap adventures and a fling with a flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Nasseri's life consists mostly of reading. His most recent book is Hillary Clinton's autobiography. "Maybe I don't do it like Tom Hanks does it," he says. "My day is just like inside a library. Silence."
Lately, though, he's had more visitors than usual. This urban legend is already the subject of three other films, two of them documentaries. Reporters and tourists visit and talk with him all day at his makeshift press lounge. "Is this public entertainment?" Nasseri asks with a pained grimace. Yet, at the same time, "Alfred," as he is also known, seems to relish his celebrity.