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The Station Agent

Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale...
Length: 128 minutes
Rated: R
Studio: Buena Vista

The Station Agent is a quiet, little, terrific film that was very well reviewed at the Sundance Festival. The film is about confusion, loneliness, isolation, and friendship. Amazingly, it is not a downer. It is a ‘must see.’

Finn, the main character, is a dwarf who has created a very quiet and unpeopled world for himself. He loves trains, and works in a model train store owned by his only friend, an older man. When his friend dies, he inherits an old train station in New Jersey. Finn moves there, to live in the station. It is right next to the train tracks; there is nothing else close to it.

Though old-fashioned and dusty, the station offers Finn a quiet place to live and reflect. But then the other characters start to appear. Joe, a young strapping Cuban with a warm and outgoing personality, sets up his coffee and hot dog trailer right next to the station. And he is a talker. Finn is not. Joe wants to be Finn’s friend. Finn is not interested. Joe doesn’t give up.

Olivia, a middle-aged artist and bad driver, nearly runs Finn over while he is walking to the places he goes to check train tracks and train switching mechanisms. She also comes to Joe’s for an occasional morning coffee. She feels badly about nearly killing Finn twice (which are actually funny scenes) and comes to his station home one evening with an apology and a bottle of liquor to share with him. A little friendship begins.

Chloe, a young black girl, finds Finn on the tracks and gets to know him. She works on him in her own quiet ways and helps to create a breakthrough for Finn.

The movie is all about the ways that Finn, Joe, and Olivia wend their way into each others’ lives. Nothing *big* happens (i.e. no special effects, violence, sex). But these characters do connect. Connection seems to be the last thing Finn wants or trusts. Having been ridiculed for his dwarfism all his life, he has learned that isolation just feels better. Despite that, people are drawn to him. As the story unfolds, his compassion is awakened. He learns that Olivia is grieving the death of her little boy, and that she is going through a divorce as a result of this tragedy that she and her husband just could not handle together. He learns that Joe has a very sick father that he has to take care of. Olivia and Joe learn about Finn too, little by little. And the trio quietly spends time together – walking the railroad tracks, watching a movie, eating, hanging out. And they all have a role in helping each other to keep on moving through life.

The satisfying feeling this movie gives harkens back to quieter times, times that celebrate the power of just being together, not needing to fix anything, solve anything, prepare for anything. There is great power in presence, and each of these characters, especially Finn, shows how that is done. The movie invites reflection about the walls we build, the choices we make about who we allow into our lives, and who gets to be in the close circle of friends that we need to make for ourselves.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Finn’s dwarfism draws attention that is unwelcome. To be sure, rude people show up in the film. That he is stoic and unapproachable probably brings more of this on, and he physically cannot defend himself, so he builds a life of quiet isolation. When have you created a wall around yourself, to defend against others’ inability to really see you for who you are?
  2. Finn’s dwarfism attracts other vulnerable people to him. What is the role of vulnerability in creating and sustaining friendship?
  3. Joe is a very likeable character. In the beginning, one feels his invasion of Finn’s space. Yet as the movie goes along, you start to appreciate his warmth and unwillingness to give up. Instead, he just keeps giving. Is there a Joe in your life? Or, are you a Joe to others?
  4. Everyone in this movie is “different.” The film seems to be a study of living with difference, managing differences. To what extent is everyone “different”?

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