The Station Agent (2003) ****1/2
Directed by Thomas McCarthy
I watched The Station Agent because it was one of the ten films that my friend Lucy recommended that I watch. This is the third film I’ve reviewed from her choices, and I’m starting to understand a little bit about Lucy’s taste in movies. She seems to love relatively small non-mainstream movies about ordinary characters dealing with real life situations resulting in heart warming conclusions. Out of Lucy’s first two films, I liked Butterflies Are Free, but I hated Children of Heaven. If you take a look at the comments under my review for Children of Heaven, you will see that Lucy’s a bit worried that the marathon in her name has not gotten off to a great start. Well, Lucy, you can stop worrying because The Station Agent totally worked on me and made me much more excited to keep watching your suggestions. I’m not kidding when I say that everyone should watch this film. It’s a lovely little crowd pleaser. Also, since I’m from
The main character of the film is a dwarf named Fin played by Peter Dinklage. His performance is spectacular, which is important considering that his character goes through some pretty extreme changes in personality by the end of the film. He’s a quiet man because that is the way he has learned to deal with the deep anger he feels from a lifetime of being treated either as the butt of jokes or as a sideshow spectacle for people to glare at in wonder and awe. His entire life revolves around his passion for trains—he works at a model train store, his closest friend in life is an elderly train store owner, his social life pretty much exclusively consists of a monthly train chaser club in which members either look at pictures or watch movies of trains.
He decides to make a change in his life once his boss and friend dies. In the man’s will, Fin is left an abandoned train depot in
In a laugh out loud funny sequence, Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson) accidentally almost runs Fin off the road not once but twice, both times requiring him to jump head first in order to avoid being hit. Later that night, Olivia brings booze over to the train depot and spends the night with Fin, though they do not get sexually involved.
Joe does begin to slowly break down Fin's guard and in doing so, learns about his impressive knowledge and admiration for trains. The film takes its time and patiently brings Olivia, Joe and Fin together in friendship. Unfortunately, Olivia’s estranged husband's return forces a split in the trio.
Michelle Williams, ex-wife of the late Heath Ledger, plays a very young woman named Emily who likes Fin but has major problems of her own. She’s pregnant, and her boyfriend is a loser with violent tendencies. While trying to protect Emily, her boyfriend pushes Fin hard into a truck which escalates his anger big time, and later when he goes back to check in on Olivia, she is obviously emotionally wrecked from her husband’s appearance and throws Fin out of her life. This brings Fin dangerously close to behavior that may or may not result in his death when he passes out drunk on train tracks. You’ll have to see the film to find out how everything is resolved.
Fin, Olivia, Joe and even Emily are all really good people who are dealing with serious issues caused by those around them. Fin, Olivia and Joe find each other, but their fairy tale friendship is unfortunately bound to implode because of the baggage each of them carries. It’s necessary for one of the characters to hit rock bottom before starting over. Luckily, this person has two loving friends to help.
Writer/director Thomas McCarthy apparently wrote the film with Peter Dinklage in mind. The film does address his dwarfism over and over again, but treats it with quite a lot of respect without being naïve. It’s the sad truth that every single person that sees a dwarf or a midget unexpectedly reacts strongly. Even Joe, who could care less whether his friend is a dwarf or not, does eventually ask Fin whether or not he’s had sex and if it was with a full-sized woman. Though Joe’s question was tactless, it was a question that many people would wonder about while looking at a dwarf. Joe got the question out in the open so that when he’s looking at Fin, he’s not spending time wondering about him. He now has his answer.
Not everyone should be blamed for having a strong reaction to seeing a dwarf or a midget. I can’t recall too many times I’ve seen one in real life. Yet, I would definitely not laugh or whisper. Personally, I don’t think too many people would, and the film does portray what I’m sure would be rare responses like name calling a little too often. What was very refreshing, though, was that there wasn't a lot of self-deprecating humor said by Fin. In Butterflies Are Free, Don jokes about his blindness either as a defense mechanism or because he truly is comfortable in his disability. Fin’s character relies on seclusion in order to deal with the pain that living with dwarfism has caused him his whole life. To have his character spout off short people jokes would be completely inconsistent with who Fin is. McCarthy got that just right.
Also, The Station Agent doesn’t allow us to pity Fin, and similarly, it doesn’t allow Fin to ultimately pity himself. Olivia, Joe and Emily all struggle with serious issues in their life. If anything, Fin has found people he can relate to in a world where he has always felt like such an outsider. Right there is where the film’s universal appeal lies. We all struggle, and while most of us don’t have to be dwarves, all of us deal with serious pain from time to time. Rather than allowing our hurt to alienate us from others, The Station Agent shows that we can actually connect together in our brokenness. Our sadness can be softened because we can be sad together. Great film, Lucy!