The beauty of the world lies in the
diversity of its people.
It is not our differences that
divides us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate
Little Cleo calls her classmate a
offenders deride him for his short stature; so he’s avoided
engaging with anyone, except his friend, Henry Styles. For Olivia,
the loss of her young son drives her further and further away from
herself, and others.
Cleo, Joe’s observant. After he and Fin meet David, Olivia’s
ex-husband, briefly, he confides: I don’t trust that
“uptight white guy.”
years ago, when I first saw The Station Agent,
(2003), I thought it to be a smart, “feel good” film,
with excellent acting from Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby
Cannavale, Michelle Williams, and Raven Goodwin contributing to an
enjoyable experience. Back from a year of teaching college in
Ethiopia, I was still in a bit of a fog having been out of country
when George Bush, Jr. initiated the Iraqi War by sending the “shock
and awe” spectacle of warfare to a country, which had nothing
to do with 9/11. A day or two before the spectacle was to start, we,
eight expatriates spread out across Ethiopia, received our
notification: Stay put. Stay in your home for at least four
days. Each of you.
Wherever you are. US
embassy closed. Four days! I
thought that by the time I return to the US, Bush would be facing
impeachment. But, instead, Bush is planning to run for re-election.
year later, I’m at a discount store (they existed then) when I
saw a VHS copy of The Station Agent in
a discount bin. And although I was unfamiliar with the actors in the
film, the price was right. And it was a quiet film.
last week, I decided to
rent the CD of this film from the library. I’m sure I could
have used a credit card to pay some online movie site to watch the
film for, what, 1.99 or 2.99? Or purchase the film online at Amazon.
But the rented CD from the library is fine.
is fine, too, if it actually moves humans forward.
other day, the current profit-at-all-cost billionaire US president,
declared himself a “nationalist” while the white
nationalists in the places where “nothing happens” have
been embolden to express their intent to restore American back to the
old days. Most of The
is set in Newfoundland, New Jersey, a place I had never heard of, but
by the time I see the film the first time, in 2004 or 2005, I’m
teaching in a rural, Midwestern town I had never heard of before
arriving there. Richard Kind, playing the lawyer in the film, informs
Finberg McBride (Peter Dinklage) that “nothing happens”
in Newfoundland, the rural town where his friend, Henry, has left him
a train depot and an old train car. For Fin, Newfoundland sounds like
a fit for him.
the film now, so many
years later, I don’t want fantasy! Even
as I might be uncertain about the future, I don’t have an image
of “old days” to return to for myself or others. On the
other hand, I won’t sit and spent almost two hours laughing as
if without a care in the world. I do care what happens on the planet.
I’m not waiting on a prophesy. So no fantasy. I
glance at reviews online only to find all echoing one another with
descriptions about “lonely” people, “isolated”
people. And I really don’t want to view a fantasy, I’m
thinking. I don’t
much from my first viewing since I was distracted by real-life
events, but I would hardly watch a film about “loners.”
“Haters.” People so disconnected as to be dislodged from
their own humanity. Out of mind, out of sight individuals, fuming
while creating or amassing weaponry to kill or to maim. This is not a
film I would have considered smart, enjoyable.
is something more going on in the quiet of Newfoundland.
the first few minutes of the film, introduces viewers to the
friendship between an older black man, owner of a toy train repair
shop and his sole employee, and younger man, Fin. Between the two
men, neither is a misfit. Both love trains, and everything about
traveling on trains. It’s a quiet friendship among equals
absorbed by habit, nods, gestures, the steady hand work, and silence.
No bromance of today to call attention to a fraternity between two
Henry dies, we see Fin with his one suitcase and satchel, visiting
the shop for the last time before taking off, and then traveling most
of the distance to Newfoundland by walking the “right of way.”
Passing trains speeding forward as he walks, Fin reaches the
Newfoundland depot. It’s clearly appears uninhabitable. The
exterior of the depot needs new siding. Inside, there’s no
running water or electricity, and it seems to have been a storage
dump site as it’s a container of old train signs and train
parts. But there’s a sofa, a table, and a stove. A start. Just
outside his new home, Fin notes, are two plastic lawn chairs, one
stacked atop the other, in an otherwise empty and dismal location
just near the main road. Strange.
next morning, Fin awakes to a voice outside his home.
introduced to Joe Oramos, (Bobby Cannavale), a Cuban, whose hot dog
truck (actually owned by his sick father) displays the Cuban flag on
the side facing the depot. Back at his home, is a father depended on
him. It’s the father Joe frequently talks to on his cell phone.
The father frequently calls the son. It is a relationship for Joe
that is all about responsibility. Caring for his father and keeping
the family business going.
two (Fin and Joe) will be neighbors. At least between 7:00 am and
3:00 pm, daily.
knows his responsibilities. He serious about his responsibilities.
Serious about working the hot dog stand as his father would while
caring for his father at home.
meet Olivia, (Patricia Clarkson), an older woman, an escapee from
Princeton. She has the role of the artist (-in resident), an artist
in pain, who paints in a dilly-dally style, rendering images of women
with partial faces. Stagnant images. Half there and half not
anywhere. It’s no accident that Olivia, herself, her hands and
slacks and tank top, are splattered in paint. When Joe and Fin come
to the house, it’s Joe who speaks, holy shit!. And
Olivia: I heard that, Joe.
Fin remains silent.
drives to Joe’s truck for coffee most every morning. Within
twenty minutes of the film’s open, she’s run Fin,
accidentally, off the road. Not once but twice! Klutzy,
would seem. She
beside herself with disgust. So
sorry. Sorry! You’re okay? And
Cleo, (Raven Goodwin), the black pre-teen, from the only house
visible, just up a way from Fin’s home. And Emily, the
librarian, played by Michelle Williams, isn’t your typical big
other words, these individuals are just people. Americans. Joe is the
only “Christian” among them, and he doesn’t hate
Fin or Olivia or Cleo or Emily. We know he’s a Christian
because, after he cooks a hot lunch of steak and whatever else for
Fin and Olivia, before they can dig in - he puts his arms out at
the table and tells the two to “bring them in.” Hands!
Let’s give thanks! I can’t
help but smile. There’s no offense, and Fin and Olivia, glance
at each other, and shrug. A tense moment, but it’s okay. It’s
Joe’s thing! And Joe’s okay with that, too. So hands in
hands, Joe gives
thanks. “Bring them in.” May just as well be referring to
their hearts. It’s a form of communion without the fuzziness
phone rings, it’s Pop. He has to leave the two before he’s
had a bite to eat. Bon appétit!
food is good, Olivia
says. Fin nods in agree. It is.
don’t have to talk, she
tells him. We can just
the film’s very last scene, Joe again has made dinner and now
the three are sitting side by side on Olivia’s porch. There’s
plenty of food left, says Joe, and not looking at the two of them, he
adds, we can have
leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Olivia looks at him for a good few
seconds. Joe isn’t facing her, however. Finally, she turns to
face forward and, yes, there’s a smile. There’s
has an extended family now. More responsibilities. He doesn’t
mind. It’s all good.
much happens in between the minutes.
his cell phone, Joe converses with his father in Spanish,
apologetically. Olivia, in contrast, has two phones, a landline and a
cell phone, and, on the landline, we hear the voice of her
ex-husband, David, leaving yet another message. He has something
important to tell her. Hope you’re well! No
one in The Station Agent is
held captive to the technology of their day. It’s useful.
Nothing more. Joe wants Fin to be a neighbor and a “bro,”
as in, a fellow human.
doesn’t have a phone and, content not to be an owner of one, he
manages, preferring to walk. Comfortable in solitude, he thinks about
trains and their movement through space and time.
can I walk with you?
you want company, let me know.
the film were a train, it would be as slow and quiet as the movement
of Fin and Olivia toward the gregariousness of Joe and the openest of
Cleo, who is perceptive enough to recognize these particular
threaten her safety. She’s safe, ironically, in this dismal and
barren location near the Newfoundland depot. A community is under
development here. No stock market investors needed!
is drawn toward this budding community of heterogeneous and diverse
the local tavern, Fin waits for Joe and his father (no shows) when
Emily arrives. We’ve seen a more charming Emily. But not now.
She asks Fin if she could sit next to him. He’s waiting for
someone, he says. Me, too, she says. And her phone rings. It’s
Chris. He can’t make it. Disappointed, Emily confides to Fin:
I’m pregnant. He
later, as Fin and Emily are leaving the tavern, a truck pulls up.
It’s Chris. He takes a look at Fin and he’s toxic! Ah,
you’re little friend! Chris’s
is all “shock and awe,” a grand spectacle. Doing what’s
expected of a man like himself, he thinks, he shoves Emily to the
ground. When Fin tries to intervene, he’s shoved into the side
of Emily’s car. Emily asks Fin to leave because Chris is Chris:
an enemy and an audience is, for him, life.
I won’t move in with Chris,
she tells Fin, at Fin’s house, later that night. He’s
not a bad guy. Fin is silent. We
know enough about him to know he’s not declaring Chris evil.
Neither is Emily. But Chris’s ideas about being human would
have Emily remaining as stagnant and incomplete as Olivia’s
painted women. Emily needs to move on. She reaches out to kiss Fin.
the next morning, Joe stops by Fin’s to apologize for the no
show at the tavern. His father didn’t feel well… Fin’s
not listening. He asks Joe to leave him alone: “I just want to
be alone, Joe.” The way it was before—only it never was
there in Newfoundland or in Jersey City either. Joe leaves. We see
the hurt on his face. The hot dog stand isn’t in its place the
finally, the turning point.
a scene where Fin is drinking glass after glass of whiskey at the
tavern. He can feel the jeers, the staring eyes. There’s no Joe
or Olivia or Emily among this crowd. We see the faces staring at Fin.
Other laughing. Finally, he stands up on his bar stool, and it’s
as if time stops. The clocks stop. Everyone stands in place as if
frozen. All eyes on Fin, who turns around with arms out, shouting:
Take a look! Take a good look!
we next see Fin, he’s caved in on the train tracks, steps from
his home. In the dark, we hear and then see from Fin’s prone
position on the track, an approaching train. A drunk Fin can barely
raise his head as he looks on at the approaching train. We are
looking at his face, and behind us, the viewers, we hear the train
coming closer and closer. And then a white screen!
next morning, Fin awakes in the same place on the train tracks. The
Fin who’s been conscious about his attire: white, buttoned-up
shirt and black pants is now disheveled but alive. His watch chain
(the only thing he
believed he had of value) has been smashed to pieces. Our first image
of Fin is a man pulling out his watch chain. In a moment, he
remembers the immediate past, the night before, lying on the tracks,
the train approaching. He smiles, and picks up the pieces, literally.
Time to move on again.
rut is falling between one minute and the next.
two, Fin and Olivia have been circling around loss: for Fin, the lose
of a friend, and for Olivia, the loss of her young son, Sam. I bet
each thinks they have traveled a straight path to Newfoundland!
day before, Fin had gone to Olivia’s house. She had been
missing in action. Joe noticed. Cleo noticed, too. When Fin arrives
at Olivia’s house, he overhears a phone call between her and
David. How could you do this, David? You’ve known me
for 17 years. How could you?
hangs up, and Fin approaches the porch where a slumped Olivia looks
emotionally drained. Hurting.
away, Fin! You are not a child!
leaves, hurt, too. In anger, he arrives at the tavern. And then his
stands on the bar stool. No fantasy could be so raw. And his
stumbling onto the train tracks, and a white screen…
the morning, Fin heads out to Olivia’s house again. In order
for him to move forward, he sees how its necessary to help Olivia,
too, move beyond the stagnant half-painted faces of herself.
the meantime, Olivia has been wrestling with David’s voice in
her ears. Fin finds her on the kitchen floor near an empty pill
bottle. He’s having a baby, she
tells Fin, who picks up the bottle of pills. She’s taken all of
them, she answers Fin. As Fin knees on the floor to lifts her toward
him, the two hold each other in an embrace. I want Sam
can’t bring Sam back to Olivia, but he can offer her his
friendship. And more, there’s a
developing community of human beings—who, by being human, can’t
be outsiders. It’s
no accident that The
Station Agent has
one of Olivia’s former colleague and friend
from Princeton suddenly appear at Olivia’s. Olivia is painting
when the doorbell rings. She looks through the curtain. Shit!
steps out onto the porch, swiftly passing the intruder, who happened
to “be in the neighborhood.”
a gatherer of information.
Fine. On my way out! Thank you!
Olivia, it’s been trying, these last two years. Her new friends
in Newfoundland got that! In Newfoundland, nothing will be perfect or
certain as it was for those she knew in Princeton.
but are the these characters blind to difference?
course not! They live in America!
Joe first sees Fin he says, Holy shit under
his breath. Aloud, however, he asks the man before him, How
are you today? in contrast to
Chris and his friend (the first time we see these clowns) who, in
turn, watch as Fin exits the depot and start shouting: the
plane! The plane!
steps up. Stop!
the matter with you, man?
just doesn’t see the need to respond.
the child among them, asks Fin if what grade he’s in. Fin, not
insulted, tells her he’s finished school. Then are
you a midget? Fin says no, he
isn’t. No insult. Just education here. A teacher and a pupil.
And adult and someone who’s asking as a way, even if
unknowingly, to move forward in the world.
too, recognizes that Fin isn’t what others see in him. On
another day, she hands Fin’s a piece of paper. Here,
Fin. You have to speak at my school! He
informs her, without explanation, that it’s not possible for
him to speak at her school. I can’t speak. Yes, you
can, she snaps back. I
can’t. You can too! I wish! If you do, you’d speak! And
Cleo runs off, leaving the paper in Fin’s hands.
contrast to the child, Cleo, there’s an older woman, owner of
the local grocery store. Fin is some abnormality for her, and she
hesitant to express herself in all her glorious ignorance: Hey,
ya-hoo. Fin, standing with his
back to her at the freezer, turns, and, immediately, the child-like
adult snaps a picture of him!
Fin first comes to the library, he doesn’t see the
librarian—and the librarian doesn’t see him—until
she does. Emily drops the books she’s carrying in her hands,
only because Fin wasn’t visible from where she stood. But when
he is visible to her, and the two people face one another, she is
sincerely apologetic. I’m so sorry. So Sorry. She’s
embarrassed for appearing
ignorant. Two seconds later, we see she really looks at Fin and finds
on, both Fin and Olivia, note Joe’s difference.
Watching Joe play soccer with a
couple of children, Olivia says of Joe: he surely “loves life.”
Fin nods, in agreement.
Station Agent shows us
individuals who are not lonely people but rather individuals mature
enough to be comfortable in the silence - how else to engage in
contemplation? Self-reflection? The appreciation of silence is what
each respects in the other, it’s what makes being in the
company of each other special.
of silence, our universe exploded into existence.
listens well, as well as Joe talks. When Fin tells Joe he just wants
to be alone, he’s being truthful. He does want to be alone,
temporarily. Long enough to think about what happened when he reached
out to protect Emily from Chris. Fin needs time to think. Talking
isn’t necessary now. No emailing, texting, as so many do today.
No Instagram. Facebook reporting of all the details, blow by blow. No
exchange of insulting, racist, misogynist, xenophobic comments. Basic
instinct appealing to basic instinct. Just quiet contemplation.
Self-reflection. Fin’s not going low!
never been a recluse. Few are.
seen Fin, at night, quiet. Thinking. We’ve seen Olivia sitting
on the edge of her bed in her underwear, staring into a full-length
mirror. The camera stays on her for a few moments as it returns to
Fin lying on his sofa in the dark, eyes wide open. To some Americans
today, these images of contemplating human
beings, and not those engaged in yoga meditation, would seem strange.
Odd. Even abnormal. So
it appears as if nothing ever happens in Newfoundland, except when
Chris shouts insults and when David appears at Olivia’s asking
what’s with her silence?
has no problems using her imagination (imagine that!) to play alone
in the train car near the depot. When Olivia stops by the depot and
leaves a video camera for Fin on his door steps, Cleo invites her to
join in the play: Do you want to see my spike collection?
Olivia decides it would be fun to learn about this “spike
collection,” and there’s Cleo, open to expanding her
live in the lives of these so-called “loners.” Fin reads.
One of the first things he does when he arrives in Newfoundland is to
walk to the library. Olivia, the artists, understanding the
importance of reading, picks up and delivers the book on railroads
that Fin tried to borrow from the library. Emily, the librarian, is
reading when Fin returns with his first piece of mail, proof of
address! Cleo is a pupil. To read is to still oneself long enough to
listen and, ultimately connect beyond oneself, often, too, beyond the
parochial and narrow minded.
Olivia is at the hospital recovering from her attempted suicide, Fin
takes on the responsibility to come to Olivia’s house not to
“organize” in “Fin’s way or to impose a
“right” way of living with things, according the latest
home fashion magazine but, instead, to make Olivia’s home
suitable for the occupant to live with loss.
From the old Fin is a new Fin, adjusting, too, to his loss.
“great” past bubble, dragged away that night he ends up
on the train track, is a distant memory.
quiet as he moves about the room where Olivia paints. He sees Joe’s
phone number. A few days before, he and Joe came to Olivia’s to
watch the training chasing video we watched both Fin and Joe shoot
earlier in the film. Joe had written his cell phone number on a pad
near Olivia’s phone.
see Joe arriving at Fin’s in a regular car. Still not talking.
There’s no talking as Joe drives and Fin, too, looks forward.
At the hospital, there is Fin and Joe, each with a book in front of
them as they sit in the waiting room. We see Olivia coming down the
hall toward them. She’s smiling. She’s smiling! Olivia is
Olivia, anew. The three hug and kiss. Still quiet.
disparate coming together in struggle.
has been coming around to the depot, becoming more and more
acquainted with Fin. Even as she awaits a better answer from Fin
regarding that upcoming date for him to speak in her classroom, she,
the ever present student of life, has more questions: Is Emily his
girl friend? What about Olivia? To both questions, Fin smiles and
answers, no. Cleo, observant, and aware that she, too, hasn’t
seen Olivia lately, tells Fin she likes Olivia. He agrees.
Olivia has re-inhabited her home, Fin is seen arriving at Cleo’s
school. One move initiates another. Touches another. Cleo, open to
the give and take of life, finally gets her wish: Fin comes to her
school to speak. There’s Fin coming in the door of the
classroom. Some children snicker, but there’s another adult in
front of the classroom. Fin looks toward the children in their seats
and sees Cleo. She she gives him the “thumbs up.” Fin
smiles. We smile. What a priceless bit of education - from Cleo to
begins. He’s reading from the index cards. Two sentences in
about the history of trains, he’s interrupted by a questioner:
How tall are you? The
child, Jacob, has observed how hierarchical difference is
established. He’s as snarky as they come, twisting his noses as
he looks at Fin with disdain. We’ve seen the snarky, entitled,
frat boy, who never grows up, and for his pedigree, he’s
awarded a seat on the US Supreme Court.
this classroom of children, toxic masculinity is still given oxygen.
The children are uneasy. The teacher warns; yet, the warning isn’t
answers, without flinching: four feet five inches.
interrupts with forceful: I’m taller than you?
our culture these days, folks find it necessary to test the
boundaries. Violating maliciously, today. Bullies spilling out,
tripping over the willfully ignorant, today. Fifteen years later.
teacher takes control of the situation, and, apologizing to Fin, she
takes the offender in tow and the two leave the classroom. “Jerk,”
says Cleo, as Jacob passes her seat. Civility matters.
continues. A student asks about blimbs. What about blimbs?
The child wants to know. She’s
curious. Fin doesn’t know much about blimbs, he says. They are
good. So are trains,
Cleo says to another student. Here, in the classroom, is the
initiation of a debate, the likes of which it would be hard pressed
to experience in programming labeled “debate.” It’s
not about producing sameness or the “right” thinking.
last scene of the film, my favorite, is the quietest of all scenes,
and, yet, Fin, Olivia, and Joe are enjoying a joint and drinks on
Olivia’s porch. It’s night when most of us engage in
contemplation. Fin asks if Olivia and Joe know about blimbs. No one
does. It’s doesn’t really matter, except Fin is still
thinking about the question from the child, the pupil who asked it.
between the moments of stillness, Joe teases Fin about that “hot”
librarian, Emily. In the era of #MeToo, I hear only Joe being Joe and
encouraging Finn to continue is progress. Emily likes Finn. Who
hasn’t seen evidence of this? So Joe describes a scene in which
Fin watches Emily remove her glasses and shake her hair loose. She
doesn’t wear glasses, Fin
says. Olivia reaches over to him and taps his arm, Buy her
some. It’s worth it!
we all laugh, and then the screen is black.
Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight (2015)
and The Visitor (2007),
both films I’ve seen, has been recognized by the Academy Awards
and Independent Spirit Awards for these films, including The