I watched a pretty good movie the other night called The Station Agent, and I would recommend getting it on Netflix. This is probably one of the only movies out there where the protaganist is a dwarf. It is also one of the only movies out there in which a dwarf is not presented as humorous spectacle or oddity. The main character, Fin, is a terse and surly fellow who has withdrawn into himself and latched onto the obscure subculture of trains to devote his hermit-like existence to. When he moves from the city into an old train station house in the boondocks in New Jersey, he is befriended by some unlikely characters. The real poetry of the film is in the unfolding of these friendships, as Fin opens up and discovers his own beauty and selfhood in relation to others. It was wholly refreshing to see an American film that delves into truly unique characters and their relationships without being trite, easy, or stereotypical.
I think my favorite part in the movie is when Fin drinks himself into a bitter rage in the bar and stands up on his stool, throws up his stubby arms, and shouts, “Alright, here I am! Take a good look!” He waits for the hisses, laughter, catcalls, jokes about his stature. But the rest of the “normal” bar denizens simply look uncomfortable and glance away. The fact is that they really don’t care all that much about his dwarfism, past the initial shock of the first sight. The perception of his difference, as throughout the rest of the movie, is often projected by Fin upon himself. Another example is when he is eating lunch with his new strange friends, Joe and Olivia. Joe, a talkative and earnest Cuban from Manhattan, peppers Fin goodnaturedly with questions. One of his questions is regarding fellow railroad obsessives like Fin. “Let me ask you a question Fin,” Joe says, “Do you people have clubs?” There is a pause fraught with underlying meaning, in which both the observer and Fin thinks that Joe is referring to his dwarfism. “What do you mean?” he responds guardedly. “You know, like a ‘Train of the month’ club,” Joe says, innocent of the previous moment’s peril.
The way the characters of Joe, Fin, and Olivia interact is continually surprising not only to the characters themselves, but to the viewer–it is surprising because they keep reaching out to each other and making connections, however tentative and awkward. They find that they need each other, and that beyond appearances and stereotypes and personal histories, there is warmth, love, and laughter. This reaffirmation of humanity, of our ability to get beyond surfaces and forge deeper relationships, is the narrative gem of this movie. At times the movie perhaps draws dangerously close to being Disneyesque (the ‘cute’ friendship between the chubby young black girl and the reticent dwarf, for example), but even at such times it feels real and human enough to simply let the critical mind go and enjoy the good intention behind it. I heartily commend the movie.