People are scary. They’re crass and stupid, clumsy and short-sighted. They make strange decisions and punish each other for their own insecurities. They hurt themselves and refuse to learn from it. It’s hard to blame anyone who chooses to abstain from their company, certainly not Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), the quiet man with dwarfism at the center of Tom McCarthy’s The Station Agent. A long history of ridicule and rejection has pushed Fin inward, convincing him to trade the conventional lifestyle of an enterprising young man for the solitude and routine of his trains. Fin likes trains. He and his friend Henry (Paul Benjamin) run a hobby shop for enthusiasts and enjoy their modest existence until Henry’s unexpected death. Left without a friend and with little interest in making any new ones, Fin takes up residence in the small train depot that Henry left for him in rural Newfoundland, New Jersey. Though Fin is overjoyed by the thought of no one fucking with his day, his reverie is interrupted by the loud-mouthed lunch truck vendor Joe (the always-reliable Bobby Cannavale) and the scatterbrained artist Olivia (the always-sexy Patricia Clarkson), both of whom insist on learning everything they can about their new neighbor.
Despite every effort to be as cold and uninviting as possible, Fin has that effect on people. They like sharing his space, almost as if his considerable social handicaps free them to open up without fear of judgment. Joe likes that he can talk Fin’s ear off without him getting frustrated. Olivia knows that she can stutter and stumble and he’ll still let her sleep on his couch. Local librarian Emily (Michelle Williams) — young, pregnant, and very afraid — is reassured by the idea that there might be more than one kind of man out there, that one might be mature and sensitive enough to understand why she’s just so damn lonely. That Fin has nothing to lose makes him a kind of equalizing force in their lives; he lets everyone start from zero, free of the emotional baggage that complicates so many of their other relationships. He’s been through far worse than the rest of us could ever imagine, and with that experience comes the kind of empathy that forgives us any of our own shortcomings. Projecting onto people like Fin allows us to reframe our lives in their image, to use them as a blank slate on which to paint our best selves.