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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rare Review: The Station Agent

Henry David Thoreau once wrote:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go to the desperate country and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats... It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things
What makes a desperate man desperate? Or woman for that matter? What causes one to despair?
Broken Promises?
Broken Heart?
Broken Dreams?
Broken Wings?

Or is it having never learned how to fly in the first place? Is it longing for the ambition of the stars while feeling  the weight of our feet on the earth that keeps men bound to this rock? In many cases I think it comes of too many stumbles, being kicked while you are down one too many times, or being held down until the fight goes out. There is, afterall, a breaking point. And people do break, faith in a higher power aside. Those are external causes of desperation. Internally, things look very different.

On the inside a person despairs when they do not feel safe in places that once had been strongholds... or should have been because that is what our social organizing says is safe. Despair results in aspiring to the dreams laid before you rather than in what lies inside you, to walk someone else's path. Or to walk no path at all for fear of the unknown.

For Fin (Peter Dinklage) in The Station Agent (2003, Miramax) that quiet desperation lies in trying to find a place in a world that is too big for him. His safe haven disappears with the death of his closest friend. Resigned to his fate, Fin draws his world so close and small around him that there is barely any room left in it for him... an unexpected effect. More unexpected is how the world that never noticed him took offense to his boundaries and called him out of his small world.

The food truck guy, a grieving artist, a curious elementary school girl and the librarian do not seem content to let him focus on his own things in his quietly desperate way. As I watch connections being made and walls coming down, I feel that I need to challenge Thoreau on a point.

Quiet desperation may, in fact, be acceptance. We are who we are. And there is not a person on this planet who has ever been happily contented with being someone they are not. When we accept what we know to be our most intimate, authentic selves we often realize that for a time we must walk our path alone. We accept that in our uniqueness we are a singularity. When we strip away the distractions present in trying to live up to some standard set for us by others and accept ourselves we live simply. And that simplicity is transcendent. And in some ways it also unifies, not with homogeny but with our basic human need for unity in our divers interests.

I think as much as nature abhors a vacuum it also abhors disconnection. To be truly alone and set apart from others is to be a genuine hermit. There are very few humans who can live a life of healthy seclusion. Nature does not like isolation because every action of living requires contact of some kind. Retreating is only a temporary position. Retreat allows you to refocus, reset some boundaries and find your own song again. Disconnection disturbs the peace in our minds and our hearts.

Fin calls himself a "simple, boring person". He is drawn, not into the drama of other people's lives, but into the simplicity of their lives even while navigating through chaotic moments. Perhaps that is the crux of Thoreau's thought: we are all quiet and desperate because we are all simple and boring. Perhaps? You see, we, the masses, are not James Bond and Lara Croft. We are not adventurers, athletes, investigators, actors and musicians. And not all of us were ever meant to be. We were meant to be ourselves and to find the people for whom that is all that is required.

No matter what you look like
                 the job you have
                 where you call home
                 what lies in your past
                 what lies in your future
even if, for many, it looks as though your future is going no where fast.

The Station Agent is one of those serendipitous things. I wandered through movie offerings, hoping to find something to lift me out of a funk. I do not know what I was hoping to find. But I found a thumbnail with my favorite Lannister (Game of Thrones) and couldn't resist. Similar to my James Frain phase, because I am a geek like that, I am going through a Pete Dinklage phase. This turned out to be one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. It has a classic, timeless feeling like Jane Eyre or Tom Sawyer while being completely contemporary. Trying to find a place in the world will always be a relevent theme because we will always struggle between who we are and who others want us to be.

Having begun with Thoreau, I will leave you with Thoreau
In porportion, as he simplifies his life, the laws of the Universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness

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