Social Anxiety in Movies: The Station Agent

Social Anxietyin Movies

The Station Agent is about Fintan McBride (Peter Dinklage, pre-Game of Thrones), a quiet dwarf who tries to live isolated from society, but after he inherits a train depot, several people in the town invade his life of solitude.

The Station Agent [2003]

  • Directed by:  Tom McCarthy
  • Written by: Tom McCarthy

Psychoanalysis: (Warning: Full Spoilers Ahead!)

Joe (Bobby Cannavale) is the friendly talkative owner of a food truck near Fin’s train depot. When Fin stops to buy a coffee, Joe tries to start a conversation with him.

JOE

You live around here?

FIN

Yeah.

JOE

I never seen you around. Where you from?

FIN

Hoboken.

JOE

So, why you out here? Work? Family? Just, like…

FIN

How much do I owe you for the coffee?

Fin gives one-word answers to try to end the conversation, but Joe won’t give up, so Fin ends it for good by changing the subject to pay for the coffee.

People with social anxiety tend to give one-word answers to try to end conversations, especially during small-talk with strangers. Not only does talking to strangers make us anxious, but trivial small talk seems pointless.

OLIVIA

Can I give you a ride somewhere?

FIN

No.

OLIVIA

You’re sure?

FIN

Yes.

Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) almost hits Fin with her car and wants to make it up to him. But Fin would rather keep to himself than accept help from her. He evades her with one-word answers as well.

JOE

Listen, do you want to go down to the Mill and grab a beer later?

FIN

No, thanks.

JOE

You don’t drink?

FIN

I do.

JOE

You don’t want to drink with me?

FIN

I don’t like bars very much.

Fin has a fear of bars because they are full of drunk people liable to stare at him and make fun of his size. Social anxiety makes us fear being judged by others for what we may perceive to be our own physical inadequacies.

JOE

Oh. Hey, how about I go get a six? We can have it right here.

FIN

No, thanks.

JOE

What are you gonna do?

FIN

I’m going for a walk.

JOE

Oh, cool. You mind if I come along, man? I need the exercise. I’m turning into a fat shit.

FIN

I usually go alone.

JOE

I’m a good walker, bro.

FIN

I prefer to go alone.

Fin (and people with social anxiety) prefers to be alone because that is the only way he can be truly safe and free of judgement. But he doesn’t realize that not all people are judgmental types who will make fun of his dwarfness. For instance, Joe is actually quite accepting of Fin.

OLIVIA

You don’t have a phone?

FIN

No.

OLIVIA

I love that. I hate phones.

Fin doesn’t have a phone because he doesn’t have anyone close enough to him that would call to talk.

JOE

Mind if I hang out a while?

FIN

No.

JOE

Are you hungry?

FIN

No.

JOE

Thirsty?

FIN

No.

JOE

You don’t really say much, do you?

FIN

Guess not.

Again, Fin gives one-word answers because he is afraid to open up to Joe. Social anxiety makes us afraid to open up and reveal personal details to others because we fear that they will judge us negatively for those things.

OLIVIA

We don’t have to talk. We can just eat. I’m cool with that.

FIN

Okay.

Olivia notices that Fin doesn’t want to talk, so she accommodates him. There’s a fine line between respecting someone’s introvertedness and enabling their social anxiety. In Olivia’s case, she doesn’t want to talk either, because she is depressed after losing her son.

JOE

I don’t suppose you want to grab a beer.

FIN

No, thanks.

JOE

You gotta get over the bar thing. Seriously.

Fin is still afraid of going to the bar even as he is warming up to Joe. Bars can be frightening places for people with social anxiety because they are loud and full of people talking and socializing.

JOE

Why don’t you ever sit in the lounge?

FIN

The lounge?

JOE

The lounge.

FIN

I like to read when I eat.

JOE

You can’t read in the lounge?

FIN

You’ll talk to me.

Fin would rather read alone than talk, which as an introvert with social anxiety, I can relate to. Sometimes we just want to be free from distraction so we can focus and read.

FIN

You said you weren’t gonna talk to me if I sat here, Joe.

JOE

I haven’t said anything in, like, twenty minutes.

FIN

Nine.

JOE

You timed me?

FIN

Mm-hmm.

JOE

That’s cold, bro.

Unsurprisingly, Joe can’t help himself and starts talking to Fin as they read.

FIN

You know, it’s, uh… It’s really funny how… different people… see me and treat me. Because I’m actually just a very simple, boring person.

Fin opens up to Olivia at dinner with her and Joe. He has social anxiety and a fear of being around people and opening up to them because he thinks all people see him as odd and different, but Olivia and Joe and Emily (Michelle Williams) don’t. They accept him as he is, but Fin didn’t realize that because he was afraid to open up to them.

DAVID

I wanted to talk to you. And you won’t call me back.

OLIVIA

I didn’t feel like talking.

DAVID

Yeah, yeah, I got that much.

Olivia is also avoiding people because of her depression after losing her child. She doesn’t want to have to talk to anyone about it, including her ex-husband David (John Slattery), because that will bring the memories of her son back, which are too unbearable for her.

JOE

You ever had it with someone your own size?

FIN

No.

JOE

Do you wanna?

FIN

I don’t want to talk about this, Joe.

JOE

Why?

FIN

I just… I just don’t.

Fin starts to open up to Joe, but he is still uncomfortable talking about personal things like his sex life.

Fin finally agrees to go to the bar with Joe, but Joe fails to show up. While there, Fin sees Emily’s boyfriend mistreating her, and he goes out on a limb to try to stick up for her. But her boyfriend beats Fin up and calls him a freak. This is a traumatic incident for Fin because his worst fears come true. Emily’s boyfriend proves that people are cruel and judgmental. Fin gives up and decides that having relationships with people is not worth it—they’ll just hurt him in the end. So he pushes everyone away, even Joe.

JOE

You wanna do something tonight?

FIN

No.

JOE

What the fuck, man? I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me?

FIN

I want to be left alone, Joe. Okay? That’s what I want.

JOE

Fine. Be alone.

Fin is right, in that some people can be cruel and judgmental, which would give reason for social anxiety and avoiding people. But where Fin is wrong, is that not all people are like that. Joe and Olivia aren’t. But Fin doesn’t realize this, so he goes back to his original mindset of separating from all people because that’s the only way he can be safe and not get his feelings hurt.

FIN

Olivia.

OLIVIA

Go away.

FIN

Are you okay?

OLIVIA

I don’t want you here, Fin. Go away.

FIN

Please, Olivia, just…

OLIVIA

Look… I’m not your fucking girlfriend or your mother, all right?

FIN

I know that… Are you all right?

OLIVIA

You’re not a child! Get off the fucking porch, and leave me alone!

When Fin sees Olivia in trouble, he decides one last time to reach out and help her, but she drives him away, crushing his feelings. Fin feels depressed, so he goes back to the bar and gets drunk. After feeling like everyone there is staring at him and making fun of his size, he stands on a stool to make a scene.

While some people at the bar were looking at Fin, not everyone was. But social anxiety makes us feel like everyone is judging us negatively, even though they may not be. Lots of people in the bar weren’t even paying attention to Fin, and even those who were may not have been doing so in a malicious way.

Olivia then apologizes to Fin, telling him how she misses her son so much. Fin comes to realize how kind and compassionate she and Joe have been. By opening himself up to them, Fin was rewarded with true friends.

Fin then gets the courage to accept Cleo’s, (Raven Goodwin) a young girl who hangs out the train depot, request to speak to her class. At first, Fin’s biggest fear comes true, when one kid makes fun of his height, but the rest of the class just accepts him as he is, and he goes on to talk about trains and blimps.

This scene conveys the major theme of the movie. Social anxiety does make sense sometimes. Social isolation can protect us from negative judgement and being made fun of. These fears and beliefs aren’t completely unwarranted as we see in the film. Sometimes we will get hurt. Some people are jerks, like Emily’s boyfriend or the boy in Cleo’s class. But not all people are like that. If we give into social anxiety and completely isolate from society, then we’ll never have the opportunity to meet the truly compassionate people out there, like Fin did with Olivia and Joe.

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One thought on “Social Anxiety in Movies: The Station Agent

  1. Pingback: Social Anxiety in Movies | Tim Barry Jr.

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