Does "The Station Agent" Have a Plot? What About a Hero?
April 18, 2019 at 7:21 pm #1382
We spent a good portion of class last week prefacing The Station Agent as a movie that lacked a plot. After watching the film, I disagree with that sentiment. In my opinion, if I can watch a movie or read a book or any other type of media, and at the end I can recap in chronological order the events that occurred in the narrative and their significance, then I would say that that story had a plot. While The Station Agent definitely didn’t have much action or adventure, it still told a story and hit on all of the elements of a literary plot.
In the exposition, we are introduced to Fin. We get to know the setting and who he: a guy who really loves trains, but who is also constantly ridiculed by those around him because of his dwarfism. Following his friend’s unexpected death, Fin inherits some land in a more remote part of the state. He decides to pack up and move out there to live away from the people who mock and judge him. Not long after he moves into the depot, he meets Joe and Olivia. The trio starts to interact more and more and friendships develop, thus giving us the beginning of our rising action. Eventually, conflicts begin to arise as Olivia’s husband shows up unannounced and Olivia, now knowing that he has cheated on her and gotten his mistress pregnant, withdraws and sinks into a serious depressive state. Fights between Fin and Olivia and Fin and Joe cause the trio to essentially go their separate ways. The climax occurs when Fin gets drunk at the pub and, feeling paranoid that all eyes are on him, makes a scene, shouts at everyone, and then drunkenly stumbles home where he passes out on the train tracks as a trains heads toward him. Thankfully, Fin wakes up unharmed, thus starting the falling action sequence as he tries to make up with Olivia, who has attempted suicide but was brought to the hospital by Fin, and finds the courage to go to Cleo’s school to give a talk on trains. In the final scene, Fin, Joe, and Olivia are eating dinner together, rekindling their friendships, thus resolving the story.
To me, this feels like a plot. The movie tells a story that hits on all of the traditional elements and we we can go back and recount the events and how they were significant. The characters in a film usually need motivation for their actions and I feel as though each character has a clear motivation: Olivia wants to move on from the loss of her son, Joe wants a friend who is a good person and who has interests that they can share, and Fin, though at first we are led to believe he seeks isolation, he wants to feel like part of a community rather than a social outcast. By the end of the film, I feel like each of these motivations are fulfilled in one way or another.
My questions for you all: Do you agree that the movie has a plot, or do you feel as though it lacks crucial elements that would define its plot further? If you still feel like the movie is plot-less, why and do you feel as though a movie needs a plot to be worth watching?
My last question that I haven’t address above, but that I’d like to discuss on Monday: Does this movie have a hero? Fin saves Olivia when she attempts suicide, was that heroic or just a fortunate coincidence of timing? Henry’s passing in the very beginning is what catalyzes this journey for Fin, does that make Henry a savior-figure, in which the end of his life saves the lives of others? Do you think that someone else is the hero? What about multiple heroes? Is there no hero at all?
I look forward to hearing your perspectives on Monday 🙂April 20, 2019 at 2:09 pm #1383
I do agree that The Station Agent has plot elements and is a movie with a plot. I think one reason that it may be considered as lacking a plot is that the conflicts are predominantly internal. Each of the central characters struggle internally rather than some opposing force which must be overcome. I also think, the fact that the central characters are all represented as minority figures (widowed woman, Hispanic, dwarf, black girl) suggests that not all victories involve saving the world; sometimes learning how to cope with loss, indifference, and cruelty is victory enough. As to the hero role, I would suggest that each of the three central characters possess heroic qualities, again reminding us, or at least suggesting, that we are all heroes of our own stories. Fin demonstrates courage when facing Emily’s boyfriend in the bar parking lot and he certainly acts noble and dignified in the face of daily abuses, for simply being a dwarf (we see him in the supermarket, outside his home with the two men at the food truck, the candid picture that was taken by the store clerk, etc.). Joe exhibits a tenacity and loyalty, not only to his two friends, but to his father as well. Working at the food truck for his father while he is sick, for at least six weeks, in the middle of nowhere, is an act of selflessness. He also defends Fin, who he barely knows at the time, to two customers he appears to be at least acquainted with. Olivia, demonstrates the least in terms of outward heroic qualities; it is clear that she is a good person but her struggle to deal with her loss appears to be the foremost conflict for her. It’s as you said, “each character has a clear motivation.” I would even argue that the ‘hero journey’ begins in different points for each character, implying that heroism is continual, complex, and interrelated rather than neat set of contrived plot devices made to order. For Fin, as you stated, he was pushed into the ‘unknown world’ by the death of his friend. Olivia was forced out of her isolation and stagnant mourning by the arrival of Fin and the tenacity of Joe. And Joe, is rewarded for his selfless act of love and duty by the arrival of Fin as well. The plot is a reminder that life is about relationships and when relationships are removed, in whatever way, we struggle. Each character has been deprived or stripped of a dependent relationship and the only resolve to that very mundane and ordinary conflict is to establish new relationships.April 22, 2019 at 2:24 pm #1387
I think the discrepancy comes from the definition of plot. By your definition, Nicholas, then yes, I’d say The Station Agent is a film with a plot. For me, I consider plot to be the external events that push the story forward and incite the change in the characters. So, by my definition, I have difficulties considering this as a movie with a plot. External events occur, but the character growth doesn’t directly come from these events (expect maybe Olivia’s suicide attempt). To me, this film felt more like thinly veiled reality. It was as if I was watching someone’s daily life pass by and they had no idea. With barely any extremely charged dramatic moments that would constitute plot for me, my relationship to the film was not one of intense investment to the events, but rather the characters themselves. So I do think there’s value in stories with no plot, but in these scenarios, the stakes are raised and it’s even more crucial for the writer to nail the characterizations. As for the hero figure of the story, I agree all of the characters have heroic traits and complete heroic acts. Nevertheless, with no explicit plot, I have difficulty calling any of them heroes in the traditional sense. I think I’d have to agree with Alison here. Watching this film that felt like watching someone’s life pass by reinforces the idea that we are all the heroes of our own stories. It’s a message I’m happy to get behind and, personally, I think adds to the film’s message. The Station Agent is more complex than I first gave it credit for, so thanks for asking some really thought-provoking questions!
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