The Girl on the Train is based on the 2015 book of the same name, written by Paula Hawkins. The book was one hell of a debut, and it made one hell of a movie by extension. The events that take place can really happen, which is the scariest aspect of the story itself. The movie was released in 2016, starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, and Justin Theroux.
I read the book and saw the movie. I’ll be honest, I liked the book a little better. I did like the movie, but I found it changed a certain tone when they set the film in New York over the book’s setting of London. Not to mention the book offered the perspectives of Anna and Megan in addition to Rachel, while the film primarily focuses on Rachel’s perception of the ensuing events. Nevertheless, the film managed to capture the main points, and I think the film is worth seeing more than once. It’s already four years old, but it hasn’t lost its certain charms.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a divorced alcoholic that rides the train day after day, watching people through the windows as she passes by. She grows quite accustomed to this tradition of hers. Her observational skills come in handy when she identifies her former neighbor, Megan (Haley Bennett) kissing a man that is not her husband. Infuriated, Rachel decides to confront her. The next thing she knows, she’s covered in blood, and Megan has disappeared.
The sets off the mystery, as Rachel tries to connect the dots and help with the investigation, though sometimes it looks like she’s creating her own drama or is otherwise providing obstacles for everyone else involved. However, her intentions are genuine, and soon she finds that she needs to know the answers she seeks, more so for herself than anything else. Given that she’s an alcoholic, Rachel suffers from blackouts and, as a result, has no memory of what’s happened.
Her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) had previously convinced Rachel that she engaged in ludicrous behavior that was both self-destructive and embarrassing while drunk, though she has no memory of such events.
In any case, as Rachel unravels the mystery, she finds that the killer is a little too close to home, and that Megan harbored some dark secrets. Rachel finds an unlikely ally in Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and becomes a better person after their tragic experience of fighting off the man they both loved at some point. She, Anna, and Megan now share a special connection, which Rachel also shares at the film’s conclusion.
One of the things that fascinated me most was the train and how Rachel seemed to make that train ride her daily purpose. She’d look forward to boarding the train and subsequently people-watching. Her observational skills certainly come in handy, though it takes her a while to get things straight.
Rachel makes up little scenarios in her head to entertain herself. She was jealous of Megan’s seemingly perfect life with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans), though the truth is that real happiness was far from their reach. Megan had a complicated and tragic past, and she could never quite escape it, resulting in her past interfering with her present, which ultimately got her killed. It’s almost as though Megan needed chaos in her life to function in any way, which explains her multiple affairs.
Rachel watching people from the train gives her the opportunity to escape from her life, just as taking the train does. Rachel’s not necessarily headed anywhere, given she lost her job, but taking the train makes her life not seem so aimless from both her perspective and the audience’s.
Sometimes we all need an escape from reality, and even something as simple as taking the train can do that. Something about the movement can be soothing, or even just going somewhere gives you a sense of purpose, perhaps even accomplishment. It makes you feel like you’re out in the world doing something, even if you’re technically not going to do anything.
Rachel’s concoctions of life for the people she watches is interesting, but it’s also relatable. People-watching is self-entertainment any day. You can imagine outrageous situations given certain contexts. You can envy or admire others. The options are limitless. It seems to give her comfort, or at least something else to focus on.
The train is like a mystery in that way. Despite going to the same place, or places, the train carries an air of mystery because you’re traveling alongside passengers you don’t know. So many stories, so many secrets, in one place. The same thing goes for the people on the outside that Rachel passes by daily. Sometimes you know them better than everyone else, and sometimes you only know them based on the stories you’ve fabricated of them. The train itself matches the theme of mystery in the film overall. Though I haven’t ridden on a train in years, I remember my first ride and how fascinating I found the train and the people around me to be, wondering about everything, and yet realizing I’d never know everyone’s life stories and that the ride would end.
On the outside looking in, Rachel looks insane. She’s blacking out and she nearly kidnapped a child. According to Anna, Rachel’s always bugging Tom and it’s beyond inappropriate. Anna frequently tries to get Tom to cut Rachel loose once and for all, but he continuously cuts Rachel a break, seemingly out of guilt.
The thing is, once you know who Rachel is, everything makes sense and she becomes a character that you sympathize with. Her pain stems from her inability to have children, which led to her becoming an alcoholic, which in turn destroyed her marriage and got her fired from her job. She didn’t know how to deal with that pain and turned to a substance to numb herself of that pain. It’s not uncommon, but Rachel’s a perfect example of how letting let substance abuse go too far destroys just about every aspect of your life, only worsening your pain.
Rachel never intended to hurt Tom and Anna’s daughter. She just wanted to hold her. She wants a child so badly, and the fact that her ex-husband got a child and she didn’t is undoubtedly agonizing for Rachel. Tom cheated on her with Anna, and got a happy life. Or so it seems.
Rachel’s a good person. She does want to do the right thing, which is why she turns herself into a private investigator, getting close to Megan’s husband Scott, as well as her doctor, to find out more about Megan. She lies to do so, which is wrong, but it comes from good intentions. She may be an unreliable narrator for the majority of the film, given she remembers nothing, but when her memory does come back in bits and pieces, she puts it to good use.
It looks like Rachel suffers from self-destructive tendencies, and in a way she does via alcoholism. However, Tom has planted false memories in her head, leading her to believe she turns into a monster when she’s drunk, which is why Tom was fired from his job. Rachel runs into Tom’s former boss on the train, who tells her that Rachel did nothing wrong—it was Tom who caused his own firing, given that he’d slept with so many of his co-workers.
Rachel comes to find that Tom blamed her for things that either never happened or were not her fault, and she finds comfort in that. Tom is the monster. He tries to kill Rachel—he even throws a drink in her face when she was newly sober, trying to intimidate her—but Rachel, now trusting her own memories and having more confidence in herself, doesn’t back down.
It’s a miracle Rachel survived her marriage to Tom, considering what he was capable of, and what he ended up doing to Megan.
What I love most about Rachel is that she’s the leader, showing the audience the way to uncover the truth. She’s not sure herself, and the audience shares that uncertainty until the fog lifts and things begin to make sense, ending the guessing game and providing a solution. Emily Blunt does a remarkable job of playing the uncertain and often tousled Rachel, her portrayal convincing and not too rushed or cliché. Rachel struggles so much but also find solace and peace, allowing her to become free and to stop drinking altogether and to get the happy ending she deserved.
The Bond Of The Sisterhood
Anna realizes just how dangerous her husband is after conducting her own investigation and actually helps Rachel kill him. The two do so in self-defense. However, while Rachel merely stabs Tom in the neck with the corkscrew to defend herself, Anna is the one to drive the corkscrew in deeper, ensuring Tom’s death, likely to protect herself and her daughter.
Rachel and Anna share a history, considering Anna was the “other woman” while Rachel was still married to Tom, but they never had a bond. They had more of an animosity, which is understandable given the circumstances. However, their bond is one of understanding, and they are there for one another when they unite against Tom, taking down a real threat in the process. Tom killed Megan, and Rachel and Anna helped bring her justice. As Rachel says, the three women are tied together forever, “bound forever by the story we shared.”
When it comes to life and death, people’s true colors show. It can be bad, good, or in-between. In the cases of Rachel and Anna, they stood up for one another and saved one another’s lives. It’s something they will always share, and though they may not end up as best friends, they’ll share an unbreakable bond from their experience.