“The Girl On the Train”

 

            Reading the book beforehand always sets you up for disappointment, because in a book, the inner thought process of the characters can be so much better developed.  A movie forces the viewer to deduce that from the behavior, short of resorting to distracting voiceovers.  And it's the inner thought process of the main character, Rachel, that's so compelling in the book.  Her life is a hot mess, but she's resilient, even ebullient, at times, almost brimming with optimism and cheeky savvy, despite her negative experiences.  It makes you want to root for her.  In the movie, though, we see Emily Blunt making long faces out a train window and somehow her character just seems sad and pathetic.

            Rachel (Emily Blunt) takes the train into Manhattan every day.  She's always looking out the window, and is particularly interested in neighborhoods that are close to the train tracks.  She loves “looking in” on the people, in their yards or sometimes even through their windows, and imagining what their lives are like.  She amuses herself by making up her own stories about some of the people she sees.  There's one particular neighborhood that interests her more than others:  the place where she used to live, with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux).  She remembers that they were happy together, until they wanted children, and found out they couldn't have any, and the depression started.  She started drinking, he left her for another woman, and now he lives in that same house with her, along with the baby she couldn't have.  Rachel just can't help herself---sometimes she gets off the train and walks past the house, just to imagine herself there, happily raising a family.  And now her drinking is spiraling out of control.

            But there's another couple, on the same street, that Rachel has enjoyed viewing out her window.  They seem so loving, cuddling on the back porch together.  Rachel imagines that they just have the perfect marriage, and looks forward to the chance every day of catching another glimpse of them together out her window.  But one day she catches a different kind of glimpse, that truly alarms her:  she's kissing a man on the back porch, but it's not her husband.

            What follows is a kind of a jumbled mess, like Rachel's life is.  Different characters narrate, and the time sequence slips around, and Rachel has a blackout episode where the details come back to her only piecemeal, but it turns out that what may have happened to her that night is critically important.

            Emily Blunt gives a virtuoso performance in this film.  Might even be Oscar-nomination-worthy.  Though there's some nudity and sexuality, it's not really erotic so much as neurotic, as the scenes usually serve to demonstrate distraught emotion in the characters: a kind of naked vulnerability.  There's some colorful language and alcohol abuse, too, but nobody is really having very much fun here.  It's all kind of creepy/suspenseful, until the underlying violence becomes clearer to the viewer as well as the characters.  It's not sunshine and lollipops and rainbows.  But it's a well-made tale of young adult urban angst.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever watched people out your window (bus, train, automobile, whatever) and imagined what their lives were like?

2)                  Have you ever had too much to drink because you were “drowning your sorrows”?

3)                  Have you ever been surprised by somebody's basic nature being quite different from first impression?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association