Have you ever been at a restaurant or coffee shop and taken a moment to observe the people around you? Do you wonder what they are working on? What's their home look like? Have they ever been in love? People-watching comes naturally to us. It is human nature; it's how we learn what behaviors are acceptable, how certain actions can provoke certain responses, and gives us the opportunity to scrutinize without being scrutinized in return.
Have you ever considered actually entering that other person's life? Exposing yourself and your preconceived ideas of who they are, and possibly changing the course of both of your lives? In a Rear Window-esque turn on the common commute, The Girl on the Train takes intrusive people-watching to an entirely shocking level. A thriller based on the novel by Paula Hawkins, the film stars Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, and Rebecca Ferguson as the three leading voices of the story. It will be in theaters October 7.
The Girl on the Train intersects the lives of three women who are bound by violent men, dysfunction, and deceit. It is not necessarily the story that prompts us to explore whether it is based on true events, but the characters themselves. These women are essentially a cross-section of gender role expectations, and how we are rewarded for conforming, and punished for failing to conform.
The primary narrative voice is that of Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt): she is a neurotic, divorced alcoholic who endures a daily train commute in order to hide the fact that she was fired from her job. Her inability to conceive a child resulted in crushing depression, which led to drowning herself in alcohol, which led to her divorce. She is a failure: she has failed to accomplish a single thing that she was raised to believe gives her any value whatsoever.
Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson) is the woman who was able to give Tom, Rachel's ex-husband, everything he wanted: a beautiful, functioning, fertile wife. Anna has achieved all that Rachel failed, and she loves her life. She absolutely relishes being all that Rachel is not, and the only thing keeping her existence from true perfection is the fact that Rachel is still very much a part of her marriage. She lives in the home Tom and Rachel bought together, and is plagued by Rachel's obsessive and terroristic behavior.
Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives down the street from Anna and Tom, and is married to Scott. Anna's (formerly Rachel's) and Megan's houses back up to the commuter rail line. Every day on her pretend way to and from work, Rachel snatches glimpses of the life of Megan and Scott. From her view on the train, Rachel imagines Megan's and Scott's relationship as ideal: the perfect balance of romance and companionship.
Megan's reality is far from Rachel's perceived fairytale. She is an unemployed sex addict, battling her compulsions while struggling with mental illness and an aggressive husband who is oblivious to the tragedy of her past, and is pressuring her to start a family. When Megan disappears, the delicate facades Anna and Rachel have been maintaining come crashing down.
Rachel, Anna, and Megan are complex and realistic characters. Their day-to-day challenges are things real women face. Their hopes, dreams, fears, and joys are all completely relatable. The Girl on the Train gives us opportunities to love each of these characters, and to hate them at other times. We can see ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones in these women.
They could also easily be imagined among those we people-watch. Whether it is when we are out walking our dogs, or in line at the grocery store, or sitting in traffic, the characters in The Girl on the Train fit with ease as extras in our own individual realities. The story very naturally bridges the gap between our internal thoughts and what is happening in the physical world around us.
The fact that these characters are eventually caught up in a reality-TV-murder-porn type of situation further lends to the possibility that The Girl on the Train may be a true story. The events that unfold are in themselves unusual, but everything leading up to them consists of the seemingly mundane reality of a lot of women in western society. Seeing other people gloriously fail or succeed at struggles similar to ours is always fascinating.
Reality television is a roaring success for a reason: we are a society of voyeurs. The Girl on the Train is an excellent story, and the reason we are willing to believe it is a true story is because we want it to be.
Perhaps it helps us feel like we have more control over our own lives, and serves as a lesson or a warning. Maybe we like to indulge in the train wrecks (pun intended, of course) of others' lives. We find satisfaction in knowing that no matter how difficult of a day we are having, at least we aren't making the horrifying mistakes the women in this story are making. Maybe we ARE making those mistakes, and seeing them portrayed by someone other than ourselves is a relief, or a validation.
Regardless of the specific reasons or motivations for wanting to believe it is a true story, The Girl on the Train connects us to humanity in ways that are interesting and believable. It simultaneously removes us from our own worries, if only for a couple hours, and if there is any better definition of a good movie, I don't know what it is.
Images taken from thegirlonthetrainmovie.com