Last week I went and saw The Girl On The Train following it’s hype as the “next Gone Girl” (a book I really enjoyed). Before entering the cinema, I had not read the book that The Girl is adapted from, so I really had no idea what I was in for apart from the aforementioned comparison to Gone Girl.
This review contains spoilers.
The Girl started off strong, it had me hooked on the lives of the three central women: Rachel, Megan and Anna. First we’re introduced to Rachel, an alcoholic who appears to be violent when drunk and often blacks out. Rachel used to be married to Tom, who is now with Anna and their baby Evie. Megan is Anna’s neighbour, who Rachel obsessively watches from the train, envious of her apparent blissful love life. Megan is also having an affair with Tom.
I liked the way the timeline of the film was sort of scattered, reflecting the way Rachel’s alcoholic memory was functioning. Alex Vause’s cameo was also a nice surprise. Who knew she’d spend her limited time outside of prison being a much too gracious host to Rachel??
With the development of the three main characters, it became very apparent that babies, and the capacity to both want them and have them was central to each character’s storyline. Rachel was an alcoholic because she couldn’t have a baby, Megan didn’t want a baby because she’d faced the death of her infant daughter years earlier and Anna loved her baby, but not so much caring for it. While these are valid human experiences, I couldn’t help but internally groan at how it seemed to feed off the overdone rhetoric that all women want children, want to reproduce and cannot function if they fall outside of that ability or desire. I guess it just felt so forced, so one dimensional, that I failed to engage with their baby-centred stories.
The plot really takes off when Megan goes missing. Rachel is an obvious set up for her murder – too obvious, so you know it can’t be her. Then the film goes into the classic who-done-it formula, throwing possible suspects at us left, right and centre.
Until we finally got to the plot twist.
Serious spoilers ahead, guys.
Ahh the plot twist. While I will say it took me by surprise, it wasn’t the type of plot twist that ‘nek levels’ the storyline. No, it stayed within a far too familiar context.
Turned out the man at the centre of these three women’s lives was the true violent presence in the film: Tom. He was an emotionally, psychologically and physically abusive man and he murdered Megan. While this revelation left me underwhelmed, I was still optimistic about where the storyline could go. And then I was immediately crushed.
The film could have taken this opportunity to expose his domestic abuse in a way that respected the survivors and highlighted the very real dangers that victims of domestic violence go through. It could have shown that perpetrators of domestic violence are unaccepted by society at large and that there are lawful consequences to their acts – they are accountable.
However, this is not what it did. Instead, it reveals that Tom had in fact murdered Megan and then goes to show said murder in a grotesque and objectifying way. As Tom violently attacks her through brutal force and malicious repetitive attacks, the focus emphasises his power over her. Through being so graphic, the scene took away any ability to have empathy for Megan, forcing you to instead focus on the gore of the act. I found myself wincing in the cinema, and I wasn’t alone. I could hear several other people audibly gasp in horror.
Following this revelation, sobered up Rachel then goes to Tom’s house to confront what she now realises: that she was never the abusive violent drunk, he was the abusive violent man who manipulated her to believe she was the one at fault. As she attempts to confront him (with Anna and Evie present in the room) Tom physically assaults her and tries to manipulate her into drinking alcohol. Again, the level of violence shown here was not respectful towards the character and highlighted his power over her and everyone else in the room.
Tom’s eventual murder was the final plot point that made me completely lose interest in The Girl. Yes, it was in an act of self defence, but again – the level of violence just wasn’t called for. After Rachel accidentally stabs him with a wine opener in the neck, Anna leans over his dying body and proceeds to screw the wine opener deeper into his throat. Just like how the women’s storylines so obviously revolved around reproduction, the intentions for this scene were so obvious that they were laughable.
This scene was supposed to make the audience feel satisfied, as if the women gained justice through revenge. Justice and revenge do not go hand-in-hand, they are two separate things. I would argue that by using revenge instead of justice, the film reinforces the idea that revenge is more plausible than justice – which is a problematic reflection of rape culture in our society.
Revenge also forms the idea that this was a conflict between individuals and resolved between individuals. This inadvertently removes the context of rape culture from a story that in fact falls within rape culture. Having justice would have acknowledged this context, and could have even overcome it by making Tom’s actions accountable by law and seeing him rot in prison for the rest of his life. Revenge only serves to continue the behind-closed-doors ways that domestic abuse is dealt with. Considering we live in a world where known abusive men, such as Woody Allen, Jonny Depp and Brock Turner are not held accountable for their actions, it’s so vitally important for stories to create a space for justice.
In the closing scene where Anna and Rachel explain Tom’s murder was self defence, Anna makes a strange comment about Rachel being “right about everything” and being “right about Megan”. This choice of words baffled me. “Right”? Is that what this whole thing was about? Rachel being right? Because it seemed like it was actually about three women who experienced abuse from a violent man. She could have at least said Rachel was right about Tom, why Megan? Even in her death is she still being treated as the ‘whore’? That statement just didn’t sit right with me. Finally, the closing scene with ‘renewed Rachel’ on a train was so damn corny I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
Overall, the film had a solid start and a lot of potential but it took that potential and went somewhere where I could not follow. And no, it was nothing like Gone Girl.