Movie meets the expectations of thriller book

Photo provided by Jenn Amaro

Movie poster of The Girl On The Train.

When a reader picks up a book and can’t put it down, the movie adaptation needs to meet high expectations.  In the case of The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins, the film was released under two years after the book came out.

When contrasting the book and the movie, it is apparent the director of the movie, Tate Taylor, wanted to stay close to the novel and bring the author’s ideas to screen.

By analyzing the storyline, the narration, the characters and the setting, it becomes apparent Taylor captured every aspect the novel offers.

The most important thing the movie does is stay true to the storyline.  The novel is about Rachel, a downward spiralling alcoholic reliving her former life with her adulterous ex-husband, Tom.  Rachel yearns to go back to the days before she found out about his affair.  She fantasizes about a ‘perfect’ couple she views from the train.   They live in a house near Rachel’s former home.  The woman in the couple is one of the other narrators in the novel, Megan.

The Girl on the Train is narrated by three women: Rachel, Anna and Megan. The narration jumps between these three women, and from past to present time.  While reading the novel, it takes a few transitions between the characters and the time frame to get used to what Hawkins is trying to portray.  But the reader adapts to the flow, and while the switches become the norm, they slow the pace of the book.

In contrast, Taylor captured these transitions in his film without confusing the viewer. Seeing physical characters on screen, it is easy to follow the swapping around between narrators as well as time.  The viewer needs to pay attention to the dates on screen, but it is not confusing. With these transitions, the two-hour movie is fast paced. In contrast, the book albeit is gripping, feels like a long read.

The plot accelerates when Rachel sees Megan with a man other than her husband. The torture Rachel felt when her husband cheated on her stirs within her.  The story follows Rachel who becomes tied in with the murder of Megan.  Rachel knows she was in Megan’s neighbourhood that night, angry with Megan for cheating on her husband.  But Rachel, suffering from her drinking blackouts, tries to figure out exactly what happened the night of Megan’s death, and whether or not Rachel was involved.

The movie followed the book’s story line essentially scene by scene.  The only major difference is the scene when Rachel begins to figure out the psychological twist of the story.  In the book, a psychiatrist tells Rachel to use her senses, such as touch and smells, that would help her recall what happens on the nights she can’t remember.  When Rachel narrates the novel, she tells the reader everything she is thinking.  This would have been difficult to display in the movie, so the scene is altered.  In the movie, another character reveals a hint to Rachel, which helps Rachel piece together the missing parts of her blackouts. The movie then recreates previous scenes to show the audience what Rachel recalls from her blackouts.

Taylor also adds one extra scene to the movie. Reading the novel, Rachel’s thoughts make it clear she is nearing a psychological breaking point. In the movie, a scene showing Rachel’s violent breakdown in a bathroom is added.

In the movie, Rachel, Anna and Megan are similar to their description in the novel.  The main difference is Rachel’s appearance.  In the book, she is described as a woman who has put on weight since her divorce.  In the movie, Rachel is played by Emily Blunt, a very thin actress.

According to an interview with IMDb, Blunt did a great deal of research into addiction to get into the character of Rachel. Taylor said during an interview with Entertainment Tonight, there were other ways to display a woman who has let herself go, and that does not necessarily have to do with weight.  Instead of Blunt needing to gain weight for the role, Blunt had swollen, red eyes, untamed hair and old clothing, to reflect a woman who no longer cares about her appearance. For an attractive woman, Blunt looked run down and unattractive for the scenes which portrayed Rachel’s lowest point.

Anna, played by Rebecca Ferguson, is Rachel’s ex-husband’s mistress. Rachel’s ex later marries Anna and they have a baby.  Anna’s character is also close to what is portrayed in the book.  From the novel’s description Anna is a beautiful blond.  In the movie, Ferguson fits the book’s description of a blond mistress.

Megan, the woman Rachel daydreams about, is supposed to look similar to
Anna.  This is vital to the storyline.  Haley Bennet, plays Megan and Ferguson, who plays Anna, have similar features. This makes it easy for the viewer to mistake one for the other.  Both actresses capture the characters Hawkins described in the novel.

One difference between the movie and book is the setting.  The book is set in London, England, where it is cloudy and rainy.  The location mirrors Rachel’s gloomy, downward spiral.

However, Taylor decided to shoot the movie in Manhattan.  While this does not change the storyline, it is a bit of a shock. Rainy scenes in New York illustrate Rachel’s depression and do not take anything away from the film.

A dark and gripping story can be difficult to capture on screen.  But through Hawkins’ detailed description in the novel, Taylor was able to bring her thoughts of the storyline, narration, characters and setting into physical form. The novel has readers turning pages and the movie has viewers feeling anxious from the first page of the book to the last minute of the film.

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Jenn Amaro is a second year journalism student at Durham College. She is the Op-Ed editor for The Chronicle, Durham College's newspaper. She enjoys covering community events and hard news. Her favourite hobby is photography.