The Girl on the Train is the story of Rachel Watson's life post-divorce. Every day, she takes the train in to work in New York, and every day the train passes by her old house. The house she lived in with her husband, who still lives there, with his new wife and child. As she attempts to not focus on her pain, she starts watching a couple who live a few houses down -- Megan and Scott Hipwell. She creates a wonderful dream life for them in her head, about how they are a perfect happy family. And then one day, as the train passes, she sees something shocking, filling her with rage. The next day, she wakes up with a horrible hangover, various wounds and bruises, and no memory of the night before. She has only a feeling: something bad happened. Then come the TV reports: Megan Hipwell is missing. Rachel becomes invested in the case and trying to find out what happened to Megan, where she is, and what exactly she herself was up to that same night Megan went missing.
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My husband used to tell me I have an overactive imagination. I can't help it. I mean, haven't you ever been on a train and wondered about the lives of the people who live near the tracks? The lives you've never lived. These are things I want to know. Twice a day, I sit in the third car from the front where I have the perfect view into my favorite house: Number 15, Beckette Road.
[Rachel sees a woman on her back porch in the morning]
I don't know when exactly, I suppose I ...
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a female-driven thriller with a spectacular finale of feminine vengeance
What could you do with the power to create another person's memories? Perhaps make them remember you as always wonderful or themselves as always hopeless. This unusual premise runs through The Girl on the Train (2016), its plausibility resting on the victim being in such an alcoholic haze that their regular blackouts become blank mental spaces to be filled with memories chosen by someone close. This twisted relationship between memory and truth filters the story in ways that produce a novel viewpoint in a traditional thriller.
Rachel's alcoholism started when IVF failed and it eventually ended her dream marriage. She lives off her alimony and spends her time as a train passenger voyeur who watches other people in fantasy worlds while she sips vodka out of a sports bottle. Every day she rides past her former neighbourhood just gazing out windows and she becomes fixated on a couple that appear to have everything. When she notices a new man on the scene she is driven compulsively to explore what happened. In the process, we become witness to a triple set of simmering relationships that turn dangerous when a babysitter's body is found gruesomely buried nearby. Rachel is implicated when, unable to account for her whereabouts, she becomes a murder suspect.
Constant inebriation makes an unreliable narrator and Rachel's hold on reality regularly dissolves while frequent flashbacks create disorientation amidst the detail of who is being unfaithful or untruthful with whom. The narrative structure is both complex and well-constructed. It is like a jigsaw puzzle being assembled by first laying out the most distant pieces in isolation, then randomly laying out more on the board's periphery. All the time we are uncertain whether Rachel is sane or sozzled as, one by one, clues about what happened on the night of the murder are laid out with surgical precision in the finest tradition of a Hitchcock thriller.
Emily Blunt's performance drives this film despite the incongruity of her unexplained Britishness in America. A drunk narrator does not readily earn audience sympathy, but Rachel's pained eyes and mournfulness are engaging. The soundtrack adds a psychological thriller edge to a well-paced tale despite Rachel's permanent introspection. While the film has a strong support cast, no other character is developed beyond a two-dimensional persona in what is a female-driven story with a spectacular finale of feminine vengeance. The last piece of the jigsaw drops in with a satisfying thud.
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