Feminist Flicks

The Girl on the Train (2016)

I can’t just be a wife anymore

The Girl on the Train - A Feminist Review
Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train. Image from IMDB.

Since being released as a novel in early 2015, The Girl on the Train has used Gone Girl’s popularity to market itself. And while it might not be fair to compare the two, they have created this problem for themselves. Girl on the Train is a generally less compelling and less suspenseful Gone Girl. While it is a good movie, had I been able to separate from Gillian Flynn’s work of genius it ultimately would have been more enjoyable.

The Girl on the Train is a study in unreliable narrators, told primarily from the point of view of Rachel (Emily Blunt). Rachel is a compulsive liar with a tendency to get blackout drunk, not common traits in most protagonists (especially female protagonists). Because of this, you can never really be sure if Rachel is telling the audience the truth. The film also focuses on two other women, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Megan (Haley Bennett). Megan is married to Rachel’s ex husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and Anna is their nanny. When Anna goes missing, Rachel who thinks she knows Anna having watched her every day from the train, feels like she can help the case. However, as she delves deeper into the lives of everyone surrounding Anna, Rachel and the viewers only become less certain of who is involved with her disappearance and to what degree.

Throughout Girl on the Train, you certainly feel tense but the big reveal of what truly happened to Anna does not feel like as shocking as it should. The person responsible seemed off the entire movie and that may due to poor casting choices or poor direction or poor screenwriting, but it certainly makes the movie less enjoyable.

From a feminist front though, this movie is cool as hell. All of the women are multi-faceted and flawed. There is so often a need within Hollywood for women to be seen as perfect. They have to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect person. No one in Girl on the Train, let alone the women, fit this mould. Rachel, Megan and Anna are all unreliable narrators. They all lie not only to the audience, but to the people in their lives and to themselves. Rachel’s behaviours especially are destructive. She is not likeable, which makes her a infinitely more interesting character. Emily Blunt spoke on this in an interview with Bustle saying, "There's a desire for [women] to be likable. Hollywood wants women to be pretty and witty and supportive and good, and these women are flawed and they're doing bad things"

Girl on the Train passes the Bechdel Test multiple times throughout. There are at least six named female characters in the film, who on more than one occasion have a conversation about something other than a man. The women talk about their lives, their children, their alcoholism and each other. Along with the Bechdel Test, Girl on the Train also passes the Mako Mori Test of having a female with a narrative arc that doesn’t support a man’s story. All three of the women have narrative arcs that revolve around them and not the men in their lives. If anything, Girl on the Train is about them breaking free of these men.

While not the most compelling thriller of the last couple of years, Girl on the Train is a thoughtful look at emotional abuse.

Spoiler Warning (Hover here to show spoilers)

Throughout her marriage with Tom, Rachel had been gaslighted, an abusive tactic in which the abuser makes the abused question their own memories and perception of reality. Tom used Rachel’s alcoholism to convince her that she had cost him his job or the she had broken objects within their home. By doing this, he convinced Rachel that she was to blame for everything wrong in their marriage and their lives. Emotional abuse is hard to portray in media and is often overlooked, but Girl on the Train really hits the nail on the head.

Overall, Girl on the Train is a solid movie and worth seeing if only for it’s portrayal of women. We need more female characters like Rachel. We need more women that aren’t likeable, women who are unapologetically flawed, women who don’t necessarily end up becoming a good person by the end of the film. Girl on the Train gives us that.