If you thought Gone Girl was a trip, wait until you see The Girl On The Train. It will have you not only tripping, but stumbling to conclusions unfathomable unless you place yourself in the mindset of a pathological sadist. Though you probably will not remember this film after a week, it does have its highlights that will boggle your mind and provoke you to piece together clues throughout. I cannot vouch for Paula Hawkins’ original novel nor can I begin to imagine how confusing and twisted it must be, based on the filmic adaptation. You will read indifferent reviews of The Girl on the Train, pointing to its strongest suit, scopophilia, but I wish to delve deeper into the functions of this act of looking and why scopophilia can actually be a good thing–as shocking as that may sound.
The movie starts with what the title implies, a girl on a train. A drunken mess, Rachel (Emily Blunt) on the way to work (so we think) looks out the same car window every morning and night, passing a house a few doors down from where she used to live with her husband Tom (Justin Theroux). A girl who lives in this house, Megan (Haley Bennett), walks out on the balcony each morning. As time goes by, Megan becomes important to Rachel through her observations each day. Sometimes she is alone in lingerie, stretching. At others Megan is with her with husband, Scott (Luke Evans). From the looks of it, Megan is everything Rachel used to be: happy. One day Rachel sees Megan with another man, muddling up memories of her own past, how Tom cheated and left her for another woman, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom is now married to Anna, whose babysitter, Megan, is soon killed. The film later turns into a murder mystery and a mind-boggling journey for Rachel, who, in the end, isn’t as crazy as you think she is. But behind closed doors lies a completely different story than the one presented by the exterior.
In the first half of the film, we learn that Tom left Rachel because of her drinking problem that would often lead to abusive behavior toward Tom. Before you praise the film for switching the common scenario of an abusive husband, or criticizing the alcoholic and vindictive Rachel, watch the next half. For the purpose of my own analysis, especially do not scold Megan for her “sluttyness,” for director Tate Taylor sets up the opportunity for a discussion about how we watch, the male gaze and why Megan is actually an underrated character.
Her voice-over reveals that she’s been a lover, a teenage rebel and somebody’s whore. The introduction scene puts the “kino-eye,” or the camera eye, to work, implicating us with what and how Rachel sees through her window. We base our judgments off of this subjective vision. We immediately think that Megan is cheating on her husband, Scott (Luke Evans), since Rachel, therefore we the audience, see Megan kissing another man on her balcony. We pity Scott and cast Megan as a “slut” and heartless woman, especially since Scott wants to start a family but his wife does not.
Throughout the film, the camera pans Megan’s body to showcase her from head to toe. But what interests me is the contrast between how she is portrayed against what she has been through and who she actually is. In addition, Rachel’s kino-eye does not view Megan voyeuristically, thus nor does ours. Rather, Rachel first views Megan enviously, then, reminded of how her husband left her for Anna, makes it her goal to tell Scott he is being cheated on.
Let’s move to Megan’s voice-overs which reveal the reasoning behind her rebellion and “whore-ish” behavior. She tells the therapist with whom she becomes somewhat involved, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) that she only feels like herself while running, her mind free. We then learn there is a reason she acts the way she does. She had a baby at 17 years old with a boy she thought she loved, but unfortunately the baby died because of a mistake she made, and on top of that, the father abandoned Megan immediately after. Clearly heartbroken and traumatized, she no longer wanted to have a family, but hitherto never told anyone why.
We never do hear a clear statement as to why she cheated, but my guess is that she tried to fill the void with someone who understood her in a way that Scott never could. The audience would not have been exposed to Megan’s background had Tate omitted Rachel’s scopophilic tendencies. Taylor’s use of it proves how no one should be judged based on one, how others perceive people, and two, how things look on the outside. Because nothing is what it appears to be.
The Girl on the Train is indeed unpredictable and psychologically twisted, with some technical downfalls. But instead of critiquing the production of it, the human element so well-captured was the punctum for me. The way Rachel peers into another person’s life is pretty on point with how we all look through our own windows from which we judge and make assumptions. So in a way, The Girl on the Train utilizes scopophilia to open eyes to a theme much deeper than topical appearances: everyone has a story. How shallow are we to ever disregard those stories for the sake of looking? I’d say very.