I love a mystery as much as the next person, and while I expected “The Girl on the Train” to be more thriller than mystery, I was not upset in my surprise. The film was a great piece of work overall, but it took a little while to get there. Although the first quarter of the film sets up the plot very nicely, much of it is uncomfortable to watch – and I am not even referring to the shots including nudity.
Our narrator Rachel is a divorced alcoholic, and while that does not automatically make her inherently uncomfortable to behold, the various flashbacks and hallucinations she has do just that. These flashbacks include fits of rage and abuse stemming from her alcohol dependency and the hallucinations just show how terribly lonely she is. Neither are very uplifting, to say the least.
When the disappearance of a woman named Megan occurs, Rachel thinks she has information relating to the crime, which is eventually ruled a homicide. Though Rachel has never met this woman, she has often seen her from the train that she takes to the city every day. But just how reliable is the memory of a woman who cannot function without filling a water bottle up with vodka every morning?
One of the best things about the setup of this plot is that we as the audience get clues at the same time as Rachel does. We see her blurry and distorted memories as she remembers them, the investigators are quite liberal with what they tell someone who could end up being a witness or even involved in the crime (this divulgence of information was one of the only things about the film that seemed a little too convenient to me), and we follow her during the times she investigates on her own.
But after the first batch of hallucinations and misremembered events that we see from Rachel’s perspective, it was incredibly hard while watching the film to know what was really happening and what was just a drunken coping mechanism. So even as Rachel seemed to make progress on finding out who hurt Megan, I hardly believed anything I was seeing until the end of the film.
Some might see this as a con, but I found it brilliant. To have such an unreliable narrator at the heart of a mysterious crime only made the (real) twists and turns of the story that much more exciting. And just when you think you know ‘whodunit,’ the plot thickens once more.
That being said, I did not read the novel version before I saw the film. I do not believe this took away from my experience. In fact, I feel like it would have been a hard story to capture with only words. But clearly, the author succeeded because “The Girl on the Train” is now at the top of everyone’s list to pile into the theaters, and it makes for a truly remarkable movie experience.