Girl on a Train – Film Analysis
Genre: Drama, Crime
In the Crime genre, when a crime has been committed, the GOAL of the Hero is to find the killer(s). In the Drama genre, the GOAL of the Hero is to defeat an intimate Opponent who is capable of hurting the Hero. In the Crime genre, the Opponent may or may not be known to the Hero. Drama is a limited look at reality, for it does not involve outside influences, world troubles; it does not include archetypical characters, but rather, characters who always make choices, sometimes out of the box choices. When Crime and Drama are mixed, the Crime genre should take precedence and the story shape with the most Narrative Drive is linear: Point A goes to Point B in the Hero’s search for the killer(s). Drama genre with a branching form slows down the Narrative Drive and the plot can become mired in melodramatic sub-plots. Such is the case with “Girl on a Train.”
The “Girl on a Train” film is based on the novel by the same name. The complete unbelievability of the characters is because of the lack of cause and effect throughout the plot. The novel is a mess of disconnected Character Web, again because of no believable cause and effect throughout the plot. Couple this problem with multiple point of view characters, and you have a mess, with an audience shifting in their seats, wondering if they should walk out of the theater; feeling betrayed by the folks who wrote this drivel, but hoping that at some point, an honest characterization will enter this disastrous scene weave.
For example, Megan: We get a flashback to her nude body splashing out of a bathtub. Then we go back to the present: This woman narrates that it was cold one night (the cause), so she decided to take a bath (the effect). It was the ONLY way she could get warm. And she took her infant daughter into the tub and fell asleep! She awoke to find, shock of all shock that her infant was dead in the water. She couldn’t even look at the body! Okay, so we have a psychotic character here. What does she do with the body? Why, she buries it in an unmarked grave. She then marries someone who knows nothing of her secret past as a psychotic nymphomaniac, and then becomes someone else’s nanny because she is bored. Horror genre or a seriously flawed, melodramatic soap opera seem to be at work here.
In addition, there are so many other plot contrivances: The woman for whom she works is married to a murderer. And Megan is having an affair with him! Imagine: A nanny who murdered her own baby is murdered by the man she is having an affair with, while taking care of HIS baby! Megan also literally slides in and out of other men: Her psychologist and her “overbearing” current husband. She has an affinity for trees in the woods, kitchen tables, showers, and sometimes, just an old-fashioned bed. She calls the man who is about to murder her an “impotent” male. That’s before she gets her head bashed in. And oh! She’s pregnant again. Who’s the father? Will she try again with another child in the world? Is she now ready to be a mum? We never get to find out.
Then there’s Anna’s story: Weaker than Megan’s, equally ridiculous: What the connecting theme is- Men are cheating brutes and any problems a woman might have are because of this “fact.”
Rachel: An alcoholic. Why? She couldn’t get pregnant, that’s why. Cause and Effect. She has alcoholic black outs. This temporary memory loss will last until the Climax/Battle sequence: Another plot contrivance. What is the real reason, down to this character’s psychological and moral flaw, why she is an alcoholic? She couldn’t get pregnant. That is all she ever comes to terms with in her Self-Revelation moment: She’s a changed person, she says.
How to connect these three characters? Why, put them in the same neighborhood. Have one of them on a train who sees the supposed Opponent with poor Megan. Have another character married to the murderer: Keep your opponents close in the genre of Drama.
Even the detectives are unbelievably crafted. They don’t conduct an investigation, and the female detective has written off the alcoholic Rachel as a liar. We don’t see any investigation in progress. What we do see are nude scenes of Megan, in and out of various men.
Which leads to another problem with this story, aside from idiotic characters acting with no believable cause and effect: A problem with Genre. Audiences come to a film or read a book because of Genre. This story is billed as a Psychological Thriller. It is not. In a Thriller, the Opponent pursues his victim, who is on the run. This is a Horror/Drama mess, with Crime thrown in.
How to fix this: Rachel is a liar. She needs to be crafted as such. Megan is a liar. She needs to be crafted as such. And Anna is a liar, etc. Each of these characters is attracted to a man who cheats. Why? Because he, too, is a liar. Megan’s husband is a liar. Why? Because he married a woman who cheats and is a liar, AND he employs “gaslighting” to manipulate her, which makes him a liar, too. So all of the Characters are joined by a web of lies, which needs to be addressed honestly. Why do they lie? What are the consequences of lying?
If Crime/Drama are the genres, then Crime should take precedence. There should be an investigation, by the improbable Rachel character, whom the others, including the detectives, don’t expect could investigate anything. One of the detectives, the woman perhaps, could be Rachel ‘s point of view character. The female detective could have “liarflaws” as well.
At an AA meeting, LYING could be addressed. It is a survival mechanism in families that have a history of alcoholism. This is the Ghost of Rachel. What happened in her past to cause her present pain as the story opens? And it’s not that she couldn’t have a baby. That’s a plot contrivance. The writer needs to go deeper. The detective needs to caution Rachel Not to get involved because she could be the next victim.
The Opponent in the film is a plot contrivance, to validate the specious argument that men are all cheating brutes. He is a weak opponent because he does not pursue the Hero, Rachel. He is not Set Up in the Crime genre to even be the Opponent. The audience feels betrayed when this happens. The sermon of brutish cheating men and poor innocent women who also cheat seems infantile. Throwing in the “not being able to have a baby” is idiotic because the characters could adopt, OR they could not lie about what is really driving their pain.
In an attempt to save this highly flawed story, a character was added in the film version – Lisa Kudrow has a few scenes in which she is an ally, telling Rachel that it is her psychopathic husband who is the problem. Good ol’ Rachel was an alcoholic for nothing, it seems. All along, during Rachel’s conveniently timed black-outs, her husband was smashing things and creating a ruckus.
But this character, as the Opponent, never goes after Rachel until the end of the story. He remains hidden until it’s time to bring him out…Magic! An Opponent, whom we should have suspected all along! No set up whatsoever, so it appears, as in Greek tragedy, a deus ex machina – a complete shock, appearing out of nowhere. Audiences today find this manipulative, but it’s really just because of a bad script.