The Girl on the Train: Book vs. Adaptation

After I posted my review on how much I disliked Paula Hawkins’ best-selling psychological thriller The Girl on the Train, I had lots of of people over on my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/readwith.ro/) ask me what my thoughts are on the film compared to the book. Embarrassingly, I had never seen the film either! So, I decided to rectify that and bring you a blog post talking through all the differences between the film and the book and what worked or didn’t work. Even better – I have decided to turn this into a little blog series (sadly, I can’t think of a cool name for it) where a book and its adaptation will battle it out to see who is crowned the ultimate champion! Let’s be real, the book will almost always win but it’ll be fun nonetheless. So, if you have any recommendations of books and their adaptations you want to see next, please let me know. Expectedly, this post will have major spoilers for both the book and the movie, so I you haven’t seen or read The Girl on the Train I would recommend you do that before reading this.

Just a quick little summary of the story; in case somehow you have stumbled upon this blog post with absolutely no knowledge of what The Girl on the Train is about. The big screen adaptation casts Emily Blunt as Rachel, an arguably unstable, alcoholic women who has been unable to get over her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), who has moved on with a new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and new born baby, although he is still living in their old house. And this house just happens to be a few doors down from Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott Hipwell’s (Luke Evans) house, the very same couple that Rachel fixates on everyday as she takes the train past their house. When Megan goes missing on the same night Rachel visits her ex-husband and subsequently blacks out from her alcohol consumption, Rachel spirals deeper into darkness as she tries to solve the mystery.

Let’s start with the most notable book-to-film difference: the change of location. Instead of Rachel riding the train from London’s suburbs to its city centre like the book describes, she now takes the Metro North down into Grand Central Station to her non-existent job in New York City. This is a change that I don’t actually mind. I think the scenery is a touch more isolated which adds to the atmosphere – the Hudson River on one side with a cozy stretch of homes on the other with plenty of forest to conceal evil. Amazingly, they were able to keep a plausible explanation as to why the train stops right outside the Hipwell’s house – constant construction work – I feared this would be an aspect of the plot producers would conveniently forgot. However, I do think the location change may not appeal to the British viewers as our shocking train services is something that unites the country.

While we are on the changes that I think worked well in the film, we might as well keep going because there is not very many of them. The film included an extra scene which was not in the book. A very drunk Rachel is having the time of her life in a local bar, making new friends and attempting an embarrassing selfie in the bathroom. However, when she accidentally and unnoticeably hits record, we see that what would have just been an innocent night out turned into a disturbing scene when Rachel works herself up into a rage, culminating with an announcement that sounds very much like a confession regarding the night of Megan’s disappearance. Rachel is horrified when she finds the video, which adds to the guilt she feels and ultimately works towards convincing herself that she might actually be involved in Megan’s disappearance. This is an incredibly interesting look into Rachel’s psyche and adds to the uncertainty of the viewers opinions or guesses as to what happened that night.

Another point in the film which could sway viewers on their opinion on what happened to Megan, is the portrayal of Scott, Megan’s husband. The question of whether or not Scott is actually abusive towards his wife haunts the first half of Hawkins’ novel. Eventually, the author takes a definite stance towards Scott’s behaviour, making it clear that in the latter half of the book he is not only emotionally and mentally abusive (we know that he went through his wife’s emails and Megan was often fearful of telling him the whole truth) but also physically abusive. This is what makes him seem so likely to be guilty which adds to the tension and surprise of the big ‘twist’ at the end of the book. And this was just not delivered the same way in the film! Although we do see Scott’s abusive behaviour in the film, he is portrayed a lot softer and less aggressive and the same kind of tension that is created in the book, is just not there in the film.

If you have read my review for the book, you will know that I really didn’t like the portrayal of female characters. But I think I can easily say that the portrayal of female characters was even worse in the film. Of course, Rachel is a very problematic and unlikeable character in the book but she was so undermined in the film and was not done justice. I am not saying that Emily Blunt did a poor acting job, I actually think she did a pretty good portrayal of Rachel, however, there was so many changes made by the production team of the film that I think was damaging to the storytelling. Firstly, the film misses out a lot of the backstory regarding Rachel’s job in public relations and more importantly, how she lost her job. The loss of her job is a crucial point to Rachel’s character development as it shows her instability. Similarly, the film doesn’t include the very awkward run in Rachel has with her former colleagues which the book uses to drive home Rachel’s embarrassment and isolation. In the book, Rachel goes to her ex-husband’s house the night of Megan’s disappearance because she is upset about seeing Megan kiss another guy. In the film, Rachel goes to her ex-husband’s house the night of Megan’s disappearance because she is upset about seeing Megan kiss another guy, only after she delivers a very aggressive monologue about wanting to smash Megan’s head in which, after the revelations at the end of the film, just doesn’t make sense and is highly unnecessary. Additionally, the book uses the identical, cookie cutter, mirror images of Tom and Scott’s house as another way of explaining Rachel’s confusion, paranoia and flashbacks, as well as adding another layer of weirdness onto Scott and Rachel’s relationship. Without this in the film, Rachel just seems like a bit of a psychopath who likes to sleep with grieving husbands. Frustratingly, the redheaded man from the train that Rachel builds up courage to speak to (over a few hundred pages , may I add) since she remembers snippets of him in between her blackout periods from the night of Megan’s disappearance, does not give her valuable information that leads to Rachel’s realisation of Tom’s gaslighting like he does in the book – in fact he doesn’t say much at all. I question why they kept him as a character if he added nothing to the plotline? Worst of all, Rachel cannot be given credit for realising her ex-husband’s gaslighting and an old co-worker of Tom’s basically spells it out for her on the train – this also was not including in the book.

In general, the portrayal of Tom and the subsequent realisation of his gaslighting was so poorly done in the film. In the book, even though Tom is annoyed at Rachel, he seems like he might be slightly understanding to her situation, afterall, they do interact a lot over the course of the book. However, in the film he doesn’t come across of sympathetic at all; although they have a few run ins, he is very much a secondary character. Additionally, the character of Tom is developed as he tells Rachel he drove around looking for her the night of the disappearance, he offers her money and tells her to stay away from Scott in the interest of her safety. This makes us believe that he is looking out for her or that he is inherently good. So, when the revelation comes that he has been manipulating her it really comes as a shock to the reader. But without that connection between Rachel and Tom, the huge turning point of the story falls very flat.

And to round off this blog post, here are some changes that were completely unnecessary and quite frankly make the film seem a bit silly. Rachel’s drink of choice, a premixed canned gin and tonic in the book is swapped for straight vodka in a water bottle. The fence surrounding Tom and Anna’s house is so tall that Rachel struggles to climb over it in the book, however, the archway that you could clearly walk through in the film makes the characters seem a bit stupid. And finally, in the book, while Tom viciously beats Rachel in their kitchen, there is a possibility that Anna is going to let him kill her, but from Anna’s perspective we can clearly see how she is purely presenting a happy facade during this final confrontation for the safety of her baby. But in the film, this is lost completely as Anna just stares out the window.

I can’t believe I have come to the conclusion that Paula Hawkins’ book, The Girl on the Train, is better than the film adaptation, given how little I enjoyed the book. For me, there was too many changes which actually damaged the storytelling. But, of course, I am not a movie producer and I am sure there is many reasons why things would be changed other than that they wanted to, such as money, resources, ability etc. Sadly, I will never be able to get the 1 hour and 52 minutes back that I spent watching the film, but at least I wrote a blog post about it so its wasn’t entirely a waste of time, right? If you have made it this far into the post… THANK YOU! You are the true hero because this was so bloody long! If you have any recommendations of books and their adaptations that you want little old me to debate, let me know!

Ro xoxo

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