Book to Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Alison Michalak ‘20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Converting a bestselling novel into a blockbuster hit is a tricky business; the outcome can vary from complete disaster to Oscar nominee. There are so many things that happen on the page that simply cannot be transferred onto the screen. That being said, the creators of the movie version of The Girl on the Train exceeded expectations in their adaption from the novel.

At its core, The Girl on the Train is a “who done it” book, and as a suspense novel, The Girl on the Train contains a complex plot in order to keep the reader constantly guessing. Author Paula Watkins masterfully builds her story so that her readers second guess themselves, just as her own characters second guess the truth. To keep her complex story comprehensive to her readers, Watkins does not divide her novel by chapter but by date and the character’s point of view. This proves an interesting strategy because besides successfully organizing her story, the structure of the novel helps to raise suspicion of characters. Because it is narrated from different perspectives, the reader gets more than one biased opinion of the mystery at hand, adding and enhancing the reader’s desire to find out the whole truth.  The film took on this same structure and was successful in coherently organizing the story. However, this diary-like organizational method did close to nothing to build the suspense and suspicion of the movie. It simply did not translate as well on the screen as it did in the novel.

Photo Credit: DreamWorks
Photo Credit: DreamWorks

The way people receive movies and read books is such a different experience that sacrifices have to be made when transferring a story from page to screen. The creators of The Girl on the Train movie did an excellent job at making a great movie without having to sacrifice or change too much. That being said, there are a couple small differences between the book and the movie. For instance, the movie decided to give the main character a talent for drawing that seems unnecessary. Throughout the film we see the main character, Rachel (Emily Blunt), skillfully sketching on a notepad. The only explanation for this added characteristic is that it was the best way to visualize Rachel’s experience in film.

Another example of change would be the setting; in the book the story takes place in England and the main character is taking the train to London. The movie sets the story in the United States in a train going to Manhattan. This change really makes no difference in the plot; all that is important is that there is a girl and a train. The setting change was most likely the product of a predominately American cast, and the creator probably thought it best to change the setting rather than have all their actors use fake accents. While on the topic of actors, it is important to address the controversy over Blunt playing Rachel. In the book, Rachel has “let herself go,” and many of the other characters identify her as ugly, fat, and a drunk.  In short, she elicits sympathy from the reader. Before the film came out critics loved to point out that Blunt was too beautiful to play Rachel. However, whatever Blunt lacked in bad looks she made up for in her acting. Blunt did a good job at taking the drunkard aspect of Rachel and running with it to evoke pity out of the audience.

Photo Credit: DreamWorks
Photo Credit: DreamWorks

The movie was true to its book, there is no denying that, but, it did not have the same affect that reading the book does. A story this complex, that relies in subtle clues and patterns, just cannot be told with the same outcome on screen. Film depends too much on exaggeration and simplification to get its point across to its audience, and it’s The Girl on the Train’s twisty and subtle plot which makes it such a great read.




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