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Friday, November 25, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2016), Gone Girl, and The Unreliable Narrator Twist

 Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed By: Tate Taylor
Written By: Erin Cressida Wilson
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Rating: C-

In 2014, we were dumbfounded during Gone Girl when it was revealed that sweet Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) had faked her own death and was setting her husband up for murder. However, that shock didn’t come from the twist itself. It came from fact that everything we’d learned up to that point in the film was wrong and the person who led us astray was none other than our narrator, the one person we'd automatically assume we could trust. In Gone Girl and many other great thrillers, the unreliable narrator is a trope that helps these movies come full circle. But is the biggest strength of all these other films also The Girl on the Train’s greatest weakness? 

In The Girl on the Train, we meet Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee still obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new family. Rachel attributes the end of her marriage to her excessive drinking and the violent behaviors and blackouts that would occur because of it. We slowly find out Rachel is also quite obsessed with Tom’s neighbors, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) and their seemingly perfect marriage. However, after catching Megan cheating on her husband, a drunken, angry Rachel goes to confront her only to wake up covered in blood with Megan gone missing. 

In Gone Girl, we care about Amy before we even meet her. From her narration of the story, we find out that, like Rachel, she doesn’t have the best marriage. However, she and her husband are still trying to make it work. Until Amy goes missing, that is. While a majority of the mystery lies with Amy’s husband, Nick, (Ben Affleck) and his mission to find her, another intriguing mystery lies beneath the surface. Who are these people? What have they done to each other? And more importantly, what are they capable of? Though Amy is explaining what happened, we do still have out questions, especially towards the end of the film when it turns out that Amy was a liar. It's because of that twist that we immediately believe that everything Amy has told us to this point has been false, but there's more to it than that. Amy explains that Nick abused her and it's even more compelling when we see it reenacted on the screen. After the twist is revealed and Amy returns after being "kidnapped" by a crazy ex-boyfriend, Nick angrily throws her against the wall. This partially backs up Amy's accusation of Nick having a violent temper as we can confirm this is real. Amy later explains that reasons she's planning revenge on Nick in the first place are the same reasons that their marriage was failing. He stole her money and used it frivolously when he had no job of his own. He became cold and distant towards her and most importantly, he cheated on her. While Amy is our unreliable narrator because she falsified a lot of information to get Nick indicted for her murder, if these weren't actually the reasons for Amy to seek vengeance on her husband, then what were? No one else is there to confirm or deny Amy's recollection of the past besides anything involving her "murder and kidnapping, so her side of the story is the only one we can believe, even after the twist, simply because it's the only one we have. Even with through all her manipulation and plotting, we still feel something for her and we're still investing in her story which that's why the twist works so well. However, in The Girl on the Train, there’s not enough there to allow us to feel anything for our main character, Rachel (Emily Blunt). 

The plot and star-powered cast alone are enough to get people to theaters to see The Girl on the Train. However, these things are not enough to make you feel satisfied after you’ve walked out of the theater. We follow Rachel around as she tries to piece together who Megan really was and what happened the night of her murder, but the more she becomes involved with the investigation, the more we lose sight of who Rachel is as a character. Rachel's backstory is explained, but she's not the one to tell us about herself. It's because we're simply shown what's happened and not given any other context or explanation, the depth needed to connect us to Rachel is gone. We either like her for who she is or not at all, but she doesn't even give us any reason to like her. While we feel sorry for her because she’s unemployed and sleeping on a friend’s couch, she doesn’t really seem to care about any of these things herself. She rides the train to no place in particular every morning even though she has little to no income, she still drinks heavily even though she knows it's the reason for her marriage ending and she continuously stalks Tom and his new wife. As she becomes more focused on finding out who Megan was, she really begins forgets who she is and so do we. The whole focus of the film begins to shift to Megan's story and the more we begin to understand who Megan was and what  happened, the more Rachel falls to the back-burner, even though she's our protagonist. This becomes even more evident when the twist occurs and we find out that everything we know about Rachel is a lie. However, because we never really cared about Rachael from the beginning, the twist pretty much loses its power. 

Rachel moves on with her life pretty much unphased by her troubled past as she’s telling us what happening in the present. This is happening simultaneously as clues to the mystery seem to fall into Rachel’s hands whenever it’s convenient for the plot. Amy Dunne places us directly in her picture perfect life and we move through her life as she does. We get a sense of not only what's going on, but how she feels as well. We don't get this with Rachel. The power of that twist remains strong not only of Amy’s manipulation, but because of the connection between us and the person we thought she was as well. While both narrators flipped the script on what we knew to be true in their tales, they did so for very different reasons. Amy was manipulative by choice. Rachel, on the other hand, was not. Her alcoholism along with her manipulative ex-husband were what skewed her vision of the past, so she didn't know that what she was telling us was a complete lie. Typically, the unreliable narrator is a trope that works well because of our intrigue with being manipulated by someone we thought we could trust. Amy leads us astray with a wide, calculated smile and we're mesmerized because of it. Rachel's unreliability comes about by everyone else except herself and because of that, we don’t even care whether or not we’re getting played at all.

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