I want to confess up front—I did read the book, I did not see the movie. I was on the fence about seeing it after reading the book anyway, but the parental advisory on IMDB pushed me over the edge. It appears the sexuality in the movie was going to be far more graphic than in the book. That being said, I want to offer up a few quick thoughts about the storyline for you to chew on.
I was introduced to the book by a high school student who had read it for school. She loved it and wanted me to read it. I did not. I mean I did not love it. I did, however, read it. I stuck with it—it’s a thriller and I wanted to see how it would end. It engages you with curiosity and intrigue. But it’s dark. There really isn’t one single character who is light. You’re thrown into the world of an alcoholic divorcee who is mired in depression. Her life is spiraling out of control. She pretends to go to work every day, lying to everyone in her life. And her sole joy in life is observing the lives of people she passes on the train who live in her old neighborhood…people who are just as lost as she is.
It’s a little bit Rear Window— not only is she watching through the window, but she becomes convinced someone has died. She then inserts herself into their lives to try and figure out what happened, becoming a suspect herself. Everyone in the story is having affairs, miserable in their marriages, lost and without purpose. They are all hiding things and lying to each other. And because of Rachel’s alcoholism, she’s an unreliable narrator to us as readers, but also to herself. (A trait her ex greatly exploits, much in the vain of the mystery-thriller from 1944, Gaslight.)
I like thrillers, but I prefer them with a character that’s worth pulling for. In this story, there’s no real light. They are all a miserable mess. And while that makes me weary of the story, perhaps it’s its greatest offering. It gives you a glimpse into the life so many people you know are actually living. Alcoholism, abuse, affairs, bad choices on top of bad choices. People around us are lost and hurting and desperately seeking love and belonging. Maybe the one positive thing that you can get out of reading about so many miserable people is some compassion for them. Then again, there are other ways to gain compassion.
I asked a question earlier this week that I think should be repeated here. I was thinking about Criminal Minds and wondering why it is we spend so much time trying to know the minds of criminals when we ought to be trying to know the mind of Christ (read that post here). I feel the same about this story. Do I really want to spend that much of my time reading such a hopeless story about so many broken people when I could instead read something life giving and inspirational? I’m not even saying we should give up thrillers. Even thrillers can have light. Even thrillers can have a character who is good and who is trying to do the right thing. I know not everyone is like that, but that doesn’t mean I need to fill my mind with their sludge. If I’m going to read about their mess, I’d like to read how they overcame it, too. I’d like to learn something from it or grow in some way.
In The Girl on the Train, there was no real growth. I mean, the bad guy is caught and Rachel moves and sort of deals with her past and has some glimmer of hope for a new life ahead of her, but it’s all very vague. Maybe she changes, but maybe she just cycles again when something else difficult comes up.
It may sound like I want to surround myself with Christians who are all doing OK in the world, but that’s not so. I know that life is hard and so very dark sometimes. All the more reason why I feel a need to surround myself with some light and hope. I’d rather save that darkness for reality. I teach a Bible study in the jail each week. I am constantly dealing with people who have lived the kinds of lives Rachel and the others were living in the book. We are honest about those struggles, but in a way that brings healing. I’m watching the Rachel’s of the world find Jesus and hope and freedom from addiction. I’m watching them learn to think differently about their pain and struggles and relationships. I’m watching them cut off affairs learn to live righteously. I don’t run from the darkness, but when I meet it, I don’t want to wallow in it, I want to bring the light.
THIS was why I didn’t like The Girl on the Train. It felt like wallowing in darkness.
Maybe you liked it. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’re wondering if you want to read it or watch it. I hope this may give you some food for thought as you’re considering how to spend your time.