The much-anticipated film adaptation of the novel The Girl on the Train is hitting theaters Friday. A psychological thriller starring Emily Blunt, the movie focuses on alcohol-addled Rachel (Blunt), who has been spying on the occupants of a house during her morning train commute, until one day she witnesses something terrible. The movie version is generally faithful to the best-selling Paula Hawkins novel on which it’s based, except for one big difference: The action has been moved from suburban London to suburban New York City, and Rachel’s commute takes her from a tony Hudson River town into New York’s Grand Central Terminal. As it happens, Yahoo Movies staffers Gwynne Watkins and Ethan Alter both commute into our Manhattan office on the same Metro North train line Rachel takes in the film. After they saw the movie, we asked them to weigh in on its (many) inaccuracies. Here’s a transcript of their chat:
Gwynne Watkins: So, Ethan, you’ve been commuting on Metro North for a few months now. About how many affairs, approximately, have you witnessed from the train?
Ethan Alter: Between Hudson River wildlife? Probably a few dozen. But human affairs, not so much. Which is disappointing — the main attraction of a commuter railroad would seem to be the chance to indulge Rear Window fantasies. Minus the broken leg, of course!
GW: The sad truth is that the commuter train is extremely un-voyeuristic. There are very few buildings next to the train tracks, let alone giant mansions with enormous windows and balconies that directly overlook the train.
EA: At least in the U.S. anyway; part of the appeal of The Girl on the Train in its original novel form was the vivid descriptions of the London commuter line that Paula Hawkins wrote about. I haven’t been on that particular line before, but my trips to England gave me a pretty good idea what it must have felt like.
GW: In the book, my understanding of the train line was that it was supposed to be an anomaly: an old, rickety train that went slowly enough that you could see houses from it.
EA: Right; it was one of the last of its kind, reflecting a version of London that didn’t really exist anymore. But also speaking to how densely populated that city still is.
GW: You and I both take the Hudson line, which is the one Rachel [Emily Blunt] takes in the film. From a purely cinematic perspective, it makes perfect sense that they’d want to use it, because it’s a really beautiful commute. It hugs the Hudson River the whole way and cuts through the Hudson Highlands, which are what pass for mountains in the New York metropolitan area.
EA: Right, it’s a real picturesque journey that’s supposed to contrast with the dark stuff going on behind those ornate closed doors. And the movie does depict the geography accurately, at least. None of those weird mistakes you sometimes get with NYC-set movies where they try to pretend that Queens is Manhattan.
GW: True, it’s definitely the actual train line and her stop, Ardsley-on-Hudson, is a real town. But in terms of spying on people from the train, it’s pretty much a nonstarter. At least on my section of the train line, the houses you see are all extremely far removed from the tracks or located up high on bluffs overlooking them. For example, here is a picture I took from the train this morning:
Do you see the people doing terrible things in that house? Do you even see the house? I mean, I saw it for about six seconds.
EA: I see a prime real estate opportunity! Actually, I don’t even see that, because it’s all marshland there.
GW: Yeah, the house in the movie would probably be half underwater at all times.
EA: Since seeing The Girl on the Train, I’ve also peered out the window extra hard when passing her stop and have yet to see any houses where Justin Theroux might happen to be inside.
GW: Metro North would have to start charging extra for that.
EA: Mostly the scenery ranges from parking lots to chain-link fences and the occasional abandoned factory. Interestingly, once we get to the Bronx, that’s where you can start playing peeping Tom if you so desire. Some of those apartment buildings face the tracks and the windows are clearly visible.
GW: Actually, I did pass one building that you can see pretty well from the train. It’s a condo in Peekskill. But even then, you’re looking at it for about two seconds — not enough time to see the actual people in the windows. See below:
EA: Now that we’ve talked geography, let’s switch to the movie’s train etiquette: Rachel is an alcoholic who secretly guzzles vodka on the train. Now, I’ve seen people taking swigs out of cans of Bud on the train rides back to Westchester. But no one’s ever gotten fall-down drunk. Maybe I’m on the wrong evening train? I just wonder how openly drunk someone like Rachel would have to be to still be able to ride the rails.
GW: I’ve seen super-drunk commuters on holidays, like the dreaded Santas. And the conductors are not afraid to kick them off the train.
EA: They’re not as good actors as Emily Blunt, I guess!
GW: Let’s talk about that house the beautiful couple lives in that Rachel is spying on. It’s a big, sprawling mansion that was apparently built about six feet from the river and the train tracks.
EA: With a white picket fence that’s not sinking into the mud. Also: I understand the reason for not getting curtains when you have those (unrealistic) window views. But try to keep your PDA inside in that case!
GW: Basically, given how expensive it is to buy a giant house in a commuter town, I can’t imagine anybody springing for the one where everyone on the train can see you in your underwear. At the very least, they’d plant a tree.
EA: Or put up some very fancy bamboo shades from West Elm.
GW: In conclusion, a realistic version of Girl on the Train would be about a woman who sees a lot of bridges and sometimes a bald eagle.
EA: Or who just gazes out at the river the entire trip like I do. I still haven’t gotten tired of that view!
Watch a video on the movie’s setting: