This must be what’s it like to be a man; when entering a movie theater you see, on screen, a varied representation of multi-dimensional characters who encounter problems and road-blocks along their journey. At no point during The Girl on the Train did I roll my eyes at a stereotypical female trope. Rather, the opposite happened; the majority of characters are female, while the male characters are defined, for the most part, by their gender.
Let me explain: the default gender for any character (in most film and TV shows) is masculine, while female roles tend to be defined first by their gender – most likely why we encounter so many one-dimensional female characters – and second by how they impact the male characters. Female roles are cast specifically to fill a purpose, a purpose that can only be served or accomplished by a woman. Otherwise, it’s all men all the time. The men in The
Girl on the Train are defined first by their relationship with the women – husband, lover, ex-husband, sexual desire. But because they are male, these supporting characters are given more than one purpose or one dimension; something rarely allotted to many supporting female roles.
In The Girl on the Train, the main three female characters – Rachel, Anna, Megan – are not viewed and defined by their physical attractiveness. Rather many of them, and most specifically Rachel, spend the majority of the film with minimal make-up. The idea of a ‘make-up free’, natural look has been distorted thanks to retouched magazine covers and more recently, instagram filters. I don’t know about you, but when I crawl out from under the covers I don’t have a glossy haired, matte lipped look. In fact, I look nothing like myself – or at least nothing like the face I show the world after I’ve showered, powdered, and lined. Who is the real me? Perhaps a question for a different post.
Throughout the film, these three women have smudged mascara, dislodged eyelashes, and ruddy cheeks. The director, Tate Taylor, pushes the camera in close, all the better to reveal every distinct pore. The horror! Part of me wants to roll my eyes because these actresses – even puffy-eyed, red-nosed, and frizzy haired – are naturally beautiful. But they just happen to be that way, it’s not their defining characteristic, and they at least have dimensions beyond their attractiveness to men. Am I being too dramatic? Perhaps, but I once read a description introducing a (supposedly) strong, female character as “beautiful without trying, which she doesn’t.” What does that even mean?! And I’m not alone in my confusion, there’s a twitter feed with the sole purpose of highlighting the inherent sexism found in female character introductions. And it’s created by a man; see feminism isn’t just for women.
We may have a long way to go before multi-dimensional female characters like those in The Girl on the Train become the norm; but if movies like The Girl on the Train are made, and branded as a commercial success, then I believe we will see a better representation of female characters on screen, which can only make movies better. The more characters who are given depth, the more diversity you bring to the table, the better chance one has of creating an interesting film. Perhaps I was more affected by the well-rounded female characters to notice that The Girl on the Train isn’t a perfect film (it’s also a very very ‘white’ film). In fact, I’ve barely said anything about the quality of the film as a whole; most reviews will give you a quick synopsis about the plot, break-down the characters, and explain why it did or did not work as a movie. Maybe it could have been sharper; perhaps the pace could have been faster, more urgent, but I would rather watch a film filled with complex characters than another ‘basic bitch’ of a movie.
Bechdel Test: Passed with flying colors
To See or Not to See: Worth going, if only to support women in the industry