Domestic violence: Why The Girl on the Train is an important movie for our time

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The Girl on a Train (book and movie) (Image via http://screencrush.com/)

Domestic violence counsellor Alicia Prescott explains why the hit movie 'The Girl on the Train' is an important one for our time.

BEFORE I begin, let me just say that I have not read the book by Paula Hawkins, so my thoughts are purely based on the movie adaptation of the novel by the same name.

Skipping pass the synopsis of the movie, which you can easily find on almost every movie review, or better yet, by watching it yourself, The Girl on the Train is simply put, a story about the complexities of domestic violence.

According to author Paula Hawkins, in an interview in the Herald Sun on 13 May 2016:

'Most of what happens in The Girl on the Train is emotional abuse and emotional manipulation, which most people wouldn’t even think of as domestic abuse.'  

Indeed, a quick scan of movie reviews online showed that most people who critiqued the movie seemed to miss the abuse, instead commenting mainly on its storytelling, setting (New York, much to the dismay of the book fans) and its apparent “plot holes”. Fair enough. 

Cinematically, the movie has room for improvement, but socially the movie creates a visual unveiling of domestic violence that is accessible to the thousands like me who missed the book. And that, to me, is much more important than any scriptwriting or directional flaws.  

Official trailer: The Girl on the Train

Rachel “the alcoholic”

As a counsellor specialising in both domestic violence and substance abuse, The Girl on the Train hits disturbingly close to home. 

Almost every aspect of Emily Blunt’s portrayal of “Rachel” is lived and breathed on a daily basis by survivors of domestic abuse in Australia. 

Every day, thousands of women like Rachel turn up to alcoholic support groups shamed and without hope, yet not realizing that they drink because that has become the only way they cope with years of put downs and gas lighting. 

Even more disturbing is that unless the counsellor knows to ask the right questions, Rachel would probably be sent home with a drink diary and a chapter on mindfulness to “solve” her drinking problem. 

In NCETA’s 2013 publication of 'Can I ask...? An alcohol and other drug clinician’s guide to addressing family and domestic violence', it was identified that few addiction counsellors have received appropriate domestic violence training or support, even though domestic violence will affect a significant proportion of their clients, with their addiction issues inextricably linked to domestic violence. 

Megan “the whore” and Anna “the mistress”

Rachel wasn’t the only woman being abused in the film. 

As Edwina Carr Barraclough brilliantly observed, Megan and Anna were both also living under the control of men. Domestic violence is more than physical abuse, most of us know that, yet some of us would might still find it hard to find the abuse in Anna’s seemingly perfect situation. 

One reviewer even found her response to Rachel’s offer of help “infuriating” (“I know he’s cheating, I’m not leaving him!”). This is not surprising; yes, the world still gets angry and confused by women who stay with abusive men. They cannot understand it and they don’t care to. Women stay with abusive men for a whole host of reasons, it does not make it their fault that they get abused. If we continue to place the responsibility onto women to get out of abusive situations, we miss the real problem — abusive and controlling men. And while we stumble around the issue, clicking our tongues in mock sympathy, Australian women die daily at the hands of their abusers.

Martha “the voice”

Apparently Martha, the wife of Tom’s ex-boss in the movie, didn’t even exist in the book. And just as Phoebe was my favorite character in Friends, Martha, played by Lisa Kudrow, was my favorite character of all. You see, we can all be Martha. 

It’s very simple — when someone tells you her husband checks her phone, or stops her from getting a job, or makes her cry every night … you believe her. You don’t ask her what she is doing to provoke him. You don’t tell her to count her blessings.

Martha simply said

“... he was such a bad guy… you did nothing wrong.” 

And sometimes, just like in the movie, that is all it takes for a survivor of domestic violence to remember. To remember what it felt like to be believed. To remember the first time she felt something was not right. To remember what life was like before the abuse. Because, sadly, chances are everyone else is telling her otherwise. All they see is the alcoholic, the whore, and the mistress who deserve what she got.

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Domestic violence: Why The Girl on the Train is an important movie for our time

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