Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read the book version of The Girl On The Train or haven’t seen the movie yet but want to – do not read ahead.
The movie adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestselling book, The Girl On The Train, came out in Australia last week.
Like thousands of others around the world (the film topped the North American box office over the weekend, FYI) I flocked, choc top firmly in hand, to watch the thriller played out on the big screen.
Predictably, hordes of reviewers (both of the professional and armchair variety) have come out to dissect just how well/dismally Emily Blunt, who plays main character Rachel, depicted an alcoholic, and just how jarring it was to change the location of the story from London to New York (it was a bit, to be honest).
But there was one part of the film I couldn’t help noticing above all else. It stuck out like a fresh papercut on a finger.
I was fixated by how powerfully the film displays the complexities and confusion that surrounds abusive relationships.
The three main female characters in the film, Rachel (the alcoholic ex-wife of Tom, whose life is a shambles), Anna (the mistress-turned wife of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom) and Megan (the wife of Scott, who was having an affair with her psychologist and Anna’s husband Tom before he murdered her) are all experiencing domestic abuse in their respective relationships but in completely different ways.
Yes, it’s a “thriller” by definition, a murder mystery of sorts, but for me it struck deeper than that.
The three women, as galaxies different as they are, are all inextricably connected not only through the circumstances they’re in, but equally by the ferocious cards of domestic abuse they’ve been dealt.
All three are trapped (whether by their present or their past experiences) by men who have been either physically, emotionally or financially abusive - or sometimes all of the above.
Rachel has become an alcoholic, ashamed of her actions because ex-husband Tom lied and told her she was a verbally and physically abusive drunk who at one stage cost him his job (when really it was he who got fired because he was cheating on her with several women from his office). He crushed Rachel down to feel so hopeless, so small, and fed her lies to maintain that power over her.
Anna began her relationship with Tom as an affair when he was married to Rachel and now has no job, no income, and looks after their child, Evie. She discovers Tom has been cheating on her with Megan and is probably involved in her murder, but she stays. She has nowhere to go and no money to get there. Tom is it.
Megan feels stifled by her partner Scott’s insistence that they start a family, despite her resistance. He tracks down her passwords, reads her emails and constantly monitors her phone.
He says he loves her and would never hurt her - he means physically - but the abuse he’s inflicting is leaving scars nonetheless. He’s controlling and it’s terrifying to watch.
Megan's affair with Tom also results in violence when she tells him she’s fallen pregnant, possibly with his child, and he ends up murdering her. An act of final control.
It’s no coincidence that the film was released during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States. Or that during preview sessions of the film, women were reportedly cheering at the demise of Tom, the film’s chief psychopath and abuser.
Yes, it's a Hollywood blockbuster movie designed for maximum impact but it struck a chord.
It pieced together a few of the jagged shards of domestic violence experience - from physical domestic abuse to the less visible form of emotional domestic abuse - that rarely get explored in this kind of interwoven tapestry on our screens.
I’m lucky enough to not have been subject to any form of domestic abuse in my life but many Australian women aren’t so fortunate. (Post continues after gallery.)
According to White Ribbon, over a 12-month period, one woman is killed every single week as a result of partner violence. One in three women have been subject to physical or sexual assault by someone they know well and domestic violence is the chief cause of homelessness for women and their kids.
It’s a gargantuan problem in this country, and this is partly because it can be difficult to define or explain. It can be difficult to put a label on. And for those affected, it's difficult to leave the situation, let alone to pinpoint that it’s actually happening to you. Like Rachel, it might only dawn on you years later.
And that’s why The Girl On The Train is eye opening - uncomfortable, absolutely - but definitely eye opening.
If you’re experiencing domestic violence please contact Lifeline here or call 13 11 14.