‘The Girl on the Train’: 10 Key Differences Between the Book and the Movie

Originally a best-selling thriller novel written by the talented Paula Hawkins, 'The Girl on the Train’ was transformed into a major motion picture and was released in theatres on October 7th. Directed by Tate Taylor, this psychological page-turner was successfully brought to life through dramatic cinematography and a brilliant cast ensemble. As a fellow fan of the popular novel myself, I made sure to see it the first weekend it came out.

The story revolves around the troubled life of Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), an unemployed divorcee and alcoholic who spends her time taking the train to and from the city (the perfect unreliable narrator). Every day the train passes her old house where she lived with her husband, who now lives there with his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). As a distraction from her pain and sorrow, Rachel begins watching a couple who live a few houses down - Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans). She imagines them as this perfect, happy couple living in a dream world, but one day she witnesses the unexpected and everything she thought she knew changes. After waking up the following morning with a horrible hangover and no recollection of the night before, she has a feeling something bad happened. Her predictions turn out to be true when reports on Megan Hipwell’s disappearance begin to surface the media. Rachel fully invests herself in the case and desperately seeks out answers on what happened the night everything went black.

The same compelling, psychologically stirring storyline remains faithful in the movie, but there are several key differences in the setting, characters and their relationships with one another.

WARNING: Spoilers Below! 

1. The Film’s Location

I expected that the film would also take place in London as it did in the book, however, the movie takes on a new location in New York City. Instead of taking the London railroad, she now takes the Metro North to Grand Central Station to go to her non-existent job. With the Hudson River in the background and a tight stretch of homes overlooking the view, the setting is scenic and ideal for the plot. Ironically there is still a hint of British origin as London-born actress Emily Blunt uses her own accent in the film.  

2. The Backstory on Rachel’s Job

It is never clearly addressed in the movie how and why Rachel lost her job. In fact, the audience doesn't find out until her roommate Cathy (Laura Prepon) says it out loud when she discovers this herself. The script cuts out much of Rachel’s backstory and her previous job in public relations, as well as an awkward run-in with her former co-workers. More of Rachel’s inner thoughts and shames are exposed in the book than they are revealed on screen.

3. Rachel’s Roommate

Out of all of the characters in the book, Rachel’s roommate, Cathy, has the most short-lived role in the movie. In the book Cathy is described as always bickering with Rachel about her relentless drunken behavior. She constantly warns her that if she doesn’t get her act together, she won't live with her any longer. Despite her frustration with Rachel, their friendship is more prominent in the book. In the movie, Cathy blends into the background and has less of an active presence.

4. The Redheaded Man on the Train

Throughout the book, Rachel finds herself being watched by another commuter on the train; a redheaded man who seems to know she’s up to something. Although he also appears in the movie, he offers a big clue in the book as to what happened the night she blacked out after revealing who he saw her with. In the movie, he was just looking out for Rachel after seeing her drunk and alone, barely able to even walk.   

5. Two Detectives Become One

In the book, Megan’s disappearance is investigated by both a male and female detective: Gaskill and Riley. Although Gaskill is the frontrunner detective in the book and Riley acts as the assistant, the movie pulls both characters into one, giving Detective Riley (Allison Janney) the leading role. This adds another strong female protagonist to the storyline.  

6. Tom and Rachel’s Relationship

Readers see a more sympathetic side of Tom as him and Rachel interact more throughout the course of the book. He seems more understanding toward Rachel, as if he still cares for her. At one point they even meet up to talk privately behind Anna’s back, which is something that never happens in the movie. In the movie, a more violent and insensitive side of Tom is shown, making him appear more like a monster. 

7. Rachel’s Choice of Drink and Her Drawing Hobby

Although Rachel is still a depressed and lonely alcoholic in both the book and movie, her drink of choice changes. While she continuously chugs pre-mixed cans of gin and tonic throughout the book, Rachel interestingly becomes a vodka drinker in the movie. As Rachel sips from her vodka in a bottle during her commute to New York, she also picks up drawing. Scenes of Rachel sketching in her notepad are symbolic of the imaginary world she lives in, which is something that was never mentioned in the book.

8. Scott Hipwell’s Character

After Scott learns that his wife Megan had an affair in the book, he violently throws her against a wall and chokes her. He becomes violent again when he confronts Rachel about her lies and physically drags her into a room in his house and locks her up. In the movie, Megan never confesses her affair, but it's assumed when she comes home one day to Scott waiting for her at the kitchen table. Scott still has an angry confrontation with Rachel, but isn't violent.  

Scott and Rachel’s relationship is also more intimate in the book, and it's indicated that they even slept together in the same bed he used to share with Megan. In the movie, they don't appear that they are involved sexually, but footage of Scott spending the night at Rachel’s mimics a scene from the book. 

9. Two Major Scenes Are Added

Two new scenes were added to the movie that had a great effect. In the beginning of the movie, there is a scene of Rachel drunk at a local bar. She makes a new friend and takes an embarrassing video with her in the bar bathroom. Viewers are able to see a troubling look into Rachel’s psyche as she madly rages about all of the bad things that have happened in her life. When Rachel is sober and watches the video later in horror, this leads her to believe she had something to do with Megan’s disappearance.

Another pivotal scene that is added to the movie is when Rachel has a flashback of the time she lashed out on Tom’s co-workers with a tray full of hors d’oeurves.  It turns out this flashback is hallucinatory, as revealed later by a new character. 

10. A New Character Changes Everything

Rachel discovers Tom’s true character in different ways throughout the book and movie. In the movie, the added character of Martha (Lisa Kudrow), Tom’s co-worker, helps Rachel realize Tom had been lying to her this whole time. By inventing fake situations, Tom made it seem like she was the bad guy when really it’s been him all along. In a flashback scene, Rachel remembers getting into a fight with Martha and recalls throwing a plate of hors d’oeurves against a wall. When Rachel apologizes to Martha on the train for her actions, Martha explains that none of that happened despite what Tom told her, and how her behavior wasn’t the reason Tom got fired.    

In the book, Rachel comes to realize Tom’s wickedness slowly, but steadily on her own as she ruminates throughout the events of her life. This sort of psychological realization may not have been as effectively portrayed on the big screen, so the change in scenes is actually helpful in making the truth easier to understand.

There are many times when Director Tate Taylor captures the spirit of the book, and other times when it deviates from its original storyline.  But as several movie adaptations go, there are bound to be changes and nothing is ever truly the same. All in all, ‘The Girl on the Train’ book and movie are both darkly entertaining, mysteriously engaging, and will leave you guessing until the very end.