Story Analysis: The Girl on the Train

First, the novel is exceptional. If you haven't read it, go read it! Yes, it rightfully deserves all the attention and accolades it is receiving. 

Watched the film and I like it, but I like the novel more. 

While I'm doing a story analysis of the film, it should be noted that adaptation is extremely difficult. You have to basically take only the main part and then throw out the rest. 

I wanted to like the movie more but I think two things prevented it from reaching the same level as the novel:

  1. Multiple voice-over
  2. Know the villain too early

If you have read the novel, then you know that it has multiple POVs and so I understand the desire to respect the original work by having multiple POVs. But, it ended up feeling very stilted because the movie, unlike the novel, doesn't carry out the multiple POVs throughout the film. It is used only in the set-up and then we're back to one POV (from the main character). 

The Affair has multiple POVs and it works because the TV medium has a lot more time than film. One of the appeals of The Affair is that the different perspectives make you question reality as you're not really sure what happened as people disagree on the events and there is no authoritative voice to help the audience discern who to believe. 

For film, I find it difficult to like the characters when we’re introduce to one of them and then we switch again and again. 

Image of when Megan Hipwell discovers her baby from  Girl on the Train

Image of when Megan Hipwell discovers her baby from Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is Rachel Watson's (played by Emily Blunt) story. But, Megan Hipwell's (Haley Bennett) story threatens to undermine Rachel's because her story is equally compelling, especially the scene of her accidentally drowning her baby when she fell asleep. Megan's way of life and treatment of the people around her makes me want to learn more about her. 

Also, because of Rachel and Megan, Anna’s (Rebecca Ferguson) POV becomes trivial since it isn't as compelling as these two characters. Anna had an affair with Rachel's husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and is now married to him. Anna dislikes and distrusts Rachel. While we understand her distrust, her POV is non-essential in the film. In the novel, it's compelling because we get to revisit Anna's POV and learn more about her. We get none of that in the film. 

In this case, I think the multiple POVs actually worked against them. 

The other problem though is that the film revealed the villain too early. 

Again, I understand the desire for fidelity to the original but we also have to remember that different media have different requirements. 

When Anna discovers Megan’s phone and hears her voice, we suspect that Tom is the killer. Anna doesn't do anything and then Rachel appears. This would have been the time to have Anna’s POV for why she’s staying with someone she should be suspecting but we don't get to see it. Instead, Tom shows up and Anna confirms to him that she discovered Megan's phone. 

To me, it would have been great if Anna could have made us believe that somebody other than Tom is the killer and so it would be much more shocking and surprising when we find out that he's the killer. The novel does this very well where we're constantly getting new information and changing our suspicion of who the real killer is. 

In the film, we didn't get it as much. 

Despite these shortcomings in the story, I still like the movie and would still recommend it for people to watch, especially if they have not read the novel (although they really should). 

LESSON: If you’re going to have multiple POVs, make sure they’re all compelling and we see them more than once.

Story Analysis: The Magnificent Seven

I haven't seen the original 1960 version, but I have seen the 1954 Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Akira Kurosawa's version is considered a classic for very good reasons. It's an exceptional film. 

For the new remake, I'm already a fan of the casting: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-Hun, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Peter Sarsgaard. Furthermore, the film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, a director I'm also a huge fan of. 

Given everyone involved, I have no doubt the film will make a lot of money and be a major success. My analysis isn’t on whether or not I like the movie because I did, but rather where the story could’ve been improved upon.

Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday

Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday

After watching the film, almost everything worked in terms of story except for one thing — Chris Pratt’s character, Joshua Faraday. 

We learn early in the film that Joshua Faraday is a gambler who's very good with his guns. We also learn that he’s street smart by the way he handles himself when two brothers get a drop on him. He kills one of the brothers and tells the other one to run away. From that, we infer that he doesn't kill unless it's necessary. So far, so good. 

Later, Denzel Washingon's character, Sam Chisholm, recruits Joshua by paying for his horse. Josuha is obligated to join Sam in his mission to save the town against an army of bad people as a way of paying back debt. Again, so far, so good. 

Sam quickly recruits the rest of the Magnificent Seven:

  1. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is Sam’s good friend and “noble”, willing to befriend blacks and Asians when his Caucasian peers are too ignorant to consider them their equals.
  2. Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-Hun) is Goodnight's good friend and we get the sense that he’s been fighting against injustice all his life until he befriended Goodnight.
  3. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a skilled tracker who is more shamanistic now. He joins the team because he feels that it is the right thing to do. 
  4. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who befriends Sam and is therefore obligated to join him in his mission. 
  5. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who joins simply because it seems fun and crazy. 

Later, we get hints from the conversation between Goodnight and Sam that Sam didn't take on this mission for a noble cause, but rather for revenge.

So far, so good. We understand everyone's motivation for joining this crazy mission. 

However, towards the end of the film, Joshua's character becomes an enigma. 

Even though Sam explicitly tells him that Joshua is free to leave as he has already paid back his debt, Joshua decides to sacrifice himself and that's where the story lost me. 

Why did Joshua sacrifice himself? We get no indication whatsoever. Family? Nothing. Religion? Nope. Honor? His character didn't exactly give off that vibe. So, why did he sacrifice himself? 

If only we got to know Joshua a little better, then his sacrifice would have been that much more impactful. Instead, I was wondering why in the world did he do that? 

Now, Chris Pratt is an extremely likable actor and not the main protagonist in the film and so maybe the writers and director thought that they showed enough for people to understand. I didn't and maybe it's just me. 

LESSON: The more we know about the character’s motivation, the more invested we are in them.

Story analysis: MacGyver vs Scorpions

It’s been a while since I got to watch some shows and so I figure I might as well do some story analysis of what works and what isn’t working for me and how I can apply that to my own writing. 

MacGyver vs Scorpions

MacGyver vs Scorpions

I’m a fan of the show Scorpion. I think the premise is well thought out and they educate audience by sprinkling scientific facts when solving complex problems. The show is loosely (extremely loose here) based on Walter O'Brien. Scorpion is a team of geniuses: Walter has an IQ of 197, Sylvester is a human calculator, Happy is a mechanical prodigy, Toby is a behaviorist who can read people based on their expressions, and Ralph is extremely good with computers. 

MacGyver, on the other hand, only has one genius - the titular character MacGyver. He has to "hack" readily available material through his knowledge of scientific facts to get him out of difficult situations. 

I should note that I was a fan of the original Macgyver series, way back in the 80s.

The original MacGyver

The original MacGyver

So, as much as I would like the new MacGyver to work, it’s currently not working. Ratings have been steadily dropping and I’ve been trying to figure out why from a story point of view. 

Obviously, other factors beside stories (like actors, time slot, etc) are also at play, but I’m going to focus on story. 

The main problem with the new MacGyver is that the Phoenix Foundation, the clandestine organization that he works for, is a very shallow foundation (pun intended) for which to base the story on. It works in the 80s because that was a different time (and I was a lot younger). Now, however, audience are much more sophisticated and discerning and they can sense it when you're just winging it. 

Why is the Phoenix Foundation a problem? 

Precisely because we don't know we're not exactly sure why MacGyver is getting these assignments and not the CIA, FBI, or Interpol. Basically, what kind of assignments can the Phoenix Foundation take on and how is it different from any other clandestine government agency? 

Contrast this with Scorpion, where we learn that they are a for-profit private agency that is made up of various geniuses. The government hires them because the job requires geniuses to solve it. We know why the government is hiring them — the government doesn’t have the brainpower to handle it. We know why they’re doing it — for the money, mostly. They explain why they need the money, but we understand that they're brains-for-hire essentially. Every week is a different problem that they’ve to quickly solve before it starts the next World War or a major catastrophe. We know the stake and we know that Scorpion is the only team smart enough to solve it. If they don’t solve it, then the world is screwed. 

This premise works because we know everything that we need to know — their motivation and what’s at stake. 

Contrast this with MacGyver and we start to see the weaknesses in the premise. 

MacGyver’s motivation is to track down and figure out why his ex-girlfriend Nikki is working for the enemy, but we don’t exactly know why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Why did MacGyver join the CIA? Before Nikki betrayed him, was he motivated by money? 

Is the Phoenix Foundation the government's last resort or the first one?

Can MacGyver afford to fail because the CIA can handle the case later? 

The writer(s) might have thought that MacGyver's goals, motivations, and what’s at stake were communicated clearly to the audience but it didn't feel that way to me. 

I’ve watched the first 3 episodes and I’m hoping that they figure out soon that the audience needs to know these things before rooting for these characters. If they don't figure it out soon, this MacGyver reboot might be short-lived (2 season max?). 

LESSON: Make sure the character’s goal, motivation, and what’s at stake is absolutely clear to the audience. Without it, it’s hard to root for the character.