After two years of waiting and wondering when Amy Adams will know peace, The Woman in the Window finally dropped on Netflix on Friday. Adapted from the psychological thriller by Dan Mallory (under the pseudonym A. J. Finn), the film follows Adams as Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist who believes she’s witnessed the murder of her next-door neighbor and new friend (Julianne Moore). But when she meets Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman), he tells her she’s never met his wife, Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list and garnered praise for its suspenseful twists and turns, but readers later got a real-life shock in 2019, when the New Yorker published an exposé on Mallory’s deceitful behavior in the publishing industry.
Fans should plan to be surprised yet again if they expected the movie adaptation to stick to its source material. Changes to clues and character backstories make the film’s payoff feel like more of a rug-pull reveal than a slowly unraveling mystery, for better or for worse. The discrepancies between the woman in the browser window and the one on the page become clearest in the final act, when Anna discovers that the Russells’ teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) was the killer. Here are seven of the most significant differences that impact the way the book and movie endings play out:
Anna’s Internet Friends
In the book, Anna frequents the Agora, an online forum for people who also struggle to leave the house. Under the username thedoctorisin, she builds a reputation for giving advice to others (even though she herself can’t make a breakthrough). While Anna normally doesn’t divulge much personal information on the site, she’s charmed by the personality of a Montana grandma named Lizzie. Anna shares that she had an affair and was in a car crash that killed her husband and daughter, not knowing that her elderly confidant is actually Ethan in digital disguise. He uses details he learns about her life to trick her into believing she’s hallucinating. Advice from one of their Agora conversations also allows him to figure out her phone password and change it so that she can’t call the police on the night he tries to kill her.
The movie cuts all mentions of the internet community. Ethan says he learns about Anna’s traumatic past from a Realtor, and he is able to hack her devices without extra help.
The Russell Family Tree
In the book, Ethan is the adopted son of Alistair and Jane Russell. His birth mother, Katie, was addicted to crack, and her boyfriends beat him while he was growing up. Ethan’s first memory was of watching one of Katie’s friends overdose and die, and he always believed that his birth father would have treated him differently. When Katie comes to their New York apartment, he is initially interested because she may be able to tell him about his birth father. This desire to know more about his biological father ends up being his crucial weakness.
In the movie, Ethan is the biological son of Alistair and Katie, who ran away when she was eight months pregnant. Alistair eventually tracks her down on a meth commune and takes Ethan away, while she goes to prison. Alistair pays her to stay away, and Ethan appears mostly indifferent to his connections with his film family members.
The Office “Incident”
Ethan tells Anna in the book that he has an “interest” in older women. The last one he took a liking to was Alistair’s boss’s wife, Jennifer; after Ethan visits her one night, Alistair loses his job. Ethan explains that he was similarly drawn to Anna and was especially intrigued because she is homebound. He tells her that he purposely undressed in front of his window so she could see.
In the movie, Alistair’s declaration that a grown woman should not spend time with his teenage son is still a two-way warning. But this time, there’s a precedent of intentional homicide. Jennifer is swapped out for Pam, an assistant of Alistair’s who Ethan kills by pushing off a balcony (Anna initially suspects Alistair). Ethan says he killed Pam because he likes the feeling of watching people die, and views himself as a budding serial killer. After hearing what happened to Anna’s family from a realtor, he decides she’s the perfect next victim.
The Night of the Last Break-In
In the book, Anna finds a photo of the woman she saw murdered and asks Ethan to come over, convinced she has proof. He tells Anna that his adoptive mother, Jane, killed Katie because she didn’t want to give up her son to anyone else. Ethan begs her to let him tell his parents to turn themselves in so they can get a lighter punishment, but he’s really buying time with the false confession so that Anna doesn’t immediately call the police. He returns later in the night, planning to kill her.
In the movie, Anna becomes suicidal after she is convinced that she has hallucinated the murder. After filming a last will and testament video, she scrolls through her photos of her family and stumbles upon a reflection in a picture that confirms Katie’s existence. As for Ethan, in the film, he’s run away from his wilderness camp and has been hiding in Anna’s house for an entire week. He says he wants to watch her die. She pretends she’s going to drink the concoction of medicine and pills she had prepared, but smashes a bottle on Ethan’s head and runs away.
The Tenant Downstairs
Both versions of The Woman in the Window feature David, a man who lives in Anna’s basement and sleeps with Katie while she’s still alive. He decides to move out after Anna reveals his past arrest to the police and accuses him of being involved in the murder.
In the movie, however, he returns to pick up the last of his belongings. Anna actually waits to commit suicide so that he’s not accused of killing her. He then confirms that Katie is Ethan’s birth mother, but still believes that Anna hallucinated the murder. Ethan, who blames David for riling Katie up, then stabs David off-camera and enters the room to tell Anna he’s dead. When she escapes, she slips in David’s blood. His eyes flash open — he’s alive! — but he’s swiftly stabbed again when he tries to grab Ethan’s leg. This time, he’s gone for good.
The Rooftop Brawl
In the book, Anna tries to use a pair of gardening shears to keep Ethan away from her on the roof, but he overpowers her from behind. Anna stalls for time by lying and saying that Katie told her Ethan’s father’s identity. She describes details she can’t forget about her own late husband. When she tells Ethan that his father loved him, he drops his hands, and she hugs him. His body slackens enough for her to push him onto the skylight, through which he falls to his death.
In the movie, this scene is focused more on action than character. Anna fights back for longer, defending herself with various objects from around the roof. At one point, Ethan shoves a mini garden rake cleanly through her cheek. There’s no time to capitalize on his desire to be loved. As he’s trying to drag her to the roof, she simply breaks free and pushes him onto the skylight.
In the book, Alistair breaks down and immediately confesses after hearing about Ethan. He is charged with accessory to murder. It’s not clear how much Jane knew, if anything. Their house remains deserted; it’s hard to sell the place associated with a killer teen. But Anna stays. Six weeks after the incident, we see her fighting her agoraphobia to take her first steps outside.
Both Russells are taken into custody in the movie. We’re told that while Alistair refuses to talk, Jane won’t stop talking (perhaps to make up for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sparse lines throughout). The movie opts to jump forward nine months (a fitting choice for a story focused on parents and children) and provide viewers with a clear-cut recovery. Anna moves out of her Manhattan home, able to confidently stride into the street, where a taxi is waiting.