The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her

Directed by Ned Benson
Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt and Jess Weixler

by Joanna Orland

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is three movies in one. Director Ned Benson wanted to tell the story of a relationship, but to do the narrative justice, he wanted to tell it from the perspective of Him (Connor) and Her (Eleanor). The result is the two films DOER Him and DOER Her, best watched as one 3 hour film in the form of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her which premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  After the positive reception of Him & Her, Benson decided to do a more commercial edit of the film in the form of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.  Them is merely an afterthought edit of a film that should have been left alone.  Watching Them first has ruined the film for me, but having gone back to watch Him & Her after the fact, it is obvious that the original intention for this film was a very noble and powerful way to tell a story.

Him is the story of Connor (McAvoy) as he struggles to deal with the repercussions of his wife Eleanor (Chastain) leaving him after they couldn’t cope with their bereavement over the loss of their son.  The cinematography is bleakly bluish and the mood rather dire.  From Connor’s perspective, Eleanor is cold, distant and removed from their connection.  McAvoy is sensitive in this underplayed dramatic role, a mere look in his glimmering eyes can convey all of the character’s emotions without a word spoken.

Her is the story of Eleanor as she deals with the loss of her son and the disintegration of her marriage.  The cinematography is yellowish red, more colourful than Connor’s story.  From Eleanor’s perspective, Connor is cold, distant and removed from their connection.  In this edit, Chastain plays this role with endearing vulnerability.

Him & Her is a revelation when watched as one film in this order.  Him sets the scene and skims the surface of what is going on.  McAvoy is empathetic as Connor and it’s easy to get into his head to understand his perspective.  Her fills in the blanks to a lot of what is touched upon in Him.  With Chastain in the driver’s seat, it’s easy to get on board with her perspective and feel everything that she feels.  The same scenes often play out, but differently from one perspective to another.  Perhaps it was Connor who said something crucial, perhaps Eleanor did – it depends on whose perspective you want to believe.  Every story has two sides and Him & Her tell them both masterfully.

With Him & Her, the supporting characters also get the time to shine in much more developed and complex roles.  While Bill Hader and Ciarán Hinds are excellent in Him, the supporting cast in Her is outstanding with Viola Davis a particular standout amongst the group.  For the supporting actors alone, it is worth spending the time invested in this double feature.

Them is a waste of time, and a hindrance to Him & Her.  Anyone who watches Them before Him & Her will lose the powerful impact of the twofold story.  Them is merely a watered down afterthought with underdeveloped characters and a nonsensical edit that becomes crystal clear after watching Him & Her.  If after Him & Her you really can’t get enough, then perhaps Them will peak your curiosity, but it’s definitely not the film to start with.

Read our full review of Them + our red carpet photo gallery & audio/video interviews with James McAvoy and Ned Benson.


Leave a Reply