Dr. Donna Copeland’s
JESSICA CHASTAIN JAMES MCAVOY VIOLA DAVIS BILL HADER
WILLIAM HURT ISABELLE HUPPERT CIARIAN HINDS
T H E D I S A P P E A R A N C E O F
ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM
Writer/director Ned Benson’s ambitious project of shooting one storyline from two different perspectives (Him & Her) captured the attention of Toronto last year. Since being acquired for distribution by The Weinstein Company, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: “Him” & “Her” have been re-edited into “Them”, which is being released first. It’s a punctuation style look at a relationship in its beginning stages (shown through flashback) and then it’s destruction. The way Benson studies emotional detachment and heartbreak is reminiscent of Patrick Marber’s Closer (2004). Two time Oscar nominee Chastain dissolves so far into this role that even her biggest fans will lose sight of any preconceived notions about her talent and ability.
Connor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) had something amazing with each other; together, their life was complete. After seven years of marriage, tragedy strikes and hits the couple so deeply that their drastically different ways of dealing with pain drives them apart. After attempted suicide, Eleanor needs drastic change and moves out of the city and back with her family as she begins attending classes at her father’s university in order to clear her mind. Connor remains in the city, watching his business deteriorate and worrying about the mental and physical state of his wife, who has disappeared.
Every moment Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) is on screen the audience can feel Eleanor’s pain through her expression, distant gazes or the conversations with college professor Friedman (Davis). All the scenes in which Eleanor and Friedman talk about nothing are everything for the film; the one person who is unaware of Eleanor’s tragedy is the one person she feels comfortable being around. Davis and Chastain, who both received Oscar nominations for The Help but shared little screen time, find the crux of the film here. McAvoy, on the other hand, never reaches the depths Chastain finds with Eleanor. Is that a performance downfall, or is Connor’s side of pain and recovery just not as interesting and compelling? Only the individually cut films may answer that.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them asks a lot of its audience without giving much in return. Since the title refers to Eleanor, Chastain has greater range than McAvoy (Atonement) and all the other seasoned actors are featured in her storyline; I am of the opinion that the “Her” version might be the strongest of the three. Every time Conner is carrying the weight of the film you just wonder what Eleanor is doing. The unrelenting suffering we watch these characters endure reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s performance in Rabbit Hole. The focus here is far more about the unit of suffering, how male and female react differently to tragedy and how those differences can mean ruin for a relationship. Is this entertaining? Maybe not, but will it keep you thinking about Benson’s purpose and reasoning behind the creation? Most certainly.
Final Thought – Chastain gives a deeply absorbed and emotionally effected performance.
By: Dustin Chase
If you have not seen “Her” and “Him”, as I have not, and if you see “Them” (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), you are likely to find too many missing pieces in the plot for the story to be sensible. For instance, I have no idea what brought Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy) together in the first place, and in the film I saw tonight, not only is that a mystery, but they appear not to have much in common. The story is actually about them, and their struggle after a major loss. We only get hints as to what happened to them until later on. The film is essentially about this struggle and how it has affected their relationship, extending out to their families.
I think that one of the weaknesses of the script is the near absence of any maternal influence, particularly as shown by the characters repeatedly clamming up when the natural thing would be to talk about their feelings, their problems, their ideas. All seem to be suffering to some degree, but continually run away from emotional sharing and problem solving. There may be an outburst, but then the character quickly exits the scene, with nothing really being said. It makes the film seem full of potential, but it never gets realized. El and her sister have a couple of talks in which they express real emotion, but except for the very end when El and Conor actually address the most important issue, no one seems inclined to talk about their feelings or anything of real importance. At one point, El says to her sister, “I was hoping you could read my mind.” That is, anything but talking about what I’m feeling. The absence of nurturance is captured perfectly by El’s mother (Isabelle Huppert) when she tells El that she never wanted to have children, but “I don’t want you to take what I say too personally”, she adds!
Many of the conversations are vague with abstractions and generalizations, rather than addressing whatever is salient at the moment. When El asks her father (William Hurt) what has kept her parents together for so many years, he doesn’t seem to have a clue. When Conor’s father (Ciaran Hinds) tries to talk to his son, Conor’s responses are defensive and sullen. (He is past the teenage years.) Conor is the least appealing character in his obliviousness to other people and his tendency to spoil things, ruining every moment that has the potential for emotional closeness (as seen with El, with his father, and with his best friend). I think Viola Davis as a professor has the best lines—ones that speak to the point, express what she feels, and come across as natural and real.
What a pity that a film bursting with fine actors and potential falls so flat. Jessica Chastain is one of our finest actresses, and consistently excels with very different character types. McAvoy, Huppert, Hurt, Hinds, and Davis are likewise at the top of their game. It is rewarding to observe them in their artistry and craft.
A frustrating two hours.
Grade: C- By Donna R. Copeland