As one of the most anticipated films of the year, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her is at its core an ambitious film project constructed to convey the deterioration of a marriage through the complete perspectives of both the husband Conor (James McAvoy, Him) and the wife Eleanor (Jessica Chastain, Her) following a personal, family tragedy.
Eleanor doesn’t disappear in a foul-play sense, but disappears into herself, emotionally and subsequently physically withdrawing from her husband. When Eleanor vanishes from his life without an explanation, Conor begins to work through his anger and confusion, trying to determine how he missed the signs of it going so wrong in his marriage as he searches for her, while also trying to find his identity professionally separate from his father. Eleanor, on the other hand, reinvents herself and finishes things in her life she felt were undone as a way to work through her pain with the help of mentor (a brilliant funny Viola Davis who captures a lot of attention in Her with some of the best lines in the film). For us to completely understand what these two have lost and offer a stark comparison to where they are now, the film flashes back to the moments when Conor and Eleanor were young and carefree and at their most romantic.
Currently, at a three-hour run time, this film experience is essentially two separate films with their own identities via unique color palettes and associated tones (a more somber and surrendering Him, a more bright and hopeful Her). However, they are two films that are connected in little overlapping moments when they weave in and out of each other’s lives. The chapters also serve to compliment each other by spotlighting subtle differences in the way the lead character perceive the same events, especially their interactions with each other (what is said, how it is said, what they wear, the proximity to each other, their gestures… telling signs of what each puts emphasis on and what things hold importance to their characters). That is what makes the film stand out, its capturing of so much thoughtfulness in those small details. The total film does run longer than it should for what is presented but not to the detriment of the experience.
It will be interesting to see how this film is packaged for theatrical audiences as the chapters were designed to be able to play in any order, evidenced by how it has been changed in recent screenings. These are impressions from the viewing of Him before Her, which seems to present the story in a more mysteriously way. Of course the film has its own internal mysteries; we don’t learn some of the details of the tragedy until later (and even then we don’t get all the details). However, when we follow Conor first, we are as baffled as he is to exactly what is going on inside of Eleanor’s mind, her motivations and intentions when she is not with him, and after she disappears from his life, exactly where she has gone. As Her plays, there is a sense of less concern as to what Connor is experiencing in the meantime. Also, the final moment of Her gives the viewer a clearer sense of their future more than Him, something that I think is best kept to the end of the total experience.
Final Verdict: With commanding performances by both the lead actors and a compelling set up to an otherwise commonly done story of love found then misplaced in the midst of tragedy, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby lives up to its quiet hype. There is so much to continuously discuss to fuel the constant need to revisit this movie. It also becomes clear that whichever character’s film you see first is who you emphasize with, which is in it’s own way, yet another added layer to the complexities of how the viewer participates in the film experience. Choose wisely.