Evan Slead ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
There are two sides to every story, and that’s exactly what director Ned Benson’s drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her delivers. It was originally released as two movies, and has recently been condensed into one movie for theaters: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.
The Him/Her original vision has a three hour and twenty minute run time and was debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013. The Them version is a condensed cut of both Him and Her films that is more accessible to average audiences due to its manageable runtime, which unfortunately comes at the cost of character development.
Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) is a woman consumed by the inability to move forward after tragedy. Her only escape is to withdraw from life – in more ways than one. Her husband, Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy) is the counterpart to the human stages of grief. Despite his own unresolved confusion and pain, Conor desperately attempts to hoist his wife out of the emotional pit they are both trapped inside. Eleanor’s sister, Alexis (Nina Arianda), father Julian (William Hurt), and mother Mary (Isabelle Huppert) are also struggling to console Eleanor after her breakdown.
What makes Him/Her unique is in its execution of telling one seemingly short story. The tragedy that Eleanor and Conor deal with is slowly doled out through their different perspectives, which brings a personal view while also being objective. The film begins with “Her” (Eleanor’s) side of the story and follows her journey through the pain. The camera tends to focus directly on Eleanor or over her shoulder to give viewers an intimate view of her perspective. Throughout her part, the film beautifully paints the picture of where she is mentally and emotionally, which also skews the way audiences view the other players in the story. This becomes clear once the “Him” (Conor’s) side of the story begins to unfold.
On the “Her” side, Eleanor’s decisions, while rash or unconventional, are depicted in a way that helps viewers sympathize with her. The introduction of Conor is skewed to make him seem almost at fault for previous events. On the “Him” side, viewers have already been shown the story but now those redone scenes take on a completely different interpretation. Conor has his own take on what’s happened, which becomes clear as he elaborates on his perspective. Even Eleanor looks different, with dialogue changes and subtle facial reaction switches to make her look more heartless. By telling the story in this way, Benson subtly and brilliantly illustrates the faults of human perception. It’s the back and forth battle between two interpretations of truth that keeps this film fresh and intriguing.
The acting is phenomenal across the board. Chastain, despite playing a frail character, exudes an inner strength that draws viewers in. McAvoy does not hold back and lets his emotions run wild from scene to scene. The Them version shows this as well and also lays out the full story in a great way. While a shorter run time does make more sense for wide distribution, the lengthy original cut offers a gift to those who take the challenge. Seeing this story from two sides offers a chance for reflection on viewers’ own lives. It begs the question, “Am I living for the truth, or am I living for my truth?”
Overall Grade: A