The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby opens in limited release this Friday, September 12th.
Over seven years, director Ned Benson followed Jessica Chastain to get ideas for his master work, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013). Originally planned as single feature about a relationship on the rocks after a tragic incident, an epiphany had Benson change his mind. Instead of one film, which would undoubtedly either take on one character’s perspective, or straddle illustrating both sides, Benson would shoot the film twice, with one film taken from the wife’s perspective and the other taken from the husband’s. In this way, equal providence is declared on each of the person’s lives. It’s not just one that the viewer will care about. With several scenes being shown in both episodes, each providing a stronger emphasis on the titular character—Him or Her—the viewer is given both sides to the story, and not even the camera movement or emphasis biases one’s judgment.
With several scenes being shown in both episodes, each providing a stronger emphasis on the titular character—Him or Her—the viewer is given both sides to the story, and not even the camera movement or emphasis biases one’s judgment.
Though meant as two separate films, Benson’s Disappearance duology was screened back to back in Venice, with Him showing first. At the Toronto International Film Festival, Her was shown first. According to Benson, it doesn’t really matter which you see first, as they cover the same events. For this reason, I’m not sure why he’s so adamant in calling it two films, instead of simply referring to it as a single, two part, three hour film—as one might take to be obvious. While there likely isn’t much of a difference between screening Her before Him, there is more ambiguity about the incident—one doesn’t realize what the incident was—until much later. However, in both films, little is talked about in this regard, and the viewer must piece the tragic past occurrences together.
The dual perspectives is highly sophisticated and executed harmoniously. When following Her (Jessica Chastain), the camera tracks from immediately behind her; when following Him (James McAvoy), the camera tracks from his POV. In Her, the viewer discovers that He has been stalking Her, and in Him, the viewer actually sees this. In this way, the camera framing serves to support the subject matter. In following Her, it gives the perspective of Him stalking her. For example, the scene where they finally meet, in class, after her disappearance is shown twice, once from each perspective. In Her, the camera follows Eleanor and only shows Conor behind her. Later when Conor is hit by a car, the camera remains on Eleanor. When he is taken in the ambulance, a POV from her perspective shows Conor inside. On the contrary, in Him, the camera follows Conor, mostly taking on his POV to show Eleanor’s back. While the viewer once saw where Eleanor was heading, now the viewer sees Eleanor herself. Upon entering the classroom, Eleanor’s back is shown, while her face was the central figure before. The car accident actually shows Conor being hit, while Eleanor, presumably off-screen, is simply heard yelling. Being taken off in the ambulance, Eleanor is seen from Conor’s perspective; she is outside.
In this way, Benson does not have to try to share the perspectives to make the relationship equal, he simply shows the scene multiple times. This is the same for all the scenes where they are together; however, there are some scenes which are only in one episode and not the other.
In this way, Benson does not have to try to share the perspectives to make the relationship equal, he simply shows the scene multiple times. This is the same for all the scenes where they are together; however, there are some scenes which are only in one episode and not the other. For example, in Her, Eleanor talks about driving aimlessly, while, in Him, the viewer actually sees them drive aimlessly. That said, the moments that are elided simply shore up both perspectives, since the characters are given equal credence. The re-shooting of scenes and repeating of plot points simply reinstates the power of the images. It reinforces in the viewer a sense of their relationship but augments it slightly in order for the viewer to find a perfect balance in the relationship.
While the romantic story is highly intriguing, and the narrative style is wonderful, there are some filler moments in each series. While the subplots and conversations in each episode, such as Eleanor’s relationship with her dad and professor, and Conor’s relationship with his dad and coworkers, are quite entertaining, they are also quite unnecessary. Since the film is not in its absolute final cut, it’s possible that a director’s cut will tighten the film up a bit. As of now, there are many storylines which are quite meandering, and the viewer may find themselves questioning where the film is going.
That said, for a three hour double-film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is superbly well paced. While one must be a little patient, as much of the story only makes sense when the events are shown for the second time, the exquisitely soft spoken tone and pace is quite charming. The film is highly sincere, and the romantic aspects are brazen and honest. The soundtrack, to top it off, is gorgeous, and the orchestral score is highly moving. In the end, a sense of continuation rather than catharsis is found. The slightly ambiguous nature of the film permeates the finale, and the viewer leaves film in wonder.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is a uniquely told, highly interesting story about a strong relationship facing hardship after a tragic incident.