'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them'
Last year, ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ premiered at film festivals as a two-part opus. It depicted the disintegration of a relationship from the perspective of each side (called ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ respectively) with the truth feeling intangible. Now, the narrative has been condensed to a single movie, which defeats the purpose of the entire project and simply doesn’t work.
Eleanor Rigby is played by Jessica Chastain as a damaged woman who never found her place in the world. She recently lost her child through unknown means and has been destroyed by the tragedy. Now she’s cut her hair, lost her identity, moved in with her parents, and is attempting to start life again from scratch as a mature college student.
James McAvoy plays her husband, Conor. He too was scarred by the death, but is also deeply hurt and confused by how Eleanor abandoned him. He attempts to pick up the pieces with his ex-wife, while also struggling to keep a restaurant above water with his friend (Bill Hader). He also has a famous restaurateur father who could bail him out at any time, but is too proud to accept the charity. Eleanor also has parental issues since her father (William Hurt) is a psychiatrist who can’t help but analyze her, and her mother (Isabelle Huppert) gave up her life to have children and wants Eleanor to take advantage of her situation. So, they’re a sad lot, to say the least.
First time writer/director Ned Benson conceived this story as a two-part epic to showcase the very different ways two people can react to and interpret the same tragedy, while also exploring their very different perspectives on life. It was an ambitious project intended to be released as two separate films and hopefully will be restored to that vision for home video. One year later, the theatrical release awkwardly tries to combine both movies into a single narrative. Given that they were designed to contradict and play off one another, to say the experiment doesn’t work is an understatement. This cut takes a wildly ambitious and intriguing concept and reduces it to an irritating story of two whiny adults who can’t face or accept their problems. Pretty much everything important about the project has been removed, and what remains is a confused mess that reduces carefully conceived characters into cardboard cut-outs that barely resemble the original intent.
Brief glimpses of the original films remain. The cast is wonderful from top to bottom, even though it’s never quite clear just what they’re all staring off into the distance being pensive about. Benson’s skill with visual storytelling can’t be denied, and he infuses the film with some beautiful images. It’s just a shame that what has finally reached screens for general audiences is so far off from his intentions. Even visual metaphors and sequences that once felt like subtext spread between two films are now nauseatingly obvious and irritatingly removed from context.
This condensed version of ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ simply doesn’t work in any way, shape or form. Hopefully, the full versions will be available soon, because it would be a terrible shame if this compromised failure was the legacy of what was once a rather beautiful two-part cinematic experience.