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Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Directed by: Ned Benson

Premise: A couple (Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy) separates after the death of their newborn child. The husband struggles to keep his restaurant afloat while his wife resumes her academic career.

What Works: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a tale of grief and recovery and taken as a straightforward drama the film is a compelling story with some extraordinary performances. However, filmmaker Ned Benson has crafted something a little more ambitious. There exist three different versions of this movie. The main version, fully titled The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them tells the full story of the separation of this husband and wife and their relationships with their family and coworkers. There are also two other versions: Him and Her  which tell the same story from the point of view of the husband and wife, respectively. The Him and Her cuts are not just the Them version with one or the other character’s scenes missing. With each cut the filmmakers have photographed and assembled the same scenes in different ways in order to emphasize either the husband or wife’s point of view. In other cases the same scenes play out differently because the filmmakers use alternate takes or stage the action in different way. This changes the tone and subtext of each scene. Watching all three versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby will be of greatest interest to aspiring filmmakers and students of cinema. This cinematic tryptic is a very interesting example of the ways that choices in staging and editing can radically change the point of view of a scene and shape the meaning of the content. Of the three versions, Them is the strongest, followed closely by Her. That’s due to the central performance by Jessica Chastain as the mother who has lost her child, attempted suicide, and abandoned her marriage. Chastain is great in the role; her pain shows through in every scene, even when she isn’t actively sad, but Chastain’s character is also a fully characterized human being and the filmmakers do not venerate her grief. The wife’s storyline is further strengthened by an impressive supporting cast. Jess Weixler plays her sister and even though Weixler and Chastain don’t look much alike they do have an authentic sisterly bond which is fleshed out in the Her version. Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt play her mother and father and they also get some strong sequences as does Viola Davis as a university instructor who takes Chastain’s character under her wing. The Him version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby isn’t without its charms, most notably the father-son relationship between James McAvoy and Ciarán Hinds. This version also allows McAvoy and Chastain to have a little more screen time together and it does a better job of pressing whether the couple will find their way back to each other.

What Doesn’t: Watching all three versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby will be very instructive for aspiring filmmakers and for students of cinema but general audiences may not get as much out of this trilogy. Because Jessica Chastain’s character dominates the Them version, both Them and Her play very similarly, with Her offering a little more insight into the dynamics of the wife’s family. The Him version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby plays quite a bit differently from the other two versions but in total there isn’t much in the Him or Her versions that substantively changes the audience’s understanding of the characters and events. Every version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is successful at what it is trying to do but average viewers will probably do well just viewing the Them cut, which is presented as the primary version in the packaging of the home video release.  

DVD extras: The Blu-ray and DVD releases of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby include all three versions of the film as well as an interview with actors Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

Bottom Line: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is well worth viewing for its performances alone but there is a lot in this movie to be admired. The Them cut offers a compelling drama of two people and their families dealing with grief and as a trilogy it is an enlightening cinematic experiment.

Episode: #536 (April 5, 2015)