Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is about perspective. Perspective of the relationship that Connor (James McAvoy) has with his wife, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain). And perspective of the relationship that Eleanor has with her husband, Connor. If those perspectives sound like they belong in the same movie, writer/director Ned Benson has made it very clear that distinction between the two is key.

Ten years ago, Benson wrote a script called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which was about a crumbling marriage as seen through the eyes of the husband. He gave the script to a young actress named Jessica Chastain, who liked it, but thought the wife role was underwritten. A few years later, Benson gave her another script of the same story, only now the marriage was viewed from the wife’s perspective. Benson said he planned to shoot both scripts simultaneously, and release them as two separate feature films. Such is the genesis of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and its counterpart, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. Two films, two perspectives, one vision.

Essentially, both films are about Eleanor and Connor dealing with their marriage separation. In Her, Eleanor moves out of New York City and back to her childhood home, which is inhabited by her distant and educated father (William Hurt), her amusingly boozy mother (Isabelle Huppert), her loyal sister (Jess Weixler), and her young nephew. From the moment we meet Eleanor, we become aware of, and transfixed by, her coldness. And this is precisely what makes Jessica Chastain such a skilled actress. Playing an emotionally jaded person is difficult, because you threaten to alienate the audience. After all, why should we care about such a callous person? But there’s a humanity to Chastain’s work that feels alive, even when Eleanor herself appears lifeless. Her frigid walk, her cold stares, her long silences – there’s pain within Eleanor that we so desperately want to explore.
Eleanor has the luxury of hiding in a large, suburban home, but Connor is forced to stick it out in New York. In Him, Connor tries to maintain his city apartment while keeping his shitty dive bar in business. When Connor gets word that Eleanor has started taking college courses in the city, he seeks her out, longing to reconnect by any means necessary. In many ways, Connor is the antithesis of Eleanor. He’s jovial, free spirited – constantly trying to do right by the people around him. But he too is in pain. Pain from what he’s lost, and pain from what he fears he won’t get back. Much like Eleanor, we get to know Connor partly through the people he leans on, including his affable best friend (Bill Hader) and his no nonsense father (CiarĂ¡n Hinds).

Most of Him and Her play out separately, though they both share a few key sequences. There’s a scene in both films, for example, in which Eleanor and Connor rent a car together and drive aimlessly. Their destination is nowhere, their goal is discovery. They pull over and begin to share an intimate moment. If you pay close attention to the scene in both films, you’ll notice subtle differences. The position of their bodies, the tone of their voices; who says I love you first, who stays silent. These shared scenes are the best moments of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, because they poignantly question the reliance of memory, and the distinction of perception. In Her, we aren’t watching Connor, we’re watching Eleanor’s perception of Connor. Same applies to Connor’s perception of Eleanor in Him. Interestingly, the perceptions they have of each other are often kinder versions of who those people really are. Meaning, Eleanor in Him is nicer than Eleanor in Her. You’d think it’d be the other way around, that Connor might remember Eleanor as cold and heartless. Instead, through Connor’s eyes, she’s gentler and more appealing.
There are other differences as well. Much of Her is bathed in a warm palette, a stark contrast to the ice-cold look of Him. Chastain is often shot from behind in Her, the focus harshly dipping in and out, as if we’re unsure where Eleanor is going. McAvoy is often shot from the front in full focus in Him, his path somewhat clearer, but still unseen by us. Collectively, both versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby paint a wholly fascinating and accurate portrayal of a modern romance.

After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Benson, at the behest of his producer, Harvey Weinstein, decided to create a third cut of a film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, which is a two hour version of both films edited together. By all accounts, Them is an inferior version to Him (89 minutes long) and Her (100 minutes). I was lucky enough to view both Him and Her in one sitting at a theater in Los Angeles. After, Chastain held a Q&A in which she did her best to not be overly critical of Them. Her ultimate point was that Him and Her are about two distinct perspectives, and when you edit them together, it’s unclear whose perspective we’re watching. In Him, we know that Eleanor is always Connor’s version of Eleanor. In Them, we have no idea if she’s Eleanor or “Eleanor.” But whether it be Him or Her or Them, Benson and Chastain (who co-produced the films) deserve endless credit for being audacious enough to present the same story in different ways. The common maxim states that there are two sides to every story. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her makes it clear that truer words have never been spoken. A-

32 comments:

  1. I hope that version comes to Atlanta next month because that's the one I want to see. Not Them. Harvey Weinstein can suck my balls.

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    1. Haha! I think you'd love Him and Her. Them came out in LA last month and it took all my will power to skip it. Definitely hold out for Him/Her.

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  2. Harvey Weinstein is definitely a bonafide genius when it comes to promoting films for the Oscars, but even though I haven't seen the film, he should not have made Benson make a third version. Believe it or not, Harvey, but there are actually people who are willing to see both Him and Her!

    Otherwise, great review as always! It's great that you got to see Chastain! She's one of the best actresses working today. Did you by any chance read her interview with Page Six? (I'm not 100% sure of the magazine). She made such smart and insightful comments, and then they had to go around and completely change what she said to something else. Truly terrible :(

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    1. Thanks! Glad you like the review :)

      It's all about the marketing to ol' Harv. But I'm so thankful that fans of pure cinema speak out about this stuff. We make it clear that we WANT both Him and Her. We WANT the director's cut of Snowpierecer. And on and on.

      Chastain was so cool in person. Normally, people of that "stature" are escorted by handlers, or an entourage. She just walked in by herself and was like, "Hey everyone." Genuinely as nice and cool as you might think. And honestly, I'm surprised she would even grant Page Six an interview. That mag is such bullshit.

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  3. This movie has fascinated since I first heard about it. Two movies with the same actors (principally anyway) that showcase different perspectives of the same story sounded incredibly ambitious and in the reviews I've read, it does appear as though "Them" is the lesser of all three films. But at this point, I'll take any version of this film I can get (which one(s) I want to see is a different matter though). My question to you is this though, do you think it matters which film you see first (if you're seeing the Him/Her versions)? If I saw Him first do you think my perception of the entire film would be different to if I see Her first?

    Also Chastain can do no wrong, seems like everything she's in, she's note-perfect. I have no doubt that this will be no different!

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    1. You know, I really wanted to touch on the order of the films in my review, but it ran a little long. Basically, yes, your entire perception of the overall story will be changed depending on which film you see first. I saw Her first, then Him, and of course I loved it, but I couldn't help but think how the experience would be different if I viewed them the other way around. I won't give anything away, but, to me, Her has a much better opening (at least for my tastes... you'll know what I mean when you see it). So I LOVED being introduced to the story that way. But I liked the conclusion of Him a little better, so, again, the way I viewed them seemed like a good fit for me.

      It's funny because you can only view a movie once. Some friends of mine saw it at TIFF and told me I should see one of them first, then wait 5 days and see the other one. So that'd be yet another way to experience it. Ah, I just LOVE that there are some filmmakers who are still about the experience, you know?

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    2. Damn, I finally saw both sides of this (have yet to see them... nervous about how that'll turn out) but was absolutely wowed by this. Such a powerful piece of work. I went about watching it in the same order you did (not on purpose) and I think that was the right way to view them, I don't think I would have enjoyed Her as much if I had known about the revelation that was revealed at the end of it but given away earlier in Him. Definitely some outstanding performances (Jessica is always fantastic and definitely deserved the place on your top female performances list and I think this is MacAvoy's best performance to date, even just the timbre of his voice made him sound like someone completely different imo).

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    3. Awesome man, so glad you like the films. You make a good point about about the order to watch them in, I'll definitely remember that when showing the movies to someone for a first time. I can't wait to buy this, it worked for me in every way.

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  4. Nice review Alex! I caught Her months and months ago but didn't get the opportunity to see Him as well, so I feel reluctant to truly judge the film(s); I found Her somewhat disappointing, but I can imagine that the shading provided by its cinematic counterpart would improve my opinion of it. Hopefully I'll get the chance to see Her other half soon enough!

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    1. Thanks man! Ohh that's really interesting. I saw Her first as well, but Him really helped flesh the whole story out. I suppose, in theory, they should be able to stand on their own, but yeah, check out Him as soon as you can!

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  5. Great review Alex. From what you're saying I seriously hope that it gets released in Australia in its prime form (Him and Her), rather than Them. I'm a big fan of James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain so my interest in the film is definitely performance based. Can't wait to see it!

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    1. Thanks Angela, I hope both Her and Him make it your way soon as well. McAvoy and Chastain are both superb here. Honestly, I'm not sure if either of them have been better. A tough call, but they are so very good.

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  6. I really hope I get the chance to see this as Him and Her and not Them. Great review!

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    1. Thanks! I'd love to know what you think of these films. SO good.

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  7. Hmmm this sounds a little better than Them, which I saw. Very bleak though well acted.

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    1. I haven't seen Them, but if the star of the movie says Them is inferior, then that's enough for me, you know? I adored Him/Her.

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  8. Great review! I hope to get to see Him and Her separately!

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    1. Thanks! Definitely check them out if you can.

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  9. Wow, man, really glad you liked the whole project that much. I was lucky enough to watch both films back to back at Athens Film Festival in late September and loved them both. "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him" and "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Her" make for one of the most bold, original, deeply felt and hauntingly beautiful movie experiences that I have had in a movie theater this year. The whole project is simply unique. Personally, I was more taken with the male version, not only because I liked Conor more as a character, but also because I truly felt it made for a more focused and coherent film. To me, it stands alone better as a film than "Her". But that's not to say in any way "Her" isn't a wonderful film, it really is. It’s just the "Them" version that feels utterly pointless, if you’ve seen "Him" and "Her", like I have. “Them” is far from a bad film, like some review could imply, it just feels a little too bland, especially when compared to the terrific films "Him" and "Her" are. Anyone who will decide to spend time and money to watch Ned Benson's full vision will be rewarded, trust me. A combined version of the two brilliant films Ned Benson has written and directed with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as his leads brings nothing new to the project, it’s just a commercial movement from The Weinstein Company, which releases all of the films. It’s quite ironic that "Them", where the distribution company’s interest is focused more than any other version of this film project, is such a disappointment when compared to the beautiful "Him" and "Her" films. Both films are spectacular. I loved every sentence and every word of your fantastic review. You seem to have fully understood what Benson was trying to achieve with the two separate versions of Conor's and Eleanor's painfully honest story. I especially loved the way you analyzed the scene where they're both stuck in a car in the middle of nowhere during heavy rain. When brought to mind, the two versions of this scene indicate the unreliability of human memory and the meaning of perception in a way that feels almost poetic. And there's this poetic vibe in both films and when contrasted with Benson's love for the complexity of the human soul, it's mesmerizing, to say the least. Jessica Chastain’s performance in both of them is beyond superb. Really, really wow. It’s a gigantic performance to say the least, easily her best to date and more than worthy of an Oscar win (especially in “Her” version). She immerses herself into her role in a way I think it’s almost impossible for an actor to do so. The emotional detachment, the steelness, that coldness you describe so beautifully is penetrated into every cell of her body. Just try to think of the way she decides to finally deal with her (SPOILER ALERT) dead son's memory in both films. If she could pull off a scene like that in those two different ways, there's probably nothing she can't play brilliantly. There’s obviously not a limit to the depth she can bring into a role. Her chemistry with the brilliant James McAvoy is incredible as well. And McAvoy... God, what can I say! Phenomenal work with an everyman quality that feels refreshing. His character's arc is a little bit more straightforward and therefore Conor always feels less interesting as a character when compared to Eleanor. McAvoy's performance though is really flawless. Any movies lover has to see “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him” and “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Her” in a movie theater. It's an experience you carry with you after the final credits. Kudos to your brilliant review, by far the greatest I've read for Benson's debut thus far.

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    1. Love love LOVE this comment. Thanks so much about the kind words about my review. I really appreciate it man. Now, I have a question, which film did you see first, Him or Her? I'm finding that the movie people like better is often whichever one they were exposed to first. I loved them both, but if I had to choose, I'd say I was slightly more taken with Her (which was first for me). That intro alone really grabbed me. But your justification for liking Him more is definitely on point. Loved it.

      Thanks again for the comment, you always have the best, most insightful things to say!

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    2. Well, it's "Him" I saw first and I also find out (expectedly) that the film people like better is often the one they're exposed to first. I'm sure the fact I saw "Him" first played its part in making me like it more than "Her" but still, as I've told, I really do think it stands on its own better than "Her". I just love both films though and I'm so glad you loved my comment. Did you see "Them" before you saw "Her"? Fortunately, I saw it last and I'm glad, because I think it would have ruined the whole experience of this project if I had seen it before "Him" and "Her". But really man, ugh, the whole marketing strategy around Benson's vision from TWC in USA was just awful. He dumped the film in the same way he did with James Gray's "The Immigrant" last year. Such a shame.

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    3. I actually haven't seen Them, which was very difficult to avoid, because it was released in LA one month before Him/Her. But everyone I talked to who had seen it said Them was far inferior, so I held out. And I agree, the distribution for this film is definitely a shame. I was stunned how The Immigrant came and went so quickly. A real bummer.

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  10. You had me sold with your first sentence. That is exactly the kind of thing I like.

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    1. I really think you'd like these movies :)

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  11. I really, really wanted to see these movies (or at least THEM), but none of them have been released even remotely near where I live (in Milwaukee). I would have even gone downtown Chicago for a viewing. It's disappointing because of how much I was anticipating the film(s). I think it's pretty nice you were able to see the two perspective films. I didn't even realize many people would get an opportunity to see those. Great review, Alex! I hope to see them at some point :)

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    1. Thanks Kristin! Honestly, I think they should've released these in theaters, even in a very limited release, AND put all three versions on Video on Demand at the same time. These are perfectly suited for at-home viewing. Hopefully they'll put them all out soon!

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  12. I don't know when and if I will get a chance to see this one but I really do want to see this one. And I want to see Him and Her - not them. I obviously don't know much but I would guess we would have seen many films like them. But Him and Her - that's ballsy. This format was the first thing that got my attention.

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    1. Yep, definitely get a hold of Him/Her as opposed to Them. I think you'll really appreciate those films. Them is nothing inherently new, you know?

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  13. I can't wait to see Him and Her! So glad you dug these.

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    1. Ohhh I think you'll really like these. Great, great stuff.

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  14. I saw a screening of Them not so long ago. For me, the characters and situations are too bland and lacking in distinctiveness. I doubt I’ll remember the film in a few months. It’s good, but not quite great. The Viola Davis and Chastain scenes are my favorite moments. Hopefully the Him/Her versions make these characters a bit more memorable than in Them, which it seems based on your review.
    I've listened to the soundtrack on spotify, and particularly No Fate Awaits Me (feat. Faux Fix) by Son Lux is beautiful.

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    1. I've been playing "No Fate Awaits Me" on repeat for months. My god, what a stunner. I love it.

      As for "Them," I actually watched it for the first time last night and didn't like it. I'd probably give it a C. Very bland all around, no context or substance. "Him/Her," collectively, will be in my Top 10 of the year. So that's the difference of those films for me. Highly recommend both "Him" and "Her."

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