First, a little perspective. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is really an edited version of two previous films from director Ned Benson. They’re titled simply Him and Her. Both films looked at the same relationship but from different perspectives. Combined, they ran three hours.
Disappearance pieces the two films together, edits the running time down to two hours and subtitles the project Them. It’s an audacious approach with an impressive cast; and just in case you were wondering, no, it has nothing to do with the song other than the fact that Eleanor’s family name is Rigby and her parents loved The Beatles.
When we first meet Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Connor (James McAvoy) they’ve skipped the bill and are running from a restaurant. Presumably, this is early in their courtship. Cut to a later date – no time is given. For whatever reason, in a suicide attempt, Eleanor jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge. She’s rescued, but once she pulls through, life with Connor is never going to be the same. She moves in with her parents (Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt) and kick starts her college education, cutting all ties with her young husband.
It’s a while until we find out why Eleanor wanted to end it all, and when it comes it’s initially mentioned more as a passing remark in conversation between Connor and Connor’s dad (Ciaran Hinds). It’s one of those moments when you suddenly sit up and think, “Did I just hear right?” Once it’s revealed, everything previously hazy seems to fall into place, including what was on that picture now removed from the Rigby family gallery. We presume it was a picture of Connor, but we never really discover until later. Like everything we need to know about Connor and Eleanor, information is revealed through what might seem like an inconsequential action or a passing remark; layers are slowly peeled away until you suddenly realize you’re at the heart of the matter.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby may be the combination of two works but the film remains an effective enough stand-alone project. It would be interesting to see both Him and Her at some later date in the way a student of film would like to see the building blocks of a interconnected narrative and explore how editing works – both films are said to be up for theatrical releases – but having now seen the combination of the two, as entertainment, seeing all three films is not necessary.
As an exploration of character, Eleanor and Connor are only as interesting as Chastain and McAvoy make them. Both actors add flesh to two fairly ordinary people. They’re likeable enough characters, but without knowing why they’ve gone their separate ways it’s often difficult to fathom why we’re following them, other than to get to the bottom of why Eleanor attempted suicide. “We were a million miles away in the same room,” Eleanor explains to her sister (Jess Weixler).
Support is outstanding. Throughout the two hours, each character gets their moment to shine, and they do with either an action or a brief speech that both exhibits their talent and reveals something about their personality that we need to know. In addition to cast members already mentioned, there’s also Viola Davis as an abrupt though understanding college professor who responds to Eleanor’s unique name by saying, “That must be tough,” and a surprisingly effective performance from SNL alumni Bill Hader as Connor’s close friend and chef at Connor’s failing restaurant.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is undoubtedly a film full of heart. There is nothing particularly new or surprising that is said about a young couple torn apart by tragedy, and two hours is long enough without the need to revisit the three hour Him and Her originals, but the quirky title should get you into the theatre while the sharp writing and the performances will keep you hooked.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 122 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)