Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby disappoints
First time writer-director Ned Benson has created The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, an ambitious love story that functions as a three-part series through the perspectives of its romantic duo. “Him” and “Her” are each filmed in the subjective narrative of Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), while “Them” is meant to function as the most objective journey through the couple’s relationship and eventual downfall.
While the title of the film is just plain silly, McAvoy and Chastain are wonderful in their portrayal of two people struggling with loss and nostalgia. It’s mainly their performances that uplifts “Them,” especially in moments when the film fails.
“Them” starts with a flashback of Connor and Eleanor (yes, her name is a silly allusion to the Beatles song) still in the honeymoon phases of their marriage, giddily playing dine-and-dash at a restaurant and running away to a nearby park. In the midst of a makeout session, cued by fireflies to celebrate their union, Connor then utters the very cheesy line “Hey, Rigby. There’s only one heart in this body. Have mercy on my soul.” They kiss in a moment of pure bliss.
Flash forward to the present, as Eleanor attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge. What caused Eleanor to be so unhappy so fast? The film reveals the answer much later as it weaves through Connor and Eleanor’s lives as newly estranged spouses. This marks the “disappearance” that is referred to in the film’s obnoxious title as not Eleanor’s absence in Connor’s life, but rather the complete demise of who Eleanor once was. The utter loss that Eleanor, in particular, grapples with results in the extinguishment of any desire for her to continue living for herself and for Connor.
“Them” is unique through its elegant vision and delicate performances. It’s pacing is deliberate and elusive, as if shifts between the narratives of the two characters as well as through random flashbacks. The ephemerality of the pacing intentionally functions like that of memories, not centered on plot or cinematic style but, rather, on how Connor and Eleanor subjectively remember their marriage and the aftermath.
For the most part, “Them” separates the couple, trying to show how Eleanor and Connor are dealing with this unspoken tragedy. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t do a great job of showing this reaction. Eleanor and Connor experience moments of affection, regret, and joy. They are beautiful memories that show the love and selflessness that the couple had for one another. But it quickly fades away as they revert back to their original positions of moping.
Sure, these are genuinely flawed characters, but this constant return to bitter brooding is what makes the film so annoying to endure for two hours. The point of film in general is to explore human conflict, pain, and eventual recovery. “Them” nailed down the conflict and the pain, but skipped out on the recovery.
Overall, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby fails to be a fulfilling film. And not in a way that would magically tie itself up in a happy ending with a ribbon on top. Its failure lies in its inability to show how Eleanor and Connor interact with the world, in a way that would show how their loss and troubles manifest themselves in a tangible way. Yes, for two hours we watch Connor and Eleanor sulking around the streets of New York with a brooding sensibility, but nothing in their relationship is furthered by this in any way. They put on a facade of “letting go” by giving in to their constricting circumstances, never allowing the opportunity for them to fully heal from their marriage. The exploration of tragedy, in this case, is elegantly displayed but ends up being frustrating as the aftermath is never fully realized.