The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

This one has a bit of an odd origin. Ned Benson, the director originally made two films, one subtitled Him and the other Her. It was a Rashomon-like experiment, telling the story from two different viewpoints. Harvey Weinstein, who bought the films after last year’s Toronto Film Festival, decided that this wasn’t going to work. So he made Benson cut the two films down into one. You’d think that the result would be a mess but basically it works.
The story is about a married couple, Conor Ludlow, played by James McAvoy and Eleanor Rigby, played by Jessica Chastain. They live in New York City. Their marriage suffers a serious blow when their young child dies. The first scene in the movie is of Eleanor riding her bike across a pedestrian bridge, getting off and jumping into the river. She survives and then goes from the hospital to her parents’ house to figure things out. She doesn’t tell her husband where she is. Conor makes an effort to reconnect.
Obviously the success of a film like this depends on the leads and here we are in good hands. McAvoy and Chastain are two of the best actors working today. Separate they are terrific and together they have great chemistry. You can see the history of their relationship in the way they interact with each other.
The supporting cast is good too. William Hurt plays Julian Rigby, Eleanor’s college professor father. He and his wife Mary, played by Isabelle Huppert were big Beatles fans. He is a man used to approaching problems intellectually and finds that approach inadequate in dealing with his grieving daughter. Huppert’s Mary is always seen with a wine glass in her hand. She was a classical musician before she got married and Huppert captures the contradiction between a woman whose approach to life is basically emotional but who is also so self-involved that her relationship with her daughter has always been distant.
The plot of the film advances through dialog. People meet up either by accident or after long sojourns on the subway (Eleanor’s parents live on Long Island) and then have conversations, where they try to find the words that will make it better. At one point Conor tells Eleanor that he had thought of the perfect thing to say that would make her feel better and bring her back. He says he forgot it but you know he never thought of it in the first place. That is the central irony of this film: It is a talky film about the inadequacy of words to connect people emotionally.
It is slow moving and a little too long but amazingly it does build to a climax and the ambiguous ending is apt.


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September 2014
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