The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her (2013)

I keep reminding myself, my evaluation of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her should not be affected by the appearance of Jessica Chastain, her real self, in the theatre. That was an unexpected and most exhilarating episode in my TIFF13 experience.

After over an hour waiting inline outside, we were ushered into the historic building (100th anniversary this year) that housed the beautiful Elgin and the Winter Garden Theatres. And lo and behold, I saw Jessica Chastain standing right there in a press line answering questions. Who can take a focused shot with steady hands while being herded like sheep quickly passing by Jessica Chastain?

Jessica Chastain

Here’s a sharper view but no better vantage point:

JC Another View


Disappearance is two films in one. It tells how a couple deals with loss, and the subsequent effect on their relationship, from His and Her point of view. Each is a 90 minute film that can stand on its own. We were shown first Him, then Her, with no intermission. I know at some other screenings, it’s the other way round. Now, that is intriguing. Will the audience perceive quite a different story then?

The concept had been found in previous films. Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon comes to mind. It presents four different points of view consecutively in one film from those involved in a crime. A more recent movie Vantage Point uses the idea but is miserably repetitive.

With Disppearance, we have a fresh, contemporary take on this high concept. Being made into two films allow deeper character development and more complex storytelling. It is innovative but not redundant as one might suspect. And that’s the ingenuity of writer/director Ned Benson. His screenplays for both are intelligent, perceptive and thought-provoking.

The first part Him is more elliptical. As viewers, we know little to start, but are eager to find out more about the couple. Why does an amicable and romantic relationship becomes incommunicable, and with the wife disappearing, walking out of the relationship? We soon find out the reason. I would not spoil it for you.

To deal with his situation, the husband, Conor (James McAvoy, Atonement), spends his energy on saving a losing business, his little restaurant in NYC. I suppose, as a man would, diverging his focus into career and business. Ciaran Hinds plays his father, a successful restaurateur who offers his son what he has established, a proposal that is turned down.

Bill Hader is deadpan funny as Conor’s good friend and chef in the restaurant. A friend can help him cope, but Conor knows ultimately he has to walk the path himself. The last scene is open-ended, a good lead into the Her perspective.

Him: ~ ~ ~ Ripples


After watching Him, I was eager to find out Her story. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Tree of Life) is Eleanor Rigby, her parents having met in a Beatles concert, thus the namesake. But the film is not about the song, albeit we do hear the relevant line.

This second part is most gratifying. Not only does it fill in the gaps, it has gone deeper into Eleanor’s pains and her struggles to find herself once again… or maybe, for the first time. While Conor immerses himself in his restaurant, Eleanor returns to her family.

William Hurt plays Eleanor’s dad, a psychology professor who stands by as a loving father would, albeit helplessly. He suggests Eleanor take courses part time, which she does. Thus leads to some interesting scenes and meaningful dialogues with her prof played by Viola Davis, a role that the talented actor deserves. She gets to deliver that poignant line in the Beatles song:

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

The veteran French actor Isabelle Huppert is Eleanor’s mother, always with a glass of wine in hand. There is no perfect family. She has her own issues to deal with, let alone contributing to a healing process.

Jess Weixier as Eleanor’s sister puts forth an excellent, complementary performance to Chastain’s. She is a single mother living in her parents’ house and raising an eight year-old son. She too, has to play the hand life deals her as best she can. From the Q and A after the screening, we learn of the long-time friendship between Chastain and Weixier, and it shows. Their performance makes me long for the experience of sisterhood.

And we learn too that Ned Benson wrote Her especially for Jessica Chastain, who ten years earlier introduced herself after watching Benson’s short film and was much impressed by it. Chastain was emotional when recounting the incident, moved that now ten years later, Benson is finally being acknowledged.

With such a high calibre cast, I could have sat there for another hour. There are lots to think about, and the cast makes it enjoyable for us to do just that in the films.

How can a response to any situation be shared while we see and feel so differently? One’s perspective is uniquely one’s own, an interplay of subjective perceptions, past experiences, psychological makeup, temperaments, rationality…. These two films screened back-to-back is the most vivid way to convey this point. How then can two people unite despite differences in perspectives?

As I write this post, Proust’s madeleines eating episode comes to mind. The memory and sentiments elicited from an experience is personal and subjective. And that’s what these two films show us. Even within the same scene, the camera takes on a different angle and point of view. Most interesting is that, even the dialogues are different. We can see the discrepancies in their memories and knowledge (or lack of) of themselves and each other. And when it comes to love, how each would want to hear the other taking the initiative to say ‘I love you.’

Her: ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


To top it off, we were given a chance to hear the cast share their experience in a Q and A session after the screening. From left to right Jess Weixier, Cirian Hinds, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain.

Disappearance of ER Q & AWhole Experience: ~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples


All photos in this post taken by Arti of Ripple Effects. Please do not copy or reblog.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

24 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her (2013)”

  1. The alternating perspective makes me think of several books (Woman in White, for example), but I’ve never heard of a movie version. How exciting to view Him/Her in such a gorgeous setting and with such sparkly company.


    1. nikkipolani,

      You’re right … the setting is gorgeous, and very classy, except for the cramped leg space, as you can imagine. Had taken a few pics while inside. Maybe a future post.


  2. Arti, one of the coolest things about attending film festivals is seeing the filmmakers, writers and stars. I love your shots of Jessica Chastain. I will probably catch both films when they open. The NYFF will be starting a week from Friday, September 27th. Often cast members and filmmakers can be seen milling around Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall post-screening. The red carpet is always a zoo out here. We usually don’t bother trying to rubberneck, it is so teeming with press and gawkers (most gawkers do not have tickets to the films). Milton and I only have tickets to five screenings, but we hope we’ll see a few gems. TIFF sounds like pure film gluttony to me — and I mean that in a good way. Yours and Sundance are the two festivals I’d most like to attend if I were the type who kept a bucket list, but I’m not that type, and I don’t think that’s going to happen in this lifetime anyway. At least I have the NYFF. We’re not fans of Tribeca, and Milton and I have not attended New Directors/New Films in a few years because we’re basically the working poor.


    1. lameadventures,

      I kept telling myself I come for the films, not the stars. But when I happened to see one, I sure could sense the excitement, esp. when it was a pure surprise. like this cast of The Disappearance. Actually, I wasn’t so much attracted by their glamour, but just the opposite, their humanity, and often down to earth demeanor, with the ones I saw anywhere. NYFF is another exciting event, I’m glad you’ll be seeing some films. Hope to read your posts on the experience. I know NYFF is paying tribute to Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes this time, which is fantastic, but just a little hint: I’d skip The Invisible Woman. The film I really want to see if I were in NYC would be Inside Llewyn Davis, which TIFF didn’t screen. But then again, I’m sure it will come on our local screens sooner or later.


      1. Milton and I tend to avoid films with distribution, but we are seeing A Touch of Sin (not sure when that is opening) and Blue is the Warmest Color. Considering how much the director and cast of Blue now hate each other, if they show up in New York for a Q&A, I anticipate that this could turn into a chair throwing free for all straight out of Jerry Springer. Milton got us second row center seats for that screening so it’s even possible a chair might even bounce off his head.


  3. Thanks for the first person account of delights at TIFF! Extremely anxious to see this for those Beautiful Men, McAvoy and Hinds… Chastain is lovely on film though I was surprised at her lackluster performance on the stage in “Washington Square.” Maybe she was miscast, as she is far too beautiful for the role of an ugly misfit.


    1. linnetmoss,

      I knew about Washington Square, Dan Stevens was in it. I’d love to have watched that, despite JC’s performance which you mentioned was lower than your expectations. 😉


  4. What a wonderful experience! There is undoubtedly a charisma about the most accomplished actors that comes across in every medium – I can feel Jessica Chastain’s presence in those shots of her. And the movie sounds really interesting and one I’d like to see. What would I do without your recommendations, Arti? I’d give up on films for good, I think.


    1. litlove,

      Thanks for your kind words, litlove. I’m afraid you might not be able to see this one for some time. Weinstein Co. had bought the distributing rights, but likely they won’t release it until 2014. They would have to think of how to release them too… as two films or one and if two, which first which second…etc That’s the benefit of film festivals. We’re given the chance to see films that may never be released, ever. Of course I wish this one well.


    1. Stefanie,

      Exactly. Two exchangeable storytelling order. This present one is an interesting experiment already. And for the ‘Is this a library?’ question, you’ll have the answer maybe in this coming Saturday Snapshot. 😉


  5. This sounds remarkably complex and fascinating, Arti. I wonder if it will ever make it to our town. I truly don’t think that even having a Jessica sighting and a great talk back after would make a mediocre film good. I’ll bet your ripples are spot on!


    1. Jeanie,

      Thanks. I do hope you’ll have a chance to see this. Don’t know how they’re going to release this though, as one film extended hours or two films. Nothing beats experiencing the films first hand. 😉


  6. Arti,
    It’s been a while since I visited, as always your post does not disappoint, your review is always insightful, perceptive and thought provoking.

    Not being a film buff, I had not heard of Jessica Chastian until early this year. From what I read and watched I find her to be a breath of fresh air, a fine and humble actress with striking good looks. I was quite disappointed that she did not win best actress for her performance in Zero Dark Thirty. I look forward to seeing more of her works and wish her all the best and success she deserves. I’ll be keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed that this film will get world wide release and Jessica will get nominated best actress come next award season.


    1. Yinling,

      Welcome back and thanks for your kind words. Yes, I do wish Jessica Chastain all the best in her career. Certainly hope too that The Disappearance will make it to the big screens in our local cities. It is a tricky format, and I hope the novelty of it does not pose too big a challenge for the distributor, in this case, Harvey Weinstein. And with him, I always feel, if there’s a will, there’s a way. 😉


    1. Nicola,

      This is just one venue among a dozen that screen the 300+ films. Yes, TIFF is probably the largest FF in the world in terms of number of films. I hope you can attend one then you’ll know it’s totally worth the price and the long waits in line… yes, even for ticket holders.


  7. Excellent review, one that has brought me (yes, even me!) to the point of wanting to see these films. I love the concept of one subject, two films. It’s intriguing as can be, and the fact that it apparently was done so well makes it even more appealing.

    I’m not much interested in celebrities or the glitz and glamour (and occasional stupidity) of Hollywood, but I’ve heard very good things about Jessica Chastain. And I think being able to experience Q&As at a festival would be marvelous. I’m so glad you had the experience – and your “off the cuff” shots are great!


    1. Well, Linda, I’m afraid you may not have a chance to see them for some time, if they’re ever screened in your area. But I do hope so. I personally like the Hers part more. Very intelligent and thought-provoking dialogues in there.

      And yes, the benefits of going to FF is that I get to hear the Q & A, and see the real persons (if I’m lucky that is). I’m not one for the ‘glamorous’, as you may have known, but just the opposite. Hearing and seeing these actors, and usually the director, screenwriter, seeing and hearing them share their experience make me appreciate their down-to-earth persona and often ‘unglamorous’ struggles.


    1. fastfilmjudge,

      Glad to hear from someone at the same screening and share similar thoughts. Just proves that the film is impressive in its own way, resonating in us in similar, or different, ways. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.


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