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.


Oscar Results 2013

Argo (3): Best Picture, Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay

Life of Pi (4): Best Director Ang Lee, Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects

Les Misérables (3): Best Actress in a Supporting Role Anne Hathaway, Makeup & Hairstyling (hair’s new this year), Sound Mixing

Lincoln (2): Best Actor in a Leading Role Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Production Design

Silver Linings Playbook (1): Best Actress in a Leading Role Jennifer Lawrence

Django Unchained (2): Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz, Original Screenplay Quentin Tarantino.

Skyfall (2): Best Original Song Adele, Best Sound Editing (draw with ZDT)

Zero Dark Thirty (1): Best Sound Editing

Anna Karenina (1): Costume Design

Amour (1): Best Foreign Language Film

The above is a list of the major winners. For a full list, CLICK HERE.


The film winning Best Picture is always considered the major winner. So Argo it is. Interesting that the director of a Best Picture is not even nominated. No matter, the 1979 Iran hostage crisis came to a glorious end for Ben Affleck. “… it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life because that’s going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.” Glad he thanked Canada in his acceptance speech, along with Iran. Equal opportunity thanker he is.

Life of Pi has the most Oscars. I’m excited for them. Canadian composer Mychael Danna wins with his Indian-influenced score. Director Ang Lee gave a gracious acceptance speech thanking Taiwan, where he filmed the majority of the movie, all the 3,000 people involved in the production, and yes, the author of the Booker Prize winning novel, Canadian writer Yann Martel. For those who are book lovers and don’t want to spoil their good memory of their reading experience, I say, go see the film. It’s worthy of its literary source.

Glad to see Les Miz being honored with three awards. The dream came true for Anne Hathaway, winning her first Oscar, as expected. Deservedly, the Make-up and Hairstyling people won as well, with hairstyling being the first time recognized at the Oscars. Just look at Hugh Jackman at the opening scenes you’d appreciate their effort. That he didn’t eat or drink for over 13 hrs to shoot those scenes helped too. The highlight of last night’s Awards Show for me was the whole Les Miz cast singing on stage.

While I’m at that, get the orchestra back in the Theatre where the action is next time. You can hear the discrepancy in timing with the singing at certain points. And please, don’t rush people off stage by playing all those irrelevant (or maybe tackily relevant) old movie themes. So rude to the present winners and disrespectful to those past productions. Here are some I remember… Jaws, The Magnificent Seven, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind (that’s when Quentin Tarantino was speaking).

Why, with all the technical talents around, the tribute to fifty years of James Bond was done with such a lack-lustre montage? To help us forget it, Shirley Bassey came on stage to sing Goldfinger after that. In my opinion, Goldfinger is probably the best James Bond song. And Bassey just showed, at 76, the unfading colours of a great voice. So’s Barbra Streisand, at 70, delivered a moving The Way We Were after the Memoriam clip, paying tribute to Marvin Hamlisch who wrote the Oscar winning song (1974). Memories flooded back as she sang at the Oscars the first time last night after 36 years. With all due respect to Adele and her Skyfall win, these two veteran singers made a sharp contrast to her shaky performance.

Now, Lincoln‘s disappointing results baffled me. Coming into the Awards Season, it was the strongest contender, with 12 nominations. The only major win was Daniel Day-Lewis who was almost locked-in for Best Actor, and deservedly so. He is now the only actor winning three Oscar Best Actor awards. I’ve seen all his winning films. While his Lincoln portrayal is impressive, I remember being captivated by his first Oscar winning role in My Left Foot (1989) as Irish writer Christy Brown who was afflicted with cerebral palsy and could only use his left foot to write.

And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence, what a good sport. It’s embarrassing falling on the steps going up the stage, but getting an Oscar way over compensates for it. Her performance in Silver Linings Playbook confirms her position as a leading female character actor at 22. I’ve seen her much younger performances before all the Hunger Games hype, and knew that she would be a rising star. The two films I’m thinking of are The Burning Plain (2008) and Winter’s Bone (2010).

As for the film and the actress I’ve been silently rooting for, Zero Dark Thirty and Jessica Chastain, well, at least it has one Oscar. I’m not too disappointed though for I trust Kathryn Bigelow‘s talent and skill can only create more strong productions, and hopefully not being marred by unnecessary controversies like she has with ZDT. As for Jessica Chastain, I know she will deliver in whatever film she’s in… given a good role and in the hands of a capable director. I wish her all the best.

As for next year’s Oscars? Captain Kirk is right… you’d want to honour the film industry, not to spite it with a bad host and degrading jokes, no matter how entertaining the singing and dancing are. Yes, I’m referring to the opening number, plus some other ones that left us with a bad aftertaste. So please, bring on a different perspective, one that represents the other half of the human race. Let’s have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to co-host next year’s Oscars.


CLICK ON the following links to my review of:

Life of Pi the movie

Life of Pi the book

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo


Les Miserables

Anna Karenina the movie

Anna Karenina the book


Zero Dark Thirty and Argo

There are several reasons I link these two films together. Both are acclaimed productions which have already garnered awards. While both films have been nominated for Best Picture in the 2013 Academy Awards, both directors, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck have been snubbed in the Best Director category. The reason I do not want to speculate. But for one of them, I have a hunch.

These are very American films, depicting Americans in crisis and its aftermath. Argo is about getting Americans out of Iran during the 1979-80 hostage crisis in Tehran, Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30) about hunting and getting into Pakistan to take down Osama bin Laden. Both involve the intricate work of the CIA.

And, both have driven me to the edge of my seat, despite the fact that I know the ending of the event they portray. This is the power of visual storytelling. But for me, the similarities may well end here.

Ben Affleck

Argo rests on one man, Tony Mendez, a CIA officer who masterminded the rescue mission, information declassified only in recent years. Played by director Ben Affleck, Mendez is decorated with CIA’s Intelligence Star and received other accolades after that.

ZD30 rests on one woman, known only as Maya in the film. A young CIA officer who for ten years, dedicated her life to the searching for Osama bin Laden. She is relentless in her pursuit, fighting not only outward threats of physical dangers but bureaucracy within an alpha male work environment. Her identity remains hidden.

Jessica Chastain has once again shown how versatile an actor she is. I have seen her in some very different roles: The Debt, The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Help. Here in ZD30, she has convincingly portrayed a strong leading female character with finesse. Her performance not only carries the film but our emotion as well.

Jessica Chastain

And not only Maya, ZD30 has shown us there are other female CIA officers performing perilous duties. Her friend and colleague Jessica is one of them. Now, as I watched this Jessica on screen, I kept thinking she looked so familiar. Only when I watched the credits roll at the end did I find out, lo, that’s Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, 1995) or a bit closer, Myrtle Logue in The King’s Speech (2010).

Director Kathryn Bigelow has done an exceptional job in turning Mark Boal’s original screenplay into a tight and engrossing film. Both won Oscars for The Hurt Locker (2008), Bigelow being the first woman to win the Best Director award. At the beginning of the film, we are told it is based on firsthand accounts of actual events. Despite knowing the ending, I was still captivated every step of the way, following the intelligence gathering process, the narrowing down of leads and locations, the red tape. The film is an alchemy of facts and fiction, a creative fusion. But for the audience, there is no way to distinguish which is which.

That leads to the controversial issue, one that some in Washington and now the Academy have condemned, the issue of torture. And here’s my take. Isn’t it a bit simplistic to argue that since the film depicts scenes of torture of detainees to get leads and information, it means that the filmmakers condone or even promote torture?

While the U.S. Administration had denied using any torture tactics in the final capture of bin Laden does not mean the total absence of them over the ten year post 9/11 period, both known or later discovered. The photos from Abu Ghraib prison are still vivid in my mind. None of the scenes in the film can compare to those real life photos. Or, come to think of it, could Abu Ghraib have informed the screenwriting? This being not a documentary, but a dramatized fusion, can one separate facts and fiction so clearly?

Or take Argo, how much is true about the rescue mission? How much is dramatized? What proportion should we give credits to the mastermind Mendez and the CIA, and how much should we credit the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) for hiding the six American embassy staff in his home at his own risk? The same kind of simplistic accusation ZD30 is getting could also apply here: Does the fact that they all escaped Iran using false identity mean the filmmakers, or the Canadian government for that matter, promote deception and the forging of Canadian passports?

Unlike Argo, the ending is not celebratory in ZD30. Things are not as clean cut as planned. The final mission of assassination is messy, a helicopter is down and has to be destroyed on site. There are collateral damages. But the target is hit, mission accomplished. Nevertheless, there is no applause or celebration. The tone is sombre, which I think is most apt. The final scene with Maya alone on the large transport plane leaving Pakistan is the epitome of ambivalence. Jessica Chastain leaves us with a poignant expression. Is it justice, national security, or rather, personal vendetta that has been accomplished? The last line delivered by the pilot echoed in my mind after I’d left the theatre, dazed… Where do we want to go from here?

Zero Dark Thirty ~~~~ Ripples

Argo ~~~1/2 Ripples


CLICK HERE to read Kathryn Bigelow’s article on L.A.Times addressing the controversy of torture in the film Zero Dark Thirty. 

Golden Globes, Jan. 13, 2013: Argo won Best Picture, Drama, and Ben Affleck Best Director. Jessica Chastain won Best Actress, Drama, for Zero Dark Thirty.

Related posts on Ripple Effects:

History Made At The Oscars

The Hurt Locker