Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigsby: Him


When I first heard about the genius of an idea that is Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigsby, my first thought was: wow, lucrative. Indeed, Benson tells the same story of a married couple three times in three films: once from the perspective of "him," once from the perspective of "her" and once from the perspective of "them."

Him opens at the peak of Connor and Eleanor's relationship. They're about to leave a diner but neither of them can pay for the meal. So, they make a run for it - laughing, breathless and in love. We absorb all of this, of course, but there is one more thing we should keep in mind while watching this scene - Eleanor is the one who gets up from her seat and leaves first.

In The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigsby, we learn through snatches of conversation that the reason for Eleanor's depression is the death of her two-month-old baby. So, there are two disappearances in the film: Eleanor's and her child's. In this way, the film focuses on how we deal with the unsaid. "Why does it feel like I had to go through all of it on my own?" Eleanor asks Connor early on in the film. Indeed, Connor looks distressed at the beginning of the film (short-tempered at work, wearing black), but it is Eleanor who - bed-ridden and pale - is truly suffering.

The cast of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigsby is one of its greatest selling points, and for good reason. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain (especially her!!) are stellar. Ciarán Hinds is brilliant as the hesitant, counselling father, and Billy Hader is effortlessly amusing.

We quickly arrive at conclusions about the characters the first time they appear, but Benson does a wonderful job at changing the way we think about them. When we first meet Connor's father, he seems thoroughly unimpressive while sitting on the couch and battling short-term memory. The next time he reappears, however, he is all decked out in suit and tie, owner of a highly successful bar in New York. Our impression of Eleanor certainly shifts as well, as we - from Connor's perspective - spot her new hairdo and wonder, both relieved and puzzled, about her seemingly impulsive decisions. Eleanor is, without a doubt, the "star" of Connor's life. Like Connor, our whole movie-watching experience revolves around her disappearances and sudden reappearances.

Yet Him left something to be desired. At one point in the film, Alexis, the waitress at Connor's restaurant, says that it is "indecent to have things so worked out." Even so, things sort of do patch themselves together by the end of the film. For example, Connor eventually becomes the successor of his father's restaurant albeit having staunchly refused his offer many times. Even the subdued ending shot of Eleanor walking behind Connor seems too "perfect." While romantic, it lacks the depth I had expected to find in the film.

Yet one cannot judge The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigsby solely through the lens of Him. When Connor follows Eleanor to one of her classes, we can hear the professor in the background giving a lecture on Descarte's concept of "subject and subjectivity." Indeed, subjectivity is what Benson addresses through these three films. He presents us with one relationship yet reminds us that it is subject to three different perspectives. So, even though Him was a mild let-down, I'll still be heading to the cinemas to watch Her and Them!