TIFF 2013: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her Review

TIFF-2013-Disappearance-of-Eleanor-Rigby

We are all the heroes of our own stories. Ned Benson’s first film – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – takes that central idea and applies it to a failing romance. The film is told in two overlapping ninety-minute sections – Him and Her – which show how the same story changes when told from a different perspective. A lot has been made about this gimmick, with the director stating that each section stands alone as a film and can be seen without the other half, and in different orders. I’d disagree. Him can stand alone as a feature film by itself (it’s a wonderful work), but Her is a bit too impenetrable to work without the stage-setting done by Him. It’s best if the film is seen in its three-hour entirety in one sitting, while the memories of the first perspective are still fresh in the audience’s mind.

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain play a young married couple who are going through a rough patch for unexplained reasons (at least at first). Chastain wants to “take a break” from their relationship and asks that McAvoy cease contact with her. He doesn’t understand, and in his section of the film he keeps his distance from Chastain while watching her from afar. In her section of the film, we get to see all the things McAvoy doesn’t get to see while their separated. It’s a really interesting work, and the gimmick actually has an effect on how we interpret the events as they play out. If audiences saw Her first, they’d probably think that McAvoy is a bit of a buffoon. But if you see Him first, it shows how devastated and heartbroken he is, and how Chastain’s insistence that she “disappear” for awhile seems cold and selfish.

Obviously, to make the different perspective conceit work, there have to be a few overlapping scenes between the two characters. What’s interesting about the film is that some of these scenes play exactly the same in both films (i.e. same dialogue, same shots, etc.) but they take on a different meaning when you see occurrences that the other side doesn’t know about. Other overlapping sequences are interesting because they use different dialogue and slight variations in the action. One pivotal scene in a parked car in the middle of a thunderstorm plays completely different – in Him, McAvoy makes a honest confession (making him the hero), whereas in Her, it’s Chastain who guesses the truth and hears McAvoy’s (seemingly) pathetic apologies.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is a high-concept film that succeeds in its ambition where most other films fail. However, the idea that these films can stand alone (and the potential for theatres to play them separately) would be a horrible idea because audiences who don’t see the films back-to-back would have a difficult time catching the subtle differences in perspectives.

Grade: A-

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One Response to TIFF 2013: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her Review

  1. Arti says:

    Good review! Totally agree with you that Him should come before Her which was what I saw at TIFF. We share very similar observations regarding these two films. Glad to find someone sharing the same view. 😉

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