Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

rating: ****

the story: A marriage is interrupted by the death of their child.

what it's all about: I will admit, the thing that originally brought me to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was the fact that there were three versions of the movie: Him, Her, and Them.  Technically, Him is the original incarnation of the movie.  Director Ned Benson conceived of Her when his one-time girlfriend Jessica Chastain asked for her character's backstory to be fleshed out.  Then Them was created by combining the two other versions.  I would submit that Them is the best version of the story, the most artful, but it's certainly worth watching all three, and for different reasons.

The wife, the eponymous character, is played by Chastain, while the husband is James McAvoy.  The three versions of the story are best described this way: Him is by far the most open, viewer-friendly one, while Her is much more of an indy film; Them, by combining both, turns it into an art film.  Him has Bill Hader as its best selling point, broadening the story with his casual irreverence, and making it a fun experience.  Her has Viola Davis and William Hurt (Davis doesn't really appear in Him; clearly she's heard in her classroom mostly thanks to her prominence in Her; Hurt doesn't appear in Him at all), who ground Chastain in challenging conversations, the only way we get a sense of how she views the world.  McAvoy also has Ciaran Hines, in much the same role as Hurt, and in that way we get a sense that what originally brought McAvoy and Chastain together was running away from their lives, so that it's the same problem, in reverse, that they're dealing with throughout the story.  And why that ending is so appropriate.  (Katherine Waterston, later featured in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, has a small role in Her.)

It's a poetic, elegiac experience, concerning how we struggle with life, how it sometimes impossible to truly understand someone else, how flippant and rude behavior is sometimes not what it seems, more of a defense mechanism, something we know intrinsically but can rarely admit.  It's a long series of awkward conversations, either happening or being avoided, and the struggle to comprehend either how we grow or that we're still doing it.

So it's fascinating to me on many levels.  Most often, when there are multiple versions of a movie, it's because of studio interference.  Benson chose this risky, deliberate path for his first and to date only film.  No doubt it was asking a lot for audiences to try and choose between them.  Even critics would've had to demonstrate unusual levels of concentration to have understood the scope of his achievement.  I think everyone came out looking good having decided to make this movie, in all its incarnations.

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