It may seem like an interesting phenomenon that men and women experience things in different ways. A man and a woman might be at the same place, taking in the same sights and sounds, but they might recall that memory differently. Unfortunately that can mean men and women can experience things like grief differently. This is the focal point of the movie “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” a movie that you can experience in three different ways.
I say you can experience the movie in three different ways because the film was released in three different versions. Written by Ned Benson, this was also his directorial debut. These films were a long-term project for the Columbia University graduate and title star and producer Jessica Chastain. Released in fall 2014, these three films have the same overarching storyline about the dissolution of a marriage after a tragic event divided them.
One film, which has the subtitle “Her,” is all from the wife, Jessica Chastain’s perspective. The second film, subtitled “Him,” is from the husband’s perspective, played by Scottish dreamboat James McAvoy. Only these two films were initially intended to be released, but the film’s distributor The Weinstein Company insisted that Benson splice together a movie with both of their perspectives subtitled “Them.” Fortunately, all three versions were released, shown at art house cinemas and now they are all streaming on Netflix.
You might wonder what the hokey Beatles-inspired title came from. Eleanor Rigby is the name of the female lead played by Chastain. The Beatles don’t have too big of a role in the movie, as Rigby explains that she got the name Eleanor because her parents met at a hoax Beatle reunion show. The lyrics of Eleanor Rigby are relevant to the film. All the lonely people, where do they all belong? This movie asks this question. The movie is about a youngish New York couple who grow apart after their baby son dies from reasons that are never said in the film. I kind of wish the reason of the baby’s death was mentioned in the film, because it would have felt more real. We never really see the couple with the baby, just a picture, and a vague blurry flashback. After Rigby attempts suicide, she decides to “disappear,” by living with her parents in their elegant upstate New York home, and she takes some college classes, one of which is taught by actress Viola Davis, who has shared the screen with Chastain before, in the film “The Help.” Davis’ character serves as a cynical but kind friend for Rigby, as Rigby is lost from grief, trying to restart her life but not sure how.
McAvoy’s character, Conor Ludlow, is the owner of a small restaurant, which is failing, and is just another on his list of failures. After Rigby disappears, he essentially stalks her, trying to figure where she is living and what she is doing. Ludlow wants his relationship to go back to normal, but is that so easy after losing a child?
After watching all three versions, I am certain that the best way to experience this story is just from watching “Her” and “Him.” Sure, those films aren’t as quick as just watching “Them,” and there are scenes, especially in “Her,” that drag on needlessly. The films are a beautiful look at how a couple deals with grief, and only a few scenes in the films overlap. What’s thought provoking is that even the scenes that both movies share are a little bit different. Some of the actions and the lines are different, which show you how the leads can experience things differently. You might be left wondering, what was really said or done? I think it doesn’t truly matter in the end, because the scenes end with the same result. “Them” has to make the choice then during those key scenes which perspective to show, and I find “Them” to be disjointed and jarring. The narrative is lost when you’re jumping back and forth between storylines. You don’t get to see all the scenes from both movies, so you’re only getting a fraction of their stories, which can be confusing.
Although these movies can get a little to philosophical and poetic with its script at times, I enjoyed the actors who spoke those lines very much. Supporting actors like Bill Hader, William Hurt and Ciaran Hinds served to bring some light and perspective to the movie. My favorite scene of all these films is carried by Hurt, who talks about how he almost lost Rigby’s character in the sea. I wish I saw more acting from Hurt these days, because I think he is truly a versatile actor.
If you want to save yourself an extra hour and half by just watching “Them,” you might enjoy seeing all the storylines play out at the same time, but it’s not as emotional or impactful as watching both “Him” and “Her.”
Final Verdict: “Her”: 8/10. “Him”: 7/10. “Them”: 6/10.