One of the most ambitious and intelligent films of the year was The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Ned Benson, the filmmaking was bold, original, and unusual compared to other contemporary dramas. Benson ended up with a concept which was explored in a truly unique way. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was constructed as a two-part feature film experience which audiences could watch back-to-back (without a specific viewing order). When the film received it's limited theatrical run Benson even left it open to theater owners to decide the order of the experience. No matter which film was projected first audiences were in for one of the most daring and inventive dramatic narratives of the year.
The resulting films in this experiment were entitled The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. Audiences might be quick to think this is some kind of Rashomon construction in which multiple perspectives are shown between a romantic relationship with an attempt to find truth between the characters. Contrary to audience expectations, the division of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is actually about showing how events surrounding a traumatic experience affect two different (but connected) people in remarkably different ways. Each film primarily focuses on one character and their immediate life (without the other person around in their day-to-day experiences anymore).
A horrible life event occurs which significantly impacts the relationship of the central characters. To note what this event is would be to spoil some of the mystery. Conor (James McAvoy) tries to recover from what happened to them by moving his life forward as best as he possibly can. Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) withdraws into herself and starts to move backwards as she has a difficult time trying to cope with what happened. Him explores the events that happen to Conor directly and his point of view of the experience. Her explores the events happening directly to Eleanor and her perspective. In each film, viewers are seeing different experiences which occurred to Conor or Eleanor respectively as well as some fragments of moments which are pulled from their memories together. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby aims to more fully explore both of these characters as a result.
One interesting filmmaking decision in making the two parts was the way the filmmaking focused on memory. Without making things dramatically different, the script finds ways (throughout the two parts) to show minor differences between shared events. One small experience can have a slightly different playback in memory. During Him, memories are Conor's. In Her, memories are Eleanor's. Audiences can then see how similar but slightly different each one remembers different moments shared together. Neither one of them is technically portrayed as incorrect as the events are largely the same. This aspect of the production is mainly used to explore the ways in which memory can sometimes work. Production-wise, this is reflected in slight changes to the scene set-up and little things like the clothing the actors are wearing during scenes. (It is important to note that these are intentional alterations and are not continuity issues.)
Chastain's approach to making these films was to play the role of Eleanor as she "really was" in Her while the version of Eleanor presented in Him is a reflection of Conor's perception of how she is. In doing so, Chastain delivers one of her best performances to date. This was a smart approach by Chastain and it makes the slight changes in her performance more compelling. Academy voters should have taken note of her superb performance and given a nomination. Unfortunately, voters were probably confused about how to even nominate the performance between the co-existence of three different films. McAvoy didn't perform his role as dramatically different in the same sense but he kept his performance lower-key during Her, which allowed for more of an emphasis on her character's experiences. Both actors do a tremendous job of creating believable characters throughout the two original films and were instrumental to the success of the filmmaking.
Viewers might wonder why the film is even titled The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Is it something referencing the famous Beatles lyrics? What is the disappearance? The film does directly answers the question of the character's name and the "disappearance" in the title is a definite double meaning referring to Eleanor leaving Conor's life following their relationship issue and because of her personal withdrawal. Conor seems to be a much more outward person whereas Eleanor is someone who looks inward more directly.
When the Weinstein company purchased the distribution rights a third film was requested which would combine the two films into one narrative. Essentially, the Weinstein's wanted to release a more conventional film experience which audiences could buy one ticket for (and see just one movie). Director Ned Benson again worked with editor Kristina Boden to form another film version. The result was The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (which is comprised of scenes from both versions).
For Them, in the scenes where slightly alternate versions were presented, a selection was made between Him and Her to decide which one to use for this release. Other editing techniques were also used to combine events. (For example, the last scene of Them mainly used footage from Him but interjected a few seconds of footage from Her). Benson and Boden did a good job of picking footage that was more important to streamlining the story. Unfortunately, the one-film version is easily the weakest of the three and it loses a lot of the impact that is felt from watching both Him and Her together. Them feels as if it is incomplete in comparison to Him and Her. It's no surprise as this version loses almost an hour and a half of footage. Them makes for a nice conclusion to the overall experience of watching these three different films but it shouldn't be considered as a genuine substitute for experiencing Him and Her.
It's rather impressive to realize that this is the feature film debut of writer/director Ned Benson. Benson originally envisioned this as a one-film project but Jessica Chastain came up with the idea of making two separate films exploring the characters on a more intimate level. It was a brilliant move and one which Benson managed to bring to realization remarkably well. This effort and experience would not be the same without the various versions. Him and Her are quality films individually but a part of a great artistic achievement together. As a director, Benson manages to allow the focus to be on the actors. Though the screenplay is strong throughout this is a actor's vehicle with a lot of the best cinematic moments arriving because of the performances. Benson films with an intimate style that allows the actors to shine.
The cinematography by Chris Blauvelt (The Bling Ring) is beautiful to behold. A significant part of the visual success comes from the colorful aesthetic delivered within happier memories between the characters and from that palette's shift to a darker and gray color palette of their current-day gloominess and despair. Blauvelt certainly enhances the visual style of the film triumphantly. This is a visually superb effort by a noteworthy cinematographer.
Accompanying the filmmaking style is the editing of the motion-picture. With accomplished editor Kristina Boden working on the project as the primary editor of all three versions, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is largely successful because of Boden's efforts editing the material into three cohesive films that work separately but are more effective when they are viewed together. Boden started with editing Him before proceeding to edit Her and ended the experience on the project when crafting (alongside director Benson) the studio-mandated Them. Boden's editorial eye is exquisite and she makes The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby something students should consider of vital importance to see. The editing approach will certainly makes one think more about structure and editing and how these elements can change the impact and dynamics within a film.
Boden's editing on this project was a massive undertaking that was much more complicated than what an editor would have to typically do on a film project. She had to find a way to balance the storytelling and keep events in check between versions. Scenes specific to one version (and not the other) had to be kept together without getting mixed into the other versions. Boden should have received a nomination for Editing at the Academy Awards but was likely an oversight as voters probably had no idea how to recognize the effort amidst the existence of three separate versions.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby won't appeal to everyone. Seeing a film that practically requires one to view three different versions to get the best experience out of the material is something that some audiences might find daunting. However, for anyone who finds this a fascinating concept The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby should be considered a must-see. Ultimately, the goal of the work is not so much to entertain an audience as it is to find new directions in which to be contemplative about the nature of relationships and memories. If experiencing an experimental dramatic arthouse film sounds appealing, then viewing The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby should definitely prove to be rewarding.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby - Him, Her, and Them sport relatively exceptional transfers on Blu-ray. Each presentation is in the original theatrical exhibition ratio of 2.40:1 and each version of the film is similar when it comes down to the 1080p HD encode quality. Color, contrast, and depth are impressive throughout each film. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby had a DCP and the photography benefits from its digital sheen and modern gloss. The image sports the often bleak cinematography style of Christopher Blauvelt effectively. This is a pleasantly produced modern creation and the high quality digital photography is a good fit for the filmmaking. The Blu-ray presents the cinematographer's stylistic flourishes faithfully.
The audio aspect of this release is trickier to consider when compared to the image quality of the films. The Weinstein Company has decided to release The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby - Them with an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound presentation which has crisp highs, strong dialogue clarity, and good (occasional) surround activity with a noteworthy vibrancy befitting the lossless audio quality boost. On the flip-side, the director's original films (Him and Her) are both presented together on one separate Blu-ray disc and the audio is not as impressively rendered as a result.
While the picture quality was kept closely in-place between the three films, because both Him and Her are presented together (instead of separately) on a second disc, the disc had to make a compromise to accommodate for them both being on only one disc. That alteration was to not include lossless audio for the original two films.
In place of lossless audio for Him and Her, viewers will instead find a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound presentation which is DVD quality audio lacking the vibrancy that the re-edited version maintains. This is disappointing given that the director's original aim was for audiences to see both Him and Her parts and not the re-edited version. The fact that the only version getting a lossless audio presentation is the short version seems like an oversight. If the release of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby had simply been three-discs instead of two each version of the story could have been equally impressive in presentation quality.
If there is a silver lining to the way this release has been handled, it's that many of the scenes are dialogue-heavy and music and surround activity is kept relatively sparse. Many viewers might not mind losing some fidelity as much during these dialogue-heavy scenes. Even so, I think the studio should have provided the filmmakers original versions with lossless audio so that there would be a little extra smoothness, clarity, and depth. In those scenes where surrounds are utilized (such as inside the dance club and during the scenes taking place amidst the rainy outdoors) Him and Her lose some audio fidelity that should not have been comprised simply for the sake of manufacturing one less disc.
English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing) and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Even though retailers are advertising this release as coming with UV codes, the copy I received included no such codes and only included the discs. It seems as though the release plans either changed (and details were not updated) or early copies are affected by a manufacturing error where these codes are not being provided with the release. If this will affect your purchase decision (though I hope it won't), keep it in mind.
The Weinstein Company seems to consider the director's original version a supplemental feature to the re-edited Them version. Even opening the case, buyers will immediately notice that a bold "Bonus Disc" label has been attached to the Him/Her disc. I don't think this makes much sense given that these two films represent the original version intended by the director and producers, and as they still stand as the superior way to experience the story.
If you only watch Them and not Him and Her, you lose almost an hour and a half of content, as well as a much different approach to the flow and emphasis of the story. You also lose out on a lot of material with supporting cast members (with scenes that dramatically added a lot of extra heft to the story). Many supporting characters are overlooked in Them as the big emphasis is on the sequences primarily featuring Conor and Rigby.
On the same disc as The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is a Q&A with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy (1080p, 21 min.) about all three films. It's a delightful bonus feature and the two provide some good insights into their process making the film, it's production history, and the importance of viewing the two-film version. They also generally have a good time together and it's a breezy interview with good audience questions and interaction.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby should be required viewing for film students. It's a film which will appeal to anyone who appreciates quality dramatic storytelling but those who take particular interest in the way in which a story is crafted cinematically will enjoy the film more because of the three version: Him, Her, and Them. Each presents a slightly different tone, feel, and rhythm. All of them work as standalone or separate films but are enhanced by viewing all versions. To view Him and Her together (in either order) is to experience something profound and overwhelming. To follow that experience with Them is to reach a even greater appreciation of the storytelling. To only view Them would be to lose out on a lot of the meaning, depth, and significance within the journey audiences are taken on by The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.
The Weinstein Company has released all three versions on Blu-ray together and the quality of the package is quite good overall (even if lossless audio is missing from the Him/Her version). Fans of intelligent dramas (and actors Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy) should consider it well worth looking into.