A woman strolling along a New York bridge walks out of frame. We hear her climbing up the cyclone fence enclosure. A man in the distance calls out to her and runs to her aid. The next scene she is being rescued out of the water below, cold and wet. An attempted suicide is a dramatic way to get the audience’s attention. This chronicle concerns a couple, once deeply in love, now forever changed by tragedy. The interrelated stories of husband and wife are woven together as they cope with a devastating loss.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them is actually a combined edit of two separate movies, each with the same title: one subtitled Him the other designated Her. They both screened individually at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 as works in progress. The third premiered at Cannes earlier this year when it competed for the Prix Un Certain Regard. The story unfolds a bit like a mystery. We know the pair were in love way back when, but what caused their relationship to fall apart isn’t confirmed until roughly halfway through the picture. Then it becomes more about how different people react in a crisis and what our expectations are of that person.
Director Ned Benson has assembled an impressive cast: James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain play our central duo. William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert provide emotional support as Jessica Chastain’s parents. Ciarán Hinds is James McAvoy’s sardonic father. Jess Weixler and Viola Davis display strong bonds as Chastain’s sister and professor respectively. All of them elevate this conventional material into something meaningful.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a well acted exercise by a talented ensemble. There are some nice vignettes particularly involving Jessica Chastain that effectively amplify her grief. But the picture often descends into melodrama without scratching below the surface. It’s extremely slow moving too, a melancholy portrait that wallows in depression. There’s not much to hold our attention. Even after two hours, there’s still a number of things left unanswered. Given the paper thin narrative on display, it’s difficult to comprehend that Them is the distilled union of two other films. The Him tale is 89 minutes. The Her version is 100 minutes. Considering the time it took for us to learn what little we did, I cannot even muster up the desire to endure another 189 minutes of this tale.