Of the many ambitious films over the past few years experimenting with storytelling form, few are as intriguing as the conceit set by Ned Benson’s ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’. In its original form, the two-part film shows charts the breakdown of a marriage, but each part follows a different member of the couple, covering the same period of time from a different perspective. It was a big hit at festivals, but for a more commercial audience, Benson has pulled the threads together for a single two-hour film. Instead of ‘Him’ and ‘Her’, we just have ‘Them’. Even in a different form (and with the original versions harder to come by in Australia), is this truncated version still worth watching?
The central figures of the film are fractured couple Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy). After Eleanor attempts suicide, she swiftly disappears from Conor’s life, forcing him to hunt for her to find out what has happened to her. Crippled by the loss of their young son, Eleanor is in the process of finding who she is now, but is there a place for Conor in this journey, or does she need to cut from him completely to survive?
Having not seen the original versions, I can only judge from what I see in this version, and ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ is an impressive film, pervaded with a melancholic and haunting atmosphere. It’s a beautiful-looking film that wanders through the lives of this couple with a vital objectiveness and a calmly poetic rhythm. Because we’re charting the end of a relationship, there’s not much light and shade in the film, but Eleanor and Conor have just enough contrast in their relationship. Eleanor is crippled by the weight on her shoulders while Conor is trying desperately to cast it aside as quickly as he can. Both Benson’s writing and directing is delicate and specific, and his focus is on the rather extraordinary performances, setting up scaffolding for Chastain and McAvoy to blossom. As Eleanor, Chastain offers even further proof that she might be one of the finest actors in the world, keeping a strong hold on the tragedy of Eleanor but refusing to allow herself or her character to be overwhelmed by it. McAvoy bursts through the film with his beautiful, nervous energy, and even though they are rarely on screen together, their performances are so complementary that they have chemistry even when apart. They’re also supported by an unexpectedly rich ensemble that includes Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt, all of whom deliver some of their best work in a while. Bill Hader in particular, as Conor’s best friend Stuart, delivers a wonderfully understated performance.
‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ is an impressive film, pervaded with a melancholic and haunting atmosphere.
The ghost of the previous version though haunts ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby'. If the two-part version didn’t exist, this would still be a wonderfully accomplished drama, but it doesn’t offer anything fresh or new in terms of structure or storytelling. If seen purely from Conor’s perspective, Eleanor would truly disappear and then allow Eleanor’s story to unlock the secrets behind what we’ve just seen, and while this has the potential to become tedious or gimmicky, I wonder whether this conventional version loses some of the poetry of it. It would also make the title more potent. As it stands though, ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ is an accomplished, rich and rewarding film, executed by Ned Benson with great care and skill. I suspect that it will earn itself a place next to some of the great romances of recent times.
PICTURE & SOUND
The 1080p 2.35:1 transfer offered by Transmission is as handsome as the film itself. It’s a rich, subdued transfer, bursting with autumn colours and sharp, cinematic detail. The high definition transfer really does show off the beautiful visual storytelling of this film. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is likewise subdued but impressive, with dialogue never overwhelmed but also clear, balanced beautifully with the score and sound design.
There are no features offered with this disc, and while this is pretty normal for a Transmission release and rarely a problem, it’s a great pity that the original two-part version of the film was not included. ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ are available to purchase through digital download services such as iTunes, but it would have been nice to have the option of downloading the full version included as part of purchasing this disc. Hopefully a fuller Blu-ray release is planned for the future.