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Categories: Movie Reviews

Having recently covered the London Film Festival, guest writer Yi Ling Huang had the pleasure of attending the UK premiere for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Here she reviews the movie for The Spread.

“Tragedy is a foreign country. We don’t know how to talk to the natives”.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby plays with parallel narratives, with all three parts of the trilogy – laconically named Him, Her and Them – charting the same time period in a couple’s lives. Him follows their relationship as seen through Connor Ludlow (played by James McAvoy)’s eyes and Her that of the elusive Eleanor Rigby (played by Jessica Chastain), with the trilogy culminating in the conjugated Them.

The film starts with a flashback to the couple, happy in mischief, before skipping to Eleanor (or Elle, Connor calls her) walking along a bridge in New York, the camera’s focus following her as the rest fades into a blur. Suddenly – almost abruptly – she veers off-screen. A man shouts. It’s obvious that something has happened, but what this is isn’t clear until the next scene, when she is fished out of the water.

This sense of evasiveness is what drives Ned Benson’s big-screen directorial and screenwriting debut. The characters are at once compelled into action by grief and the desperate need to move on.

Elle doesn’t know how, and finds herself being propelled further and further from Connor, her emotional anchor. Forget reality TV and its hysterics, Them is grounded is ‘real’ reality, replete with unanswered questions. Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s camera follows the characters intimately at street level, and Benson’s dialogue only clues us on what the characters say, leaving the audience wondering what happened, and what the characters are thinking and feeling.

The grand revelation that is the cause of their grievance is discharged quietly, and subtly. It is only referred to indirectly, with all of the characters prevaricating, forbidden to name the tragedy that has torn Elle and Connor’s lives – and marriage – asunder. Elle leaves the hospital after her dive off the bridge and heads straight to her family, without any word of her whereabouts to Connor. Here, she is cocooned within familial familiarity. “Just like old times”, remarks her father (William Hurt) as he and Elle’s mother (Chastain’s dream casting in the form of Isabelle Huppert) stand in her room, helpless. Meanwhile, Connor throws himself into his flailing (soon to be failing) restaurant, eventually moving into his father (CiaránHinds’s) guest room.

Benson’s evasive script and lens is testament to reality and the universal search for the self; even the characters don’t quite know themselves. Named after a Beatles song, Elle constantly questions her identity. “Do I seem like a different person?” she asks. “You look the same to me,” comes the reply. Taking a class on identity theory ‘just for something to do’, she tells the professor (Viola Davis in nuanced comic relief) that she doesn’t know who she is. Speaking to her sister, she comments, almost wistfully, “I was hoping you could read my mind.”

Despite the character’s exhaustive search for self, Chastain’s rendering of the bereft Elle is almost languid, a stark contrast to the flashbacks of her luminescent, playful self.

Her portrayal of Elle is pinpoint perfect in this film, filling in the spaces in between Benson’s well-crafted dialogue. Chastain’s Elle is a counterpoint to McAvoy’s more prosaic Connor, who, short of superhero powers, is a man trying to cope the best that he can.

The beauty of Them is that it manages to be incredibly touching without tumbling into the saccharine or melodramatic. Elle’s mother tends to dramatics, but even this is muted. Instead, the film thrums in that low register that pervades everyday life, even when something catastrophic has happened. The characters never know quite what to say or how to act, and even manage to find rare glimpses of humour as the film flawlessly charts the absurdity of seeking purpose following trauma.

For more on Yi Ling’s work check out her website here.


Yi Ling is a content strategist, editor, writer and photographer who has been blogging since 2003. For more of her work check out her website here: https://onthenew.wordpress.com

One Response to “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – Them”
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  1. Avatar Ally says:

    Gotta say, I really enjoyed the review – beautifully and carefully written. I’m going to go and see the film now. More from this Yi Ling Huang please! Also, kudos on the website – classy stuff. 😀

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