TIFF Review: Ned Benson’s Great Debut, ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her’


Perspective is probably the most important aspect of storytelling; the story completely changes depending on whose point of view we are inclined to side with. Most films are told from one person’s perspective, and some attempt to allow us to see the events unfold through the eyes of multiple characters. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, however, takes this idea to a whole new level by giving us two full length features, telling his and her story completely through each perspective. Director/writer Ned Benson has been working on this project for a decade, and it is hard to believe that this is his first feature-length film.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a highly intelligent and emotionally complex film about a couple who have lost touch after a tragic event. Connor (James McAvoy) is a small restaurant owner who is still deeply in love with his wife Eleanor (Jessica Chastain), trying to make things work. She, however, has completely lost sight of who she is and what her marriage has become. She leaves Connor telling him that she needs a fresh start, and disappears.

The first film, from His perspective, tells the story of a man who is struggling to put his marriage back together. He tries to find Eleanor, seeks help from his father and friends, and desperately tries to see what he did wrong. Him is lead by an incredible performance from James McAvoy, and is filled with humor from the strong supporting cast of Bill Hader, Ciaran Hinds, and Nina Arianda.

Her is screened immediately after, and gives further explanation into why Eleanor feels the need to disappear. We now follow her journey and her struggle, the ways in which she has lost sight of her own identity. Any questions that Him left unanswered are filled in by Her story; and vice versa depending on how the film is screened. Her is lead by an extraordinary performance by Jessica Chastain, who truly is the actress of her generation. She is supported by a wonderful cast including Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert and Jess Weixler.

The film has such a rich tone that allows it to be so many things at once. It has this deep sadness to it, but it also can be funny and light. The dialogue is extremely poetic; it almost feels surreal. Even though the characters are very truthfully portrayed, there is a very “movie” quality to it. They speak so articulately and beautifully in a way that could only be scripted. It only helps the film though, because there is this magical and mysterious element to it. The cinematography is gorgeous, and these two characters are framed so beautifully in their own worlds. The music, composed by the artist Son Lux, has the most perfect quality for the film. It is wistful, magical and cinematic.

The film can be watched in either order; however this in itself is a play on perspective, as the audience may be more drawn to the character and the story that they saw first. The whole concept of the film touches on not just point of view, but memories and individual realities. As the two films play out the exact same scenario but one follows her and one follows him, some scenes reoccur in each film but with subtle differences. The dialogue changes the slightest bit, and it is a reflection on how each character interprets their conversations and their realities.

This highly ambitious project deserves to be seen by the world, as it is such a unique concept that may change the way stories can be told in the future. What is equally remarkable is that although the film must be seen as a whole, both Him and Her, they work just as well individually, becoming a profound meditation on relationships, reality and memory when seen together.

Director/writer Ned Benson is a truly original talent that everyone needs to keep their eye on. It is absolutely astounding that this is his first feature, crafting something so beautiful, poetic, and profound that most filmmakers spend their whole lives trying to achieve. Every element of this film is magical, and what it says about relationships and the individuals that find themselves lost within them is something that everyone can relate to. Playing upon perspective in the way that Benson, McAvoy and Chastain do, this film will make you reevaluate the way you see your own life and own relationships, remind us that we all have our own stories.

Grade: A