PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


There Is an Unwritten and Unfilmed Core to 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them'

This is a movie about hearts and selves, bodies and trusts, and most importantly how people deal (or don't deal) with loss.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Director: Ned Benson
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Ciarán Hinds, Bill Hader, Jess Weixler
Rated: R
Studio: Weinstein Company
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-09-12 (Limited release)

Early in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) approaches Lillian (Viola Davis), a professor at Cooper Union and also a former classmate and friend of Eleanor's dad. As they make their way along the sidewalk to a coffee truck so Lillian can order a double espresso, the teacher wonders about Elle's name: "That must be tough." Elle's heard this before, of course, much like she's heard the next question about her parents' music preferences. Still, and as self-aware as either she or Lillian may seem, standing before the food truck in their vibrantly colored blouses, you're already worried. Their friendship is a movie-style contrivance that's too self-knowing about being just that.

The same might be said of most of the movie, which is actually a recombinatory edit of two other movies, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him, designed by first time maker Ned Benson to consider the very different experiences of a young white New York City-based couple in the throes of a breakup. The start of the film sketches the before-breakup bliss, none of it news and all of it too self-aware. Elle and Conor (James McAvoy) run down a sidewalk away from a neighborhood restaurant, where Conor has adorably discovered he doesn't have the money to pay for dinner. They find a park, fall to the grass and kiss passionately, notice the fireflies. "There's only one heart in this body," Conor cautions, "Have mercy on me."

Yes, this is a movie about hearts and selves, bodies and trusts. More than one person in the film articulates this central concern, as Elle and Conor and their friends and family deal with (or don't deal with) the loss of the couple's baby, a (clichéd) offscreen event that defines and undefines everything onscreen.

No one has an easy time of it, mostly owing to the painfully awkward shorthand they're assigned to perform. And so: Conor's restaurateur dad (Ciarán Hinds) advises his son, "You shouldn't be interested in regretting things," Elle's psychology professor dad (William Hurt) inexplicably tells her, "Tragedy is a foreign country, I don't know how to talk to the natives" (here she has the presence of mind to regard him as if he's from Mars) and her mother (Isabelle Huppert) has to reassure Conor, who shows up unexpectedly in search of news of his suddenly disappeared wife, that although she first perceived him as "this obnoxiously perfect boy who walked off with my daughter's attention," now, well, he's kind of grown on her.

It's hard even to know what to say about Conor's best friend Stuart (Bill Hader) being saddled with dialogue by way of Pat Benatar lyrics ("Heartache to heartache") or observe, "I don't know how to be your friend anymore." You might wonder if he could have ever known, based on the glimpses of their relationship provided by The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, but assuming they do have a history that makes this make sense, his phrasing remains less than helpful.

As such, it's much like the other interactions between Elle or Conor with people trying to help or trying to understand or trying to share. Though both fathers remind their children that they have lost the child as well, all seem stuck in a pattern that's based in stating the obvious, however elegiacally. (By the time Elle's dad begins to recall for her the day he "almost lost" her two-year-old self in the Atlantic Ocean, you might be ready not to listen, but do, for Hurt renders this story with the sort of lovely cadence that really only he might achieve.)

That's not to say that such a pattern is unbelievable or that the individuals so unable to express themselves are unfamiliar. In fact, the trouble is the opposite. Leave it to Lillian to state the obvious about the obvious. "All the lonely people," she says to Elle, "Where do they all come from?" While Lillian might be refreshing in the context of these many affluent white people who find it so hard to say what they mean or what they want, that in itself is trouble too. She takes the oh-so-damaged Elle out for a hamburger, and as they indulge in red meat and French fries, Lillian speaks frankly, if cryptically, of the husband she left and the adult son with whom she's lost communication. She doesn't have a lot good to say about being a mother ("There are not words to describe whatever the fuck labor is"), but she embodies an alternative for the stymied Elle, which is to move on, with regrets, energy, and a sense of humor too.

Given her field of expertise, it's not exactly surprising that Lillian early on identifies Elle in a way that's both too general and too specific, as a member of a "generation of too many choices." Elle is resentful, as you expect, but Lillian is resilient. She reads Steinbeck, she sits on hallway floors, and she looks after Elle with admirable hands-offness. You like to imagine she's got stuff to do in the third part of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the part unwritten and unfilmed.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.