Warning: Spoilers follow
If I didn’t pay for dinner, would you still love me? The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them begins with a question, a joke about the permanence of love. Can love be so easily discarded or simply pushed off? The protagonists, glowingly played by Jessica Chastain and James Mcavoy, do not fall in and out of love. “Them” is the joint construction of their struggles to survive the grief that has become the center of their marriage.
The film, currently playing at Amherst Cinema, is an ambitious project that is composed of three parts: Him, Her, Them. Them is the one shown at Amherst Cinema. The three films explore the separate, intertwined narratives of a marriage quietly and painfully dissolving. Them combines both Connor and Eleanor’s points of view.
After the first scene, a sweet misadventure of the couple in an unknown happy time, we cut to a bridge where Eleanor rides a bike, abandons it, and attempts to kill herself. She’s saved; Connor arrives at the hospital and then she departs. She leaves New York and him. It’s unclear if Eleanor actively ends their marriage or even tells Connor—he’s bewildered by her disappearance and begs for any details from their friends. Chastain plays the aloof, half-French muse perfectly. She ices people out of the room, charms a jaded colleague who eyes her suspiciously, but beneath her perfect ivory mask, she’s desperately grasping at straws. She’s dying, full of angst that her husband refuses to see until it consumes her and them completely. There’s only snippets of happy Eleanor in this film: we only see the shorn, destroyed woman. As the namesake of the film, she’s an enchanting mystery to us, herself and Connor; her pain is clear as is her desire to self-immolate. She sets things on fire and runs.
Connor is man who appears soft-hearted but is as hard as we initially suspect his wife to be. As Eleanor embraces her grief to allow for a new woman to emerge, Connor lets his marriage blow him to pieces. He cannot forgive his father for his own failings as a husband, he pretends that the tragedy in his marriage hasn’t occurred and resolutely marches onward until Eleanor takes that fateful plunge. This is a man who has lost the light in his life and is stumbling, stupidly and bluntly. He refuses to admit to the confusion his wife has drowned herself in, but neither can he carry on the facade without her.
This is a story of love disappearing and perhaps (hopefully, depending on the inclination of the viewer) reappearing, but it’s also a tale of a white, privileged couple whose biggest problems are themselves. There’s no sense of impending doom: the film goes on a meandering, smoothly paced, as we watch these lovers glide in and out of New York. If Connor’s restaurant fails, there’s still his father’s multimillion business to fall back on; Eleanor, free from the constraints of a claustrophobic marriage, can study at university or finish her dissertation in Paris. Their apartment can come and go; they can seemingly take whole days off without any repercussions. They’re free from problems and despite Eleanor’s fight to see the truth, they live in an alternate reality of plush cushioning, both financial and familial.
Watch it: if you find either lead mildly attractive, have a fetish for New York, like a cool soundtrack
Skip it: if you dislike New York, sad people, couples, or dramatic eye make-up.