Eternal love blossoms optimistically in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, a relatable portrait of love, empathy and truth that explores the heartache of a once-happily married couple who suddenly find themselves as strangers longing to understand each other.
It's New York writer-director Ned Benson's debut feature as a director and is a passionate and heartfelt journey into the hearts and souls of two soulmates whose irrefutable love for each other becomes their greatest enemy.
Featuring heartbreaking performances from Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, it's one of those rare romantic films that does not dwell on sentimentality, but seduces you with its sincere honesty. The film has a strange journey to the big screen that might be confusing for some viewers.
Collective title of three films
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is the collective title of three films written and directed by Benson. It started out as two separate films Him and Her, which were screened at the 2013 Toronto International Festival as a 'work in progress', and was then released as a double feature in selected art house cinemas in 2014, before Benson ultimately decided to release it as one feature entitled Them, combining both films as one feature.
In South Africa, audiences are seeing Them, which might be confusing, as the trailers show the Him and Her split-screen version.
After viewing Them, it is guaranteed that most viewers will try to get hold of Him and Her; Benson makes his mark at auteur and his filmmaking ranges from quite, intense moments of introspection, to moments of wild enthusiasm, captured with rough intensity with a handheld camera.
For Benson, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is "a film about love and how life is a subjective experience".
"We all sort of live this one story, but everyone else who is a part of our lives has their own subtly or vastly different perspective of it," he says.
"What I wanted to explore most was a love story about two people, Conor and Eleanor, who are really trying to figure out how to understand each other after going through something difficult. So it's essentially a story about the endurance of love, empathy, understanding and perspective."
Collective of people
The title emerged when Benson explored the famous song of The Beatles before he started writing the screenplay for Him.
"'Listening to it, there was a mood, a feeling to that song and to the characters-especially with the line: 'All the lonely people, where do they all come from?' From there I began thinking of this collective of people who experience their own loneliness and I wrote that line in a notebook. It became something that helped me create the proper emotional space for me to write. Then I thought: Why not name the character after that and create this moment behind her name?
"I love this idea of the disconnect between the baby boomer generation and my generation. And so I wanted to use The Beatles as this abstract reference in the film where Eleanor's parents name their daughter after this famous song and it sort of bridges the two generations."
Benson began writing his screenplay seven years before the film was made. It found its way on to the notorious Black List. The script ended up as a 220-page script and when he started trying to put a film together, most people thought he was crazy.
"They saw the difficulty, especially in this day and age, in making what are essentially two independent films," says Benson. "To get an independent film made is hard, period. To get two of them made as companion pieces meant to be watched in succession, there's just no real model for that. And so we had some people who really responded to the scripts and the idea behind what we were doing, but who were afraid of the practicalities of it. Ultimately, we attracted a core group of people who really believed in the script, the idea, the concept and were willing to take this creative risk and support our putting together this different type of film."
An amazing collaboration
For Benson, the experience of making his first full-length feature film has been "the best possible creatively overwhelming experience I've had in my life".
"From the earliest of days, it was such an amazing collaboration with a wonderful group of people working to make this film come together. I've tried many times to make other films that just didn't come together-and for some reason, what in all logic seemed to be the most difficult to get made, was actually the first one to happen. You only get to make your first film once-and this has all been pretty incredible.
"I'd envisioned this film for so long. I created this whole workbook of ideas of what I wanted it to feel and look like down to the moods I wanted to set in every scene," says Benson after working on the script for many years and slaving passionately through various re-writes.
"I'd pretty much shaped the entire world of the film out of my imagination. And so actually to begin directing and working with our production designer and location manager to refine these spaces or sit down with the DP to go through our ideas and actually develop the look was an incredible experience. Having what I'd ideated for years become a reality made me appreciate that I get to do what I love for a living."
No wrong or right
Benson hopes that after watching the film, "everyone should come away with their opinions and have their own experience with the film".
"I think for me it comes back to the idea that there are so many ways to experience a story. Everybody sees life through a different perspective and there's no wrong or right. It's just that we all have this different way of taking in the world emotionally. At the end of the day we're all just trying to understand each other, especially when it comes to love. And it really is about being okay with and understanding that we all have our own perspectives and somewhere in the middle is the truth. This film is about the subjectivity of experience, and in turn the viewer is also having these completely subjective experiences. And that's the point."
If you want to escape blissfully into the lives of ordinary characters whose extraordinary lives touch on our own and make us realise how important it is to love with honesty, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby will not disappoint.
It's a great film to share with friends and loved ones and guarantees to make you think differently about who you love, and be more understanding of the love others bestow on you.Read more about The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and other new films opening this week at www.writingstudio.co.za