“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”
I know a couple who, like the
couple in this film, seem to have a really good relationship.
They talk regularly.
They are genuinely glad to see each other. They
share a lot of common history, and have a lot of common interests.
They met when they were very young, and as they
have matured, their points of view have occasionally been divergent, but their
level of acceptance for each other’s changes is pretty high.
They care about each other a lot, and cheer each
other’s successes. But
they just can’t live together.
They’ve tried it, and it was toxic and
they had to try to agree on things like resource allocation and personal
schedules and lifestyle habits, the conflict level was high and their
satisfaction was low. But
now that they are divorced, and live in separate domiciles, they claim that
the relationship is better than it’s ever been.
But it will never be as intimate as it once was.
The “non-custodial” ex-husband sees the kids
very regularly, sometimes every day, and because she knows how important her
kids’ relationship is to their father, she rarely refuses him visitation
(though she will sometimes simply not answer his call).
Both have moved on, and emotionally invested
themselves in others, who are sometimes puzzled about the persistence of their
caring for each other. Maybe
this is the type of relationship that’s much more typical of the “Gen X”
or even the “Millennials” than the “happily ever after” goal of the
Baby Boomers, an ideal often attempted and rarely achieved.
Conor (James McAvoy) owns a small,
struggling restaurant/bar in
, where his best friend is the chef.
Though his father lives nearby and owns and
operates a very successful similar venture, they’re not close. Conor feels
that his father abandoned his (now-deceased and therefore martyred) mother to
marry a wealthy woman, who then died and left him with the pile of money that
became his stake in his business.
And maybe all that is true, but perhaps the real
problem is that his father Spencer (Ciaran Hinds) is selfish and brooding and
really doesn’t know how to give of himself in a real relationship, and truth
be told, Conor is much more like him that he’d ever admit.
Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain),
besides being named after the Beatles song, is blessed with great parents who
are still together and very supportive of her and her sister Katy (Jess
Katy is divorced and now living back with the parents along with her young
son. The Mom, Mary (Isabelle Huppert), a never-famous performance artist, is
never without her glass of wine, even during the day.
The Dad, Julian (William Hurt) is a prominent
professor who nonetheless admittedly has no clue about why their marriage has
lasted and his daughters’ have not.
Eleanor would just rather not talk about it,
except maybe to her own professor (Viola Davis), when she started taking
classes again because she literally didn’t know what else to do with
Director Ned Benson first shows us
the perfect delight of our handsome couple in being together, and we can’t
help but root for them because of how much fun they’re having, not to
mention how the camera loves both of them.
But their breakup is so sudden and unexplained
that part of the tension dynamic is the viewer wondering what the heck
happened, and only finding out much later.
Still, despite our puzzlement, we find ourselves
grieving over the loss of what might have been, and how even what they had is
so shattered as to be unrecoverable.
Even though they still care for each other
though they share a common emotional history that practically excludes
intimacy with anyone else.
It’s just too painful.
And so we watch them become emotional shells, and
that isn’t very satisfying, either, but sometimes all we can do is say to
ourselves, as the Beatles did in their unforgettable “Eleanor Rigby” song,
is “Ah, look at all the lonely people.”
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,