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Romantic relationships are all about perception. No matter who the involved party is, we see things from our own point of view. As with everything in life, there are always three sides to every love story, which is both sides and the truth. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. The idea of romantic perception and perspective is of interest to first-time writer/director Ned Benson. Benson explores these themes in his debut movie, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.
What makes this a unique love story is that there are actually three movies. The first movie Them (in theaters today) is told from the perspective of the couple (played by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy) as a whole. The second and third movies, Him and Her (both will be released simultaneously on Oct. 10), are told through the perspective of each individual in the relationship, how each person views the other. The shifting perspectives allows Benson to capture a love story in a wholly original manner, probably not seen since 500 Days of Summer.
In an interview with Coming Soon, Benson explains the origins of the idea for the movie, “Well, I think I wanted to make a love story in general, and ultimately, just through conversations with Jess (Chastain) and my producer Cassandra Kulukundis. I had written the sort of first part of the script, which was Him. Jess started asking me all these questions, and then it sort of was the impetus for me to write Her. That became really exciting, because all of a sudden we’re making a movie about subjectivity in a relationship and how a relationship itself is two completely subject perspectives. That to me felt like I could feel more of the whole relationship as opposed to following one protagonist and like the back and forth. Then, I could create specific looks for each of these worlds and specific feels for each of these characters. So ultimately, what I started with was two separate character studies that ultimately would be this complete film, this complete story.”
Benson goes on to reveal what led to the creation of the third companion movie Them, “After finishing that, which obviously played really well and got picked up at Toronto, which was exciting, I think the big question was like, ‘How are we going to get audiences to go see a three hour and 10 minute movie? What are our options?’ I had been asked the question, ‘Would you ever combine them? Would you ever do this?’ I sat in an editing room and had to kind of see if it worked, and it did work. I think I had to make a new movie, in a sense, even though it’s part of this whole, I couldn’t use the ideas of perspective and memory and the themes that existed in Him and Her. I sort of had to create a film about two people who lost the ability to communicate with each other, ultimately find synthesis. So what I wound up doing is I used the cool hues and the more fluid camera rhythms of his film and the warm and looser camera rhythms of her film, and sort of created disparate, I guess, languages and visual spaces for each of them. I ultimately, found a synthesis within that single film and sort of made it more about two people who had lost the ability to find their language together and ultimately find it again.”
One of the things that the movie touches upon is how each character can view a conversation or a moment shared in different ways. Benson expands by saying, “That’s exactly the point is that I wanted to show scenes like, for example, in the Them version, you’ll see them on the floor and she says, ‘I love you.’ He says, ‘I know.’ Then in the reverse version, she remembers him saying, ‘I love you,’ and she says, ‘I know.’ The point is that it’s the receiver that’s hearing the word, ‘I love you.’ Like, they’re remembering whether he said or she said, ‘I love you.’ There’s a difference, so it’s about who remembers those poignant moments or those bigger moments, and that’s what they took away from that memory or that time or that moment. Like in the car, I don’t want to spoil it again, but there is a version of the scene where he admits to fooling around. Then, in Her version, she sees right through him and he doesn’t even have to admit it. So it’s about the subtleties of the relationship and understanding each other and who remembers what within each of those memories.”
The visual component is also a creative decision that Benson incorporated into the Them version, in terms of the colors and what they symbolize in the story, he adds, “The idea in this combination is that because you’re dealing with two people who aren’t really communicating very well, I keep those disparate color palettes in the beginning, and as the film went on, and as they sort of slowly re-found each other, I try and synthesize those color palettes a little bit, so in the later scenes in the apartment, there’s warm mixed with cool. When they meet on the sidewalk, there’s warm mixed with cool. When they’re in the car, I’m blending these color palettes. Then, towards the end of the movie, the last scene of the movie is a blend of it all. So, I was able to do that in terms of with timing and digital intermediate, but yeah, that was a concept I came up with in this making of Them, is just having these two very separate color spaces or visual spaces and then sort of merging them.”
No matter which version audiences choose to watch (ideally, it’s good to start with Them, which introduces certain elements, and then move on to Him and Her, which expands on some of those certain elements), there is no denying that Benson has made his mark as a talent to-watch with his debut. He has crafted a love story that captures the perceptions we put on ourselves and on each other. His honest and creative approach is something to admire in this day and age of franchise movie fatigue. His ambitious look of love will have audiences discussing long after the credits. This is the kind of independent filmmaking that should be championed and embraced. Hopefully audiences will discover the many sides of Eleanor Rigby and see a little of themselves in the complex characters Benson has created.