I had heard good things about the 2014 film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, when it premiered two different versions, Him and Her, at the Toronto Film Festival. I was intrigued by the concept: the two versions of the film reflect different perspectives of a married couple, played by the always excellent Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, as they struggle to cope emotionally after a traumatic experience. The writer/director, Ned Benson, then did a third version (!) combining the two perspectives, entitled Them. I had never gotten around to watching the film(s), but then I picked up a copy I spied at our local public library.
Here’s a trailer for the film:
My husband and I were planning on just watching the combined version, Them, when surprise! Eleanor’s sister, Katy, played by Jessica Chastain’s real-life friend Jess Weixler, turns out to be working at a public library! You know what that meant… I had to watch all 3 versions! Fortunately, each film is distinctly different, albeit with a few overlapping scenes, and it is collectively an impressive artistic achievement for all involved.
Therefore, I have structured this post starting first with Them, and then I will delve into the Him and Her versions to see what else we glean about Katy’s character and backstory.
*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*
This combined version is 2 hours long, and we don’t find out until 1 hour and 19 minutes into the film that Eleanor’s sister Katy works at the library!
So let’s back up to when we first see Katy in the film, which is within the first few minutes. After a suicide attempt, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) is in the hospital, and Katy comes to pick her up. She hugs her, quickly establishing the warm, caring relationship between the two sisters.
Katy, who lives at home with their parents and her young son, then brings Eleanor back home. The brief scenes of Eleanor’s family welcoming her home further establish how much Eleanor is loved by her family. She also has a good relationship with her nephew, and it’s sweet to witness how Katy gently corrects her son’s grammar and language and calls him “Lovey.”
Of course, not all is sunshine and roses, as Eleanor works through her depression. Her father, played by William Hurt, is a psychology professor, and he brings the head of the department home one day, in hopes of helping his daughter. Eleanor does not respond well to this idea. Katy is right beside her sister in these scenes, coming across almost like her sister’s protector and bodyguard.
Katy also gives Lindy Booth in the TV movie The Twelve Trees of Christmas a run for the title of “most adorable reel librarian ever,” as evidenced by facial expressions like the one below when she admits to having a date with a dentist.
Fifty minutes into the film, Katy is getting ready for her date, and she admits to feeling fat. She’s trying on a sheath dress, and her sister helps her smooth out the dress over her Spanx underwear. How many other times do we see reel librarians in their underwear?! Of course, we don’t know yet watching this version of the film that she is a librarian…
A few minutes later, after she returns home from the date, Katy admits that she’s drunk. She giggles after telling her sister, “I could’ve given him a normal kiss good night instead of jamming my tongue down his throat.”
That then lead to a heart-to-heart conversation between sisters, in which Katy admits to being mad at her sister (for attempting suicide): “You are kind of a selfish bitch. I was really mad at you.”
She also reveals that Eleanor’s husband, Conor (James McAvoy), came by the house looking for her. Katy also expresses empathy for Conor and how badly Eleanor has treated him.
Finally, at one hour and 19 minutes into the film, Eleanor surprises Katy at the public library. Katy is shelving magazines — but really reading them instead! 😉 (We’ve all been there.)
Eleanor, tapping Katy on the shoulder: Ma’am?
Katy gasps, turned around: Yes. [Realizing it’s Eleanor.] You’re a dick.
Katy: You look like ass. Where were you last night? You want to take a load off?
[Katy and Eleanor walk to a niche beside a stair’s landing]
Katy: I come here on breaks. One of the librarians advocates a whole nap philosophy.
Eleanor: Nap philosophy?
Katy: Yeah, naps throughout the day, like, help with productivity and stuff. If you.. want to read this. [hands her a magazine] What?
Eleanor: I was hoping you could read my mind.
Katy: Wouldn’t that be nice?
Eleanor: You want to do something stupid this weekend?
Katy: Yeah. I’m the queen of doing something stupid. What are you thinking?
Eleanor: Get bent, take a train to the city, save the world.
Katy: When did you become an idealist?
Eleanor: A couple of seconds ago.
Katy: I have a date with the dentist this weekend… I should get back to work. I’ll come wake you up in a little bit.
Side note: I laughed out loud at how the magazines were placed on the periodical shelves, which you can see better in the closeup above of Katy. I am very familiar with that kind of magazine holder with the red spines, but I have NEVER seen magazines placed on their side like that in a library before. At least, not when there’s enough room to place them upright so that patrons can, you know, READ THE TITLES. Did this film not employ a real librarian consultant? But at least you know they filmed in a real library, because there are call numbers on the spines of the books!
Eleanor and Katy then go to a club, along with Katy’s dentist date, and they have fun dancing together. They both admit they feel old, which is a charming bit.
Eleanor starts kissing another guy while Katy looks on in concern, and we don’t see Katy again until almost the very end of the film, when she drives Eleanor to their airport.
This version of the film is an hour and a half long. We never get to see Katy in this version, as she and Conor never have any scenes together. This version should be subtitled The Disappearance of the Reel Librarian, right?! 😉
However, we do get many more scenes with Ciarán Hinds, who plays Conor’s father. That almost makes up for the lack of Jess Weixler in this version.
This version of the film is an hour and 40 minutes, and we get many more details and backstory about Katy. Many scenes we see in the Them version that feature Kay are also extended in the Her version.
Extended scene in the car:
Even though Katy is the younger sister, it’s obvious that she’s very protective and motherly toward Eleanor. When she picks her up at the hospital, the scene continues to them getting into Katy’s car. Katy attempts to buckle her seatbelt for her, as Eleanor’s arm is in a sling, but Eleanor isn’t having any of it.
New scene in the bathroom:
A few minutes later, at 17 minutes into the film, Katy is washing her sister’s hair in the bathtub. I think this is the first scene I’ve ever seen in which a reel librarian is washing someone’s hair! This scene also reveals that Katy works at the library. (Remember, we don’t find out that fact in the Them version until well over an hour!)
Katy is trying to convince Eleanor to come with her to Charlie’s, a mutual friend, because “it would be good” for her to get out and be social after her depression.
Katy: Ok, there was an article.
Eleanor: Oh my god, you’ve been reading stupid shit online again.
Katy: Yeah. But there was something in Psychology Today that I saw at the library, and you should take a look at it. I’m managing the periodicals. I’ll give you a copy.
New scene at a friend’s place:
The next scene then takes place at Charlie’s place, where we get many more details about Katy, including the fact that she used to be an actress. We also see Katy dressed in a casual outfit of sandals and a floral romper. (!!!)
Charlie: What have you been up to, Katy?
Katy: Um, what do you mean?
Charlie: I mean, what have you been up to?
Katy: Well… Philip, uh, is going into the second grade. And… he’s about to be eight. I’m also studying to take the LSAT. And I am a part-time librarian out in Westport, so… I have that going for me.
Charlie: No more with the acting?
Katy: No, I mean… life just… kind of put a damper on it.
Charlie: Whatever happened to dreams?
Extended scene at the house:
At 30 minutes into the film, we get an extended scene of when Eleanor’s father brings home the chair of his psychology department. Katy literally blocks her sister from storming out of the house, and they get into a fight. In the Them version, it comes off like Katy is protecting her sister from their dad’s interference; in the Her version, we understand that Katy is physically making sure her sister doesn’t run away again!
Eleanor: I will bite you!
Katy: I will bite you back!
Extended scene getting ready for a date:
The next scene is an extension of the scene in the Them version, in which Katy gets ready for her big date. We learn more about her acting career and her life as a single mom.
Katy: Oh fuck, I don’t understand why this asshole walked into my library. … We’re just going to pretend to be interested in each other over cheap cabernet, and he’s gonna, like, ask me all the same stupid questions that they ask about Philip, like who the dad is, and then look at me like I’m half a moron for the choices that I’ve made. You know, it was easier when I was an actress, because I could just fuck my co-stars, but this real-life, pseudo-adult crap sucks my ass.
Katy [to Eleanor]: You were always who you were gonna be, I mean, like a woman. I always… wasn’t yet.
At this personal confession, the two sisters embrace again. Their relationship is such a special one, and it’s enjoyable to see on screen a variety of love stories, including the love between sisters.
Same scene in the library:
Interestingly, the scene in the library featured in the Them version is the same as in the Her version. I wasn’t expecting that! I guess I was expecting the library scene to be longer in this version.
Altogether, in Her, we get 3 extended scenes featuring reel librarian Katy — 2 of which reveal more details about working in the library — as well as 2 additional scenes unique to this version.
Extra features and interviews:
One of the special features on the DVD was an interview with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. In the interview, Chastain revealed that she and Jess Weixler were best friends and roommates while attending Julliard drama school and were in every play together. After graduation, they never got to work together again, until this film, which Chastain also helped produce.
Jess Weixler also talks more about this, and her role in the film, in a 3-part series of interviews with Multiplex, which you can watch online here.
Reel librarian role and purpose:
So after considering all three versions of this story, what was the purpose of Eleanor’s sister Katy being a reel librarian? It is interesting to note that it is only the Her version that reveals what Katy used to do, and how Katy feels like her life has led to her making different decisions. And what’s more different from an actress than a librarian?! 🙂
There is an element of bemusement that she works in a library, even as it’s obvious that her work is rubbing off on her. This is evident by how she mentions an article she read in Psychology Today, and by the fact that she’s been promoted to managing the periodicals. But even in the Them version, it never feels like Katy is dedicated to the library; rather, it feels apparent that working in a library is a temporary gig. Katy reveals this in the scene at Charlie’s, in which she says she will be going for her LSATs (the entry exam to study law).
Katy is a supporting character, one step removed from the leads, and is seen in several significant scenes in the Them and Her versions of the film. She gets the most screen time in the Her version, of course, and overall, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby winds up in the Class III category of films featuring reel librarians.
So what is Katy’s role in the collective films? There are elements of the Spirited Young Girl to her character: namely, that she is a younger woman and has no intention of working long-term in the library. She also reveals that she feels like she’s never grown up and is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life.
Ultimately, however, I feel that her character — at least in the Her version — winds up as an Atypical Portrayal, in which the reel librarian portrayals go beyond stereotypical constraints. Katy is certainly intelligent, as well as funny and fun-loving, and we see her interact with warmth and kindness with her son, sister, and parents. We also get to see the ballsy side of Katy, like when she fights with her sister. We also see her sweet, goofy side, like when she gets butterflies before her date, and how she dances and admits to feeling old at the club. We also hear Katy curse quite a bit!
In short, we get to enjoy a well-rounded character, one who is a woman first, and a librarian second.
Have you seen any version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby? If not, are you interested in watching one or more — or all! — versions? Please leave a comment and share. 🙂
- The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Dir. Ned Benson. Perf. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, Ciarán Hinds, Jess Weixler. Unison Films, 2014.