I’m Thinking of Ending Things, 2020.
Written and Directed by Charlie Kaufman.
Starring Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Colby Minifie, Ashlyn Alessi, Abby Quinn, Hadley Robinson, Dj Nino Carta, Teddy Coluca, Jason Ralph, and Guy Boyd
Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself. Based on Iain Reid’s acclaimed novel.
During the middle stretch of I’m Thinking of Ending Things (writer and director Charlie Kaufman’s latest astonishing work of art, a masterwork that somehow lives up to his impressive oeuvre already containing works that range from one of the greatest romances of all time in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to Synecdoche, New York which Roger Ebert hailed as the best film of its decade, to the imaginatively brilliant stop-motion animated Anomalisa), Jessie Buckley’s Lucy recounts the story of how she met Jesse Plemons’ Jake to his elderly parents played by David Thewlis and Toni Collette. It’s a meet-the-parents situation with four Oscar-worthy performances that oozes an unsettling atmosphere and the constant eeriness that something, possibly just everything, is off.
It’s one of the most important scenes in the film for multiple reasons. Heavy narration early on implies that Jake is an idyllic boyfriend even if she is overcome with thoughts about breaking things off following only six or seven weeks of dating. Throughout a lengthy car ride (it might as well be real-time traveling) the newish partners discuss everything from their current work to poetry to having philosophical conversations. It’s all character building that also solidifies Jake as a genuinely good guy.
At this dinner table, something changes. He quickly and increasingly grows frustrated by the oddball behavior from his parents, more specifically his mother (the parents are unnamed, but it’s worth pointing out the Toni Collette outstandingly walks a razor’s edge here between amusing, endearing, and offbeat with key precision) mistakes the meaning of the words genius and genus when reflecting on how she would talk about her son to other people. Jake slams his hand down on the table in anger before collecting himself, all as the group allows Lucy to finish the story.
While Lucy is wrapping things up, the camera perspective switches to outside the dining room as if we are looking in from the outside, all with Lukasz Zal’s calculated cinematography sliding off to the side until visually only Lucy remains. The camera perspective then goes back inside the dining room to an overhead view, with Lucy still seemingly alone. If you think any of this is a major spoiler, you’re wrong and you have no idea just how fascinatingly brain-wrecking I’m Thinking of Ending Things is. It’s more that this moment encapsulates so much of what the film is about (loneliness, indecisiveness, awkwardness) that it’s a more eye-catching and thought-provoking the second time around. Yes, I watched this movie twice for review; it’s that good.
The inviting color palette (as Lucy stands around a crowded street waiting for her boyfriend Jake to pick her up for the drive over to his parents) gradually transitions to more oppressive aesthetics fueling the mood that something sinister is lurking at the heart of the narrative. There’s even a basement Jake tells Lucy to abstain from entering. It’s clear that she doesn’t know her boyfriend as the initial voiceover suggests, oblivious to some hidden behavior and potential secrets. Then again, one of those philosophical dialogues brings up how it’s easier to stay in a situation while things are going good instead of asking questions.
There are lots of questions to be had here, all of which slide right into Charlie Kaufman’s portfolio thus far; at times I’m Thinking of Ending Things feels like an amalgamation of his works. I’m aware the novel by Iain Reid was originally deemed unfilmable, so trust me when I say that Charlie Kaufman is probably the only one that could have adapted this story, and does so with trademark surrealism, dreamlike vibes, and risky makeup effects that are more effective than not. Around halfway into the movie (and if you really want to know what it is you can watch the trailer and spoil yourself because whoever cut those two minutes together failed to omit key elements of the story that are better left being experienced on-the-fly), characters start going through transformations that are both psychologically freaky while inciting deeper rumination on the narrative.
So much about this film shouldn’t work but it does, which is a testament that Charlie Kaufman is willing to tackle some of the boldest concepts out there that would crash and burn in five minutes in the hands of most other filmmakers. He even rewrites some of the novel’s philosophical dialogue to occasionally contain debates about classic movies and a classic Christmas song that has provided many heated debates over the past few years. Sometimes, the car ride dialogue can feel excessive (there is more following the family dinner), but I’d be lying if I said even on a rewatch I wasn’t hanging on every word.
To spoil some of the grander themes in I’m Thinking of Ending Things would obviously be wrong, but it needs to be mentioned that some people are not going to be on board with a certain major reveal. I would also argue that those people are missing the point of the movie, as Charlie Kaufman has taken a novel about loneliness, regret, and the burden of being idiosyncratic, putting a spin on it that’s fairly condemning towards egocentric men. That’s also not the only reading; the final 20 minutes are so bonkers, I’m looking forward to reading more writing on I’m Thinking of Ending Things just as I am eager to watch it again and break it down further. It’s worthy of awards consideration in just about every category it qualifies for, including unexpected ones such as Original Song. It requires multiple watches to fully grasp, but there’s already no doubt it will be immensely compelling every time; I’m Thinking of Ending Things will be studied and analyzed for years to come like everything Charlie Kaufman does.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com