‘I’m thinking of ending things’ is the latest in a long line of introspective Charlie Kaufman films. A rare sort of film that looks inward in the psyche of it’s characters. In Anomalisa, we were shown the viewpoint of a man isolated from the world, where everyone looks and sounds the same to him. Eternal Sunshine took place literally in someone’s head for most of the film. In his latest work, Kaufman takes a much more abstract approach. This is met with varying degrees of success.
Right from the beginning Kaufman entrances the viewer in the strange setup. A woman (Jessie Buckley) decides to go on a road trip with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons) to go meet his parents. It’s at this point that the woman is unsure of her relationship with Jake. As the title of the film suggests, she is thinking of ending things. The audience is constantly privy to the thoughts and feelings of the woman. Her thoughts are broken up by constant interruptions from Jake, awkwardly attempting to make conversation.
This opening 20 minutes or so set the tone for the film. It’s one mostly comprised of odd imagery, awkward conversations, and inconsistent pacing. Putting all of these things together makes this one of Kaufman’s more interesting and high concept films. The film starts off normal enough, but as it continues to go deeper in the story it gets even more odd and inconsistent.
For example, Jessie Buckley’s character is never given a definitive name. She is introduced as Lucy, then later on another, and these names play into the story later. Her profession constantly changes. Characters have odd mannerisms/outbursts and everything just seems… Off. This meta aspect of the story is one of the more interesting aspects of this Kaufman film. An adaptation (pun intended) of a novel by Iain Reid, the psychological horror is played subtly. It’s done in a way as if it was normal and part of the story even though something is clearly wrong. This is thanks to the phenomenal cast of the film.
Jessie Buckley has a fantastic turn as the lead, sharing scenes with all the important characters in this are portrayal for a fractured psyche. Jesse Plemons has another subtle and almost threatening performance as Jake. His scenes with Jessie Buckley make for some of the most awkward and tense cinema of 2020.
Intercut with the main narrative of the film is a lone janitor. A janitor who, strangely enough, seems to have experiences that mirror Plemons’ character Jake. The story opens up yet another plot thread in the already complicated machinations that Kaufman has set up. In the end, the story of the janitor and of Buckley’s and Plemons’ characters eventually intertwine. What follows is a dramatic and surreal conclusion I could leave some viewers confused.
The confusion mainly stems from Kaufman at his most “Lynchian” in his filmmaking. The way the abstract thoughts and ideas on the human condition are translated onto screen are fascinating. However, it doesn’t make for very cohesive viewing. The further it goes into its story the less cohesive it gets. However, this is also an entrancing part of the film.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things has a sort of duality to it in that way. On one hand, Kaufman unfiltered displays alluring themes begging to be analyzed. On the other, you have an inconsistent pacing that seems like the opposite of what Netflix usually releases. This is a film that demands all of your attention when viewing it, and then some.
Underneath its absolutely wild surface, Kaufman’s latest looks deep into the emotional stability of people. Loneliness, the male fantasy and more occasionally peer through to the surface of the film. Buckley and Plemons help with their truly incredible performances to make these themes shine. However, the film can be too abstract in most instances. This leaves Kaufman’s latest to be something of a mixed bag, but still an interesting watch. Thinking about I’m Thinking of Ending Things is definitely not the worst way to spend your evening. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 7.5/10
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now available to stream on Netflix