I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a melancholic psychodrama with spurts of deliberate awkwardness, but should you expect anything else from writer/director Charlie Kaufman?
Known for his Oscar-winning script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind among his other Oscar nominated screenplays (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), Kaufman follows up his complicated directorial debut Synecdoche, New York with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a film that’s as intricate as his debut. But, because Kaufman has been less protective of his vision this time around, his latest movie is less heavy and more encouraging for movie goers to be swept up with. Littered with easter eggs that hint at a bigger picture, Kaufman’s film is still bound to upset viewers looking for a traditional story, but the enigmatic filmmaker leaves his film open enough to welcome all interpretations while also supplying a satisfying conclusion. It’s a fun game, if you’re willing to play with all of the pieces Kaufman supplies.
It starts with a doomed trip to the country for a forlorn couple (Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley). They’re braving the early stages of a blizzard to visit his parents, and she’s already thinking of breaking up. After a car ride full of feigned small talk and inner murmurs, they arrive to visit two of the most eccentric parents you’ve ever seen in a movie (Toni Collette, David Thewlis). As the evening’s blizzard worsens, the girlfriend starts to notice weird discrepancies around the house while the audience even questions what they’re watching. Did characters age within a few scenes? Did they de-age? Why are we not allowed in the basement? When the couple finally eventually leaves, the evening becomes more knotted as pit stops hold more significance than we first believe.
Reviewing I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a tough job considering that it’s a provocative piece for people to react to. It’s a never-ending rabbit hole, pulsing with subjectivity, made with a meticulous eye for detail. It’s unusual for a particular person like Kaufman to invite several theories into his work but, considering how many layers he includes and how he willingly overlaps clues, it’s efficient interactivity for I’m Thinking of Ending Things and growth for him as a filmmaker. Here’s hoping he keeps this up.
My theory on I’m Thinking of Ending Things suggests the story isn’t, in fact, about the person the movie seemingly focuses on. Instead this is about another character who, by halfway through, has distracted the narrative. The open-and-shut approach of saying the film takes place in the mind of a character is an easy scapegoat for a movie’s ambiguity, but that also plays into my theory as well. I think the audience is quietly observing someone wandering through their own loneliness, another common theme for Charlie Kaufman. Time periods, settings, and personal interests intertwine, representing the storyteller’s inability to get a grip on their memories and ideas. It’s a character study without labelling itself as one.
I encourage you to partake in the madness driving I’m Thinking of Ending Things with the full understanding that this challenging movie isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. You, sort of, just have to give these movies a spin. The benefit of this being immediately available on Netflix is that viewers can rewatch, or scrub through various scenes to piece together its puzzle. You’ll also be able to walk away from it if you need a breather, or want to abandon it altogether. The viewer is in full control, even though it seems Charlie Kaufman is trying to convince them otherwise.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie