Where do I even start? I will say this: I have never experienced anything quite like I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Audiences have come to expect this from writer/director Charlie Kaufman, who hasn’t delivered a forgettable work yet, but in his new Netflix film he somehow still manages to surprise and confound audiences with the odd narrative direction he takes. Every second of this movie is like being trapped in a mental prison full of snow and lost memories without knowing what is going on. At times it can get tiring and difficult to sit through, but after this film ended it stuck in my mind for days after. Whenever a work of art does that, there’s something special at play. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is confusing, vapid and at times straight-up boring, but it is also one of the most mentally challenging films in recent memory,
I can only describe the plot of this film in the most simplest and surface-level of ways because going any deeper would not only be spoiling the twist of the movie, but it would be near impossible to explain. Our protagonist is a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who is visiting the parents of her boyfriend of seven months (Jesse Plemons). However, she is having doubts about the nature of their relationship and is thinking about cutting it off after this visit. However, as the trip continues, the nature of her boyfriend’s existence complicates her perception of him and his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), who are very odd people to say the least. All of this is interwoven with footage of an old high school janitor (Guy Boyd) who seems to have little purpose in life.
The first striking aspect of I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the amazing acting. The very first scene of dialogue is an over 20 minute scene between Buckley and Plemons in which they have very existential conversations about life, poetry, and their pasts. This scene, and others in the film, can be very tedious and time-consuming, but because of the wonderful performances from both main actors the movie is oddly engrossing. For the majority of the runtime it is hard to put reasoning into what makes this film interesting, but the intrigue of the mysterious plot is fascinating enough to keep the audience in the room. When they arrive at the parents’ house, we are then introduced to two fantastic performances from Thewlis and Collette. Without spoiling anything about the nature of these characters, I will simply say that Collette and Thewlis play multiple stages of parenthood, and they absolutely nail it. These are some of the best supporting performances of the year so far, and though this film is far too abstract and odd to get awards attention I still hope they get some accolades for the tough and amazing work they showcase here.
Another noticeable aspect of this film is Kaufman’s expert direction combined with the beautiful cinematography from Lukasz Zal. Every scene in the car on the way to and from the parents’ house feels claustrophobic, making the audience feel trapped in the film’s snowy wasteland. Even in the parents’ house the shots are all tight and confined, making one feel like they are there with the main characters in the small, limited environments. This is perfect for the themes of the narrative, for the movie is a very personal and mental story. As the narrative progresses, it is clear to see that everything about this situation is off somehow and that nothing is as it seems. The small backgrounds and confined nature make viewers feel as if they are stuck in someone’s mind, which ends up becoming a major detail in the bigger picture that Kaufman alludes to.
As I was watching, I picked up the direction in which Kaufman was going pretty quickly, but for those who aren’t used to extreme extended metaphors and situations in which little is based in reality, this film will be incredibly confusing. Even for me, the ending was difficult to understand, and it seemed like Kaufman was just showing off how artsy and prestigious he is without much visible meaning behind it. Looking back on it, a certain scene near the end involving an interpretive dance didn’t add anything to the narrative of the movie and just came off as pretentious. Much of this film is Kaufman showing off, and the film could have used less of that and more material which hit the messages and themes home. In the end, certain powerful motifs were left hanging and the true meaning of the narrative was far less clear as a result. Many indulgent scenes could have been shortened, such as one where the protagonist recites an entire pages-long poem from front to back, and more could’ve been included to explain what the hell was going on. The average viewer would be completely lost during the entirety of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and I feel Kaufman could have done far more to make the movie accessible and not an odd piece of filmmaking that only five percent of viewers will understand.
In the end, the poignancy of the story and the large metaphor wins over, and Kaufman creates another abstract work of art that will stick with viewers for a while. It took me multiple days to write this review because there is so much to mull over about this complex narrative, and as time went on I began to realize how involved and meaningful Kaufman’s work is. At times the movie feels like another pretentious art-house film, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things has more to offer about the human condition than it lets on. Those who like stories that make viewers think long and hard about the true meaning of life will have a field day. This movie never lets up on the heavy imagery and includes many conversations that allude to larger themes such as mortality, the human condition, the decisions one makes throughout life that define you, and many others. In all honesty, a true review of this movie would be a spoiler-filled analysis of the various themes and messages that pervade the narrative, and examining what story this acid trip of a film is actually telling. In the meantime, I will just recommend you watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things, because love it or hate it, it is one of the most unique and thought-provoking experiences in the past year.
I give I’m Thinking of Ending Things a B+.