Review: Charlie Kaufman's bizarre 'I'm Thinking Of Ending Things' one confusing paradox
Courtesy of Netflix
One of the many themes in eccentric filmmaker Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” - based on the popular novel by Ian Reid - is to find your inner truth the moment you live through them. Or, at least, that’s what I tried to piece together from the glib and overall lackluster experience of this wonky picture.
Basically a glorified break-up movie, “Ending Things” wants to trigger the audience with a sense of existential dread, and drown them in depressing thoughts and anxiety. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Then again, the film unpacks in such a manner it would be hard for anyone to put their finger on the pulse of what’s actually happening. But that’s Kaufman, and if such films like “Anomalisa” shows how we’re all disconnected from the world then “Ending Things” makes the case as to why we shouldn’t try to understand it, making for a unique, and ultimately, tiresome experience.
We follow a girlfriend (the immeasurable Jessie Buckley) named Louisa, or maybe its young women, or perhaps it doesn’t matter who's on a snowy road-trip with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewils). The young woman has inner monologues that tell us she’s been thinking of breaking up with Jake. She’s only been dating him for about four weeks, but an awkward car ride in early scenes makes you wonder how they managed to stay together even that long.
He seems nice enough, but her journey with him - and a bizarre dinner with his parents - unlocks a vault inside her mind filled with deep seeded anxieties around time, aging, and relationships. Kaufman isn’t messing around, but usually the auteur, whether its “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Being John Malkovich,” gives those daring enough to venture into his subconscious something to fall back on. In “Ending Things,” not only did I miss that feeling, I had constant questions about how certain things were unfolding.
Why does Louisa’s name constantly change? Why does the young women college major keep altering? Why are Jake’s parents aging backwards and forwards? Who the hell is this janitor the film keeps cutting back to during intimate scenes?
To try and understand their meaning would be to fall into Kaufman’s trap. Because all of these inquiries are by design, as the film is just as much about the lack of answers as it is about the answers themselves. A shifting paradox that tries to put us into the protagonists shoes, which makes for a long two hour slog with minimal payoff.
But to anyone that suffers from anxieties about life - for example meeting your boyfriend’s strange parents - watching “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” can be a chore. Kaufman wants you to tackle your darkest fears but then says you’re not special if the people around you aren’t, which makes the film hard to appreciate and understand: Why should I care about the characters if you tell me there’s nothing special about them? In “Anomalisa” everyone had the same, mundane, voice, except for Anomalisa, and that gave me a sense of hope. Something to latch onto.
In “Ending Things,” the audience continues along a snow covered road in search of meaning and Kaufman tries to grasp onto anything that can challenge our soul. And for some, the existential crisis and fears the movie pokes at, will work for them. They’ll be able to maneuver through the offbeat vibes of Kaufman’s twisted methods and see the other side for the better. You can’t fault the director for accomplishing his vision, because the whole point of the film is to conjure up your own thoughts and let the ruse of ambiguity guide your opinion.
I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS premiers on Netflix September 4th.