Charlie Kaufman is a critically acclaimed screenwriter/director. His best known writing credits include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for which he won an Academy Award), Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (he received nominations for both).
i’m thinking of ending things is Kaufman’s third directorial work, on the heels of the esoteric Synecdoche, New York and the animated Anomalisa. The film is based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Iain Reid.
Ostensibly, the main character is an unnamed woman (Jessie Buckley), a university student studying quantum physics, who is contemplating ending her seven-week relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). Before she does so, she agrees to go on a long road trip to visit his parents on their farm.
This primary story alternates with unrelated scenes which give us glimpses into the life of a high school janitor (Guy Boyd), which naturally will link up with the primary story later on in the narrative.
Once the couple arrive at Jake’s parents’ farm (mother is Toni Collette and father is David Thewlis), strange things begin to occur. Our main character begins to encounter alternate versions of Jake’s parents at different ages.
From then on, the story takes more bizarre twists and turns. It’s impossible not to highlight the main plot points to emphasise this but ultimately, the couple end up at the high school in the middle of a snow storm, Jake disappears and our protagonist encounters the janitor.
If you thought that everything that came before was weird, the final act completely goes off the rails and makes no sense whatsoever. We have officially entered mind fuck territory and while I did warn you about spoilers, it seems pointless to go into the plot any further.
By this time, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that none of the plot is happening in real life but rather in the imagination of someone’s psyche, probably Jake’s. The reason why our protagonist is unnamed and changes personality traits during the course of the movie is that she does not exist!
Equal parts experimental arthouse and psychological horror, i’m thinking of ending things is not a film to be taken casually. It’s fair to say that it is difficult to watch and yet engaging at the same time. Intellectually we understand that Kaufman is manipulating our expectations and employs all the tricks of his trade to deliver a multitude of themes and concepts.
In the final analysis, I appreciate Kaufman’s ambition and creative sleight of hand in adapting Reid’s iconoclastic tour-de-force but I feel that he could have stuck that landing a little better at the very end. If when the credits roll, you are inclined to go “huh”, don’t worry you are not alone! Unlike similar denouements like Inception or Jacob’s Ladder, there is no sense of understanding or even a modicum of that. Which makes Kaufman’s latest the cinematic equivalent of undergoing a long road trip in a snow storm and winding up in bizarro world. Perhaps that was the point!
… still there’s more …