“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Movie Review


     If you’re already familiar with writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s work, than the bizarre nature and melancholy atmosphere of his latest effort, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” certainly won’t surprise you, but is likely to leave those who stick around until the end baffled at some level.  And this is the sort of thing the three time Academy Award nominee and Original Screenplay winner for 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is known for.  The guy doesn’t think the way an average person would, and thus the stories that come out his mind are told in a way far from the norm.  

     For those who thought Quentin Tarantino may have been over indulgent in the 20 minute opening scene in 2015’s “The Hateful Eight”, which sees the three lead characters converse over a letter written to one of them by Abraham Lincoln while enduring a long snowy stagecoach ride, you may come away from “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” believing Tarantino’s scene suffered from over editing. Kaufman opens his film with a young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons) driving to his parent’s farm, located in a secluded rural section of Oklahoma.  All the while, her inner monologue tells us she is hesitant about the trip, if for no other reason she doesn’t see her relationship with Jake as permanent.  In fact, as the film’s title suggests, she wants to end things sooner rather  than later.

     And so we accompany them.  Getting bits and pieces of her disdain for the trip she has agreed to take, their first together, and the qualities Jake clearly lacks as she pictures her ideal mate.  There are times where the silence is deafening, even forcing Jake to suggest listening to the radio at one point, but soon conversations involving musical theatre and movies come into play, mostly as a means for Lucy, as we come to know her, to suggest his personality has been primarily shaped by the media he has consumed during his life.  Most of this sequence is shot, interestingly, from the outside of the car, so we always see the icy surroundings and the windshield wipers pushing the snow and rain away with the characters seemingly out of focus just beyond the windshield.  And as the scene continues to a point where you wonder if this is meant to be depicted in real time, we begin to ask the question, what is Kaufman doing here?

     If all of this isn’t strange enough, once they arrive at the farm and see Jake’s mother waving to them from the upstairs window, he decides to instead, in the middle of a snow storm, give Lucy a tour of the barn, rather than go inside.  It’s there where he shares a particularly disturbing story about the pigs they once had, but there’s no connection to what’s happened so far that would explain why the story is being shared.  Is Kaufman ratcheting up Jake’s creepy vibe on purpose? The entire thing makes you feel as though Kaufman is transitioning to the horror genre, especially given the lengthy set up and the notion of Lucy’s desire to break up.  All the while, we know Jake suspects her intention as well.

     This doesn’t change when they finally make it inside the house.  Jake’s parents, played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis, take their time coming down stairs, and when they do, it is clear their son prefers his mother over his father.  Eventually, they sit down to a dinner neither of them really touch, but the parents do show an interest in learning about Lucy, which she is obliged to participate in and gladly shows the giddy duo some of her artwork by way of her smart phone.  And as expected at this point, the parents are genuinely strange and remain off kilter during the entire dinner scene with a clearly embarrassed Jake frequently shutting down both of them as they giggle their way through these exchanges with Lucy.

     As they move deeper into the evening, you again begin to wonder if perhaps Kaufman is intending a homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, as his camera floats within the hallways, following Lucy as danger seems to lurk beyond the doors she is about to enter.  There’s even a basement whose entrance is covered in scratches and strange markings that Jake tells her is a place he prefers not to go.  But the set up here is much more than the plot of some low rent horror premise.  Remember whose film this is.

     Kaufman’s screenplay is based on the book by Iain Reid, which proves the perfect project for a film maker whose previous work revels in the surreal.  And while the regular cut aways to an older janitor working in a high school at night may seem impossible to connect to the primary storyline, a step way back from the typical expectations of a film like this may lead you directly where Kaufman intended.  As the third act moves even further into a dream world and slowly pulls away from reality, you begin to think about the possibility that maybe none of this is actually happening the way it was initially presented.  Is this Jake looking back on his life with the regret of someone who couldn’t get it together, and instead chose to wall off everyone close to him in order to avoid further pain?  Has Kaufman once again delved into the human psyche in a way most filmmakers are incapable of?  GRADE: B+