Just when you think 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, surrealist Charlie Kaufman brings us his most recent foray into the human condition – ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things.’ Based on the novel of the same name by Iain Reid, Kaufman’s latest outing follows a young woman, (Jesse Buckley,) travelling with her new boyfriend, (Jesse Plemons,) to meet his parents. Sounds normal enough right? While the film does indeed get off to a fairly linear start, it isn’t long before things take a spectacular dive into the absurd, resulting in one of the most mind – bending, yet thought – provoking films of this year…
I’m thinking of Ending Things begins with a snowy road trip, introducing us to the characters of Jake and his new girlfriend, who at this stage of the film goes by the name ‘Lucy.’ Casual viewers might initially believe they are watching a generic drama film, while Kaufman fans will instantly notice that something doesn’t feel quite right. Why is the atmosphere in the car so awkward? Why does Lucy want to ‘end things’ with Jake? As time passes, things become stranger and stranger until the car journey comes to a sudden end when the couple arrive at Jake’s parent’s house. What follows is one of Kaufman’s most bizarre, yet fascinating pieces of work to date, a film that cinephiles and Kaufman fanatics will adore but casual viewers will likely loath.
It’s no secret that Charlie Kaufman aims his films towards a very specific target audience and when he’s in the director’s chair, he isn’t afraid to alienate general cinema – goers in order to achieve his vision. As a screenwriter, Kaufman’s ideas are often watered down by more linear directors, which is why I’m Thinking of Ending Things feels heavily reminiscent of his cinematic debut ‘Synecdoche New York,’ in which he also held the Writer and Director’s credit. An unfiltered Charlie Kaufman is perhaps what this year needed the most and though I’m Thinking of Ending Things simply can’t access everybody, those who do sit down and watch it all the way through will find a thrilling exploration into the darker side of human psychology.
But what’s it all about? Well… that’s mostly for you to decide.
After the long and awkward car journey, the film’s second act picks up at Jake’s parent’s house, which is seemingly isolated in the middle of nowhere. Things soon become more and more surreal as the mother and father, (played brilliantly by David Thewlis and Toni Collete,) suddenly start to age and de – age at random intervals. If that wasn’t enough, we soon find that ‘Lucy’ might not actually be the woman’s name at all as both parents and even Jake himself refer to her as different names throughout the rest of the film. Combine all of that with interspersed shots of a high school janitor and you have a story rife with hidden meanings. The premise actually sounds more like a farse rather than a commentary on the human condition but when you delve deeper into the multi – layered surrealism, themes such as separation anxiety and depression slowly reveal themselves.
To fully understand I’m Thinking of Ending Things requires lots of time and patience and to say Charlie Kaufman makes things complicated for his audience is an understatement. this high – brow style of film – making has caused many to call Kaufman pretentious but those who enjoyed pondering over the many meanings of ‘Synecdoche New York’ will no doubt love unlocking the secrets of I’m Thinking of Ending things and coming up with their own interpretations and theories. Kaufman certainly isn’t for everybody and while his signature surrealism is regularly the subject of harsh criticism, his most recent outing proves that the writer/director is less pretentious snob and more cinematic poet, breathing a much-needed breath of fresh air into an industry dominated by remakes and sequels.
The relationship between the Woman and Jake is truly the driving force behind I’m Thinking of Ending Things, though the ending of their story leaves far more questions than answers. Throughout the course of the film, both Plemons and Buckley deliver powerful performances that perfectly communicate both Kaufman’s madness and its underlying grimness to the audience. By the ending, Jake and the Woman’s relationship is literally brought centre stage in a totally unexpected but oddly heart – wrenching ballet dance through time, depicting their lives from beginning to end. Without giving too much away, this sets up a gut – punch of a twist, which leaves a cold and sombre atmosphere lingering on screen, until the credits have finished rolling.
Far from a light – hearted watch.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is without doubt one of Charlie Kaufman’s most absurd, yet greatest films to date, providing a streaming service plagued by repetitive content, with a thoughtful and refreshing look at the human condition. Though the film’s surrealism and bleak tone will turn many away, film fanatics will be treated to a psychological thriller like no other, one that somehow manages to be entertaining, while leaving you feeling utterly depressed. A truly nightmarish but beautifully poignant piece from a cinematic master.