Current Issue #488

Film Review:
I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Acclaimed oddball Charlie Kaufman’s latest outing is a drawn-out but sometimes deeply disquieting epic that initially seems to want to be a horror movie but then flips right out, leaving you unsure what the hell to think.

Writer/director/producer Kaufman is mostly known for his screenplays directed by others (notably Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), but his movies as writer and director (Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa) are considerably more inaccessible and difficult.

And then there’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (as drawn from Iain Reid’s début novel), which opens like an uncomfortably black character comedy, ropes in profound fears of ageing and identity, hints at all manner of uncanny themes, shifts in time and logic and perspective, ruminates upon the whole idea of storytelling (a Kaufman obsession), offers a little bizarre interpretive dance (that has something to do with the musical Oklahoma!) and animation, and then just sort of stops. Any non-Kaufman fanatic straying into this on Netflix will be completely justified in asking, “What the…???”

The title is the first thing spoken by our unnamed narrator (Irish actress Jessie Buckley as ‘Young Woman’), although she’s talking about her seven-week relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons), and not suicide. She accompanies him on a long, wintry drive to an isolated farm to meet his parents, and on the way our patience is tested as they discuss Wordsworth (Jake tries to recite Ode: Intimations Of Immortality), the amygdala and trashy movies, perhaps commenting upon their status as mere characters.

Buckley (so memorable in 2018’s Beast) is a quantum physics student, which might (or might not) have some relevance to what’s going on, and there are moments when she seems to warily acknowledge the camera and where Jake can apparently hear her internal monologue (in a curious glimmer of TV’s Fleabag). But why?

When they arrive at the farm, Jake’s also-unnamed parents appear in the form of Toni Collette and David Thewlis (who also supplied a voice in Kaufman’s Anomalisa), and even stranger events transpire as, again, there are strong hints that something truly horrible is about to happen: the parents keep vanishing and then changing in age and appearance; an angry voice (Oliver Platt’s) berates the Woman on her mobile; and there are interludes of excruciating embarrassment, as when Thewlis turns sleazy and sneering like only he can.

Some will naturally compare this to a David Lynch outing, as both filmmakers always refuse to explain anything about their most non-linear ‘plots’, although there’s no real violence or bloodshed here, quite unlike Lynch’s nastier efforts. And yet, somehow, this is just as disturbing and distressing as Lynch’s movies, because it’s all about existential chaos, the terror of growing old and infirm, and just who exactly we are, all subjects guaranteed to gnaw at your mind long after the deliberately hard-to-read final credits roll.

If only Kaufman had thought of ending things half an hour before he actually did and this would have been a masterpiece of angsty cerebral unease.

Reviewer Rating

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (R) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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