I didn’t expect to enjoy Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and I’m still not entirely sure that I did. After viewing it twice, all I know for certain is that it fascinates me. Even though this film is long and, in many ways, monotonous, I was completely entranced by every meandering conversation. Its weirdness, its irksomeness, its constant references to texts that I’m not necessarily familiar with—all of it accumulates to a film that captivates me from beginning to end.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things follows a young woman, portrayed brilliantly by Jessie Buckley, as she reluctantly accompanies her boyfriend of six-ish weeks on a trip to meet his parents. Over the course of the evening, the woman’s experiences become increasingly confusing and bizarre. As a viewer, I initially dismissed some of the subtler oddities that occur, just as our protagonist wilfully ignores her crumbling sense of reality. At first, this film feels like a testament to just how far we’ll go to make a good impression, or to avoid awkwardness at a family dinner.
The film goes much deeper, however, commenting on time, aging, death, isolation and loneliness, all with the potent sadness that is imbued in so much of Kaufman’s work. The script is heavy on dialogue and minimalistic in terms of characters and plot, a combination that allows its formidable cast—which includes Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis—to really showcase their abilities. The strength of these performances is elevated by impressive make-up, deceptively simple costuming and quite a beautiful score. Even (or especially) when scenes are drenched in empty space, every visual detail feels crucial. The tension of the film builds slowly, but has a tight an unapologetic grip on its viewers, making this essentially a horror movie—though one more interested in existentialism than exorcism.
There are many different theories as to what actually transpires in this film, and what it all means. The most likely are probably those that are drawn from the book it is based on by Iain Reid, which I confess I haven’t read. For the rest of this review, I will allude to theories and themes without discussing any more details of the plot. I warn readers that, while not directly spoiling the film, reading on will make the viewing experience a lot less like unravelling a mystery.
This text might appear to some as strange for strangeness’ sake, or perhaps pretentious in its content. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and anyone in their right mind would find it unpleasant at points. It took me a second viewing to really appreciate the ways in which scenes mimic memories or imaginings, illustrating the mind’s tendency to repeat frozen moments from the past or change a fiction as it unfolds. I loved the incessant references to popular culture and art, and their influence over our malleable identities. The heart of the film’s horror is in the experience of a social outcast and the idea of a wasted life, but for me, the ultimate fear lies elsewhere. Becoming aware of one’s own non-existence; the notion of being a figment of someone else’s imagination—this is what really frightened me.
This film is challenging, but if you are curious, it is definitely worth a watch. If you’re isolated in a single hotel room, however… maybe leave it for a couple of weeks.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix.