By Michael Kalafatis
A young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) take a day trip to meet Jake’s parent who live in a farm. On this trip Buckley starts to contemplate about their relationship and ending with the realization that she thinks of ending things. With their arrival at the farm Jake becomes strange and irksome, he refuses to go indoors even though it’s snowing heavily, so he takes Buckley on a brief tour of the farm. When they eventually manage to get indoors things get more bizarre, a family dog appears and disappears randomly, Jake’s parents behave in an odd way, they laugh without a reason while their son is very nervous and constantly reproaches them.
Charlie Kaufman started as a writer for films like Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002) and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004) and then he made his directorial efforts with Synecdoche, New York (2008) and Anomalisa (2015). Kaufman’s writing and directing credits always features surreal elements akin to David Lynch’s style, but in a more subdue and realistic way. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is Kaufman’s third film in the director’s chair and is an adaption of novel of the same name by Iain Reid. The novel is more accessible than the film, but Kaufman work has always been opaque and purposely confusing and I’m Thinking of Ending Things has a plot that requires close scrutiny to unfold its meaning.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is reminiscent of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), both films feature scenes of fantasy and reality but the audience is not sure at what point reality ends and fantasy starts or vice versa. The fantasy elements add a dream logic to many scenes, with characters changing clothes, from one scene to the other, have different names or even rapidly age. Jake’s parents played by Toni Collete and David Thewlis are both equally funny and disturbing. They undergo many changes as characters both externally and internally, and even though they play Jake’s parents, their age and behavior changes very often. Their portrayal of Jakes’ unnamed parents is the reason that makes Kaufman’s film very entertaining but also frightening. The farm house also helps in creating an atmosphere of mystery akin to a haunted house featured in myriad horror films and it has even got a creepy basement.
Kaufman’s films always manage to encompass different genres but two genres are always on the foreground: drama and fantasy. Both genres take central stage in Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. In I’m Thinking of Ending Things its dramatic aspects and their realistic depiction is what makes the fantastical moments more effective and meaningful. We only notice by subtle camera movements, change of clothes or make up that something is unusual, and this game of noticing subtle differences is one of the most amusing and rewarding parts of the film.
Kaufman’s third film could have been one of the best films of the year, but he overindulges with scenes that last for far too long, with a back and forth conversations that starts to feel like we are listening to an audiobook and they are not very cinematic. The musical aspects introduce at the latter part the plot is also problematic, as they do not add anything new and they do not fit with the overall tone of the film, they just feel like an afterthought.
Kaufman has created one of the most bizarre and audacious film of the year, it will leave most viewers bewildered by its odd plot and characters, but it is a film that is teeming with themes and symbolism, and despite its faults it is a very entertaining and interesting watch.