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Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Premise: A woman and her boyfriend (Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons) visit his parents on the family farm. Throughout the trip she doubts her relationship and contemplates her existence.

What Works: As Charlie Kaufman’s career has progressed, he’s gradually gravitated away from linear and literal narrative filmmaking and toward surreal and symbolic imagery while also contemplating cerebral subjects like identity and the meaning of existence. I’m Thinking of Ending Things continues Kaufman’s trend in this direction and it’s one of his most ambitious projects. The picture uses the first meeting between a young woman and her boyfriend’s parents as an occasion to contemplate relationships, the extent to which we understand other people and ourselves, and how place shape our identity. The ride to the house is filled with dread while the visit itself alternates familial warmth with moments of awkwardness. The family homestead is in some ways indistinguishable from the people who inhabit it; the parents are as much a part of the house as the drywall and doorknobs. The filmmakers visualize the way in which the household is the repository of our past and future and therefore part of who we are. I’m Thinking of Ending Things suggests that the places we’re from as well as the art and media we consume are an inseparable part of who we are. Time is presented as nonlinear. It’s deliberately disorienting but it also allows the characters’ past and future selves to interact which visualizes abstract concepts of time and identity. The film is meticulously crafted. The picture is shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and it uses those dimensions to capture the action within a narrow frame. Quite a lot of I’m Thinking of Ending Things takes place in a car as the two characters drive through a snowstorm. The filmmakers capture the feel of driving through snow on rural roads and this, along with the moments of social awkwardness, give the picture a nervous energy. I’m Thinking of Ending Things also features impressive performances. Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons play the couple and there is a lot going on underneath their dialogue exchanges. Toni Collette and David Thewlis are cast as the parents and at different moments they are called upon to play their characters at different ages.

What Doesn’t: Charlie Kaufman’s body of work has a singular style. Pictures such as Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa are surrealistic and not to be taken literally and viewers will either go with Kaufman’s style or they won’t. However, the surrealism of I’m Thinking of Ending Things goes beyond anything Kaufman has done before. The picture is full of connections between various context clues but those connections are not always explicit. Neither are their meanings. The pleasure of a movie like this is in deciphering its meaning and whether a viewer enjoys or gets anything out of I’m Thinking of Ending Things will partially hinge upon whether they are willing to put in the effort.

DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: I’m Thinking of Ending Things is likely to appeal only to a niche audience but those viewers will probably watch it over and over again to pick up on the details and nuances. For those willing to engage with it, I’m Thinking of Ending Things offers a lot to contemplate and it is worth the time and effort to do so.

Episode: #817 (September 13, 2020)