I’m Thinking Of Ending Things Movie Review: Another Kaufmansque film from Charlie
Charlie Kaufman’s Netflix release opens with title cards in ultra-small font that demand an effort from the viewer to make out what’s on the screen. This font size, in retrospect, seems like a stand-in for the film’s elusive reality. “I’m thinking of ending things,” says the female protagonist (Jessie Buckley), who goes by different names through the film - Lucy, Lucia, and so on (though the end credits simply call her ‘young woman’). She wants to end things with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). But her actions betray her thoughts because we see her on a road trip with her boyfriend to meet his parents for the first time — textbook definition of the word ‘misleading’.
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley
Rating: 3.5 / 5
On the way, she keeps telling herself she is about to end things. The young woman tells herself that she had always known this was going to end this way and wonders, “Maybe it’s human nature to keep going in the face of this knowledge.” Throughout the film, most of the dialogue happens either inside Lucia’s head or between Jake and her inside the car as they drive through treacherous terrain. On top of this, she keeps avoiding calls from someone named ‘Lucy’(herself) despite Jake’s advice to attend it. To put it bluntly, something is amiss with Jake, Lucia, the journey, and the film.
Superficially, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, based on Ian Reid’s novel of the same name, might come across as a romantic tragedy about an odd couple but with Charlie Kaufman, nothing is that simple. As time progresses, the film gets more Kafkaesque, something typical of Kaufman’s films. While the book is a straightforward psychological thriller, Charlie seems to have stretched its potential to its threadbare limits. He has exploited the novel to ponder deeper things like suicide, existential dread, the real possibility of a true relationship between human beings, empathy, and acknowledgment.
The surreal nature of the film, which at times comes across as overindulgence, might make people end the film halfway. Nevertheless, takers of Kaufman’s brand of cinema will revel in the ambiguity and absurdity of the film, particularly the dinner sequence. At one instance, Jake calls Lucia a physicist, and the next moment she is a painter. Sometime later, she is a poet. Similarly, Jake's father (David Thewlis) and mother (Toni Collette) age and turn young erratically. One moment Jake’s dad is a young and hale gentleman while his wife is old and bed-ridden. All of a sudden, we then find the mom in an 80s costume bullying Lucia to go do the laundry. Throughout the film, there are constant reminders of aging and time. One of Lucia’s internal monologues goes: “People like to think of themselves as points moving through time. But I think it’s probably the opposite. We are stationary and time passes through us…”
The film is about this rot caused by time. But Charlie is not too sardonic about the futility of things. Rather, he seems to find remedy in art. Maybe that’s why he sort of avoided stressing the suicidal angle the book took. Here, the redemption is more optimistic. It is okay if you are thinking of ending things. As the pig in the film says, “You play the hand you are dealt. You make lemonade… You move on.”