It has been years since we’ve seen anything from Charlie Kaufman. Following the stop motion adaptation of his stage play Anomalisa, I feared he had made good on his proclamation that “film was dead.” Years later it was revealed that his claim was a bluff and a new movie would be coming from him entitled I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
My first thought upon hearing the title was that “yeah that sounds like a movie he’d make.” Then I discovered that the movie’s title came from the book that it was going to adapt. It seems like providence that these two would be brought together as even though it strays from its source material, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is another notch in Charlie Kaufman’s belt of introspective human filmmaking.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Release Date: September 4, 2020 (Netflix)
It’s hard to pin down exactly what genre I’m Thinking of Ending Things falls into without revealing plot elements of the movie that are better left to the initial viewing experience. It has shades of psychological thriller, drama, and dark comedy. The film stars Jessie Buckley as a woman in a relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemons). As the title suggests, the woman is thinking of ending the relationship with Jake as it seems to have run its course over a short period of time. In spite of her apprehensions about their relationship, she accompanies him on a trip through a snowstorm to visit his family farm and meet his parents.
The trip there is filled with long philosophical conversations about the human condition and the mundanities of living. You know, general Kaufman stuff. When the couple arrives at Jake’s family home things start to get super surreal, super fast. Jake’s mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis) take an inordinate amount of time to come greet them at the door and then proceed to have awkward conversations with the young woman about how the young couple met and what she does for work. Anyone who has had an initial conversation with a significant other’s family knows that things can get weird, but this goes beyond that. There’s clearly some trauma between Jake and his mother and his father is just weird on his own. All the while the snowstorm outside grows stronger.
This is about where the marketing material for the movie stops and for the sake of the viewing experience I’m going to stop describing the plot here as well. It’s definitely something that is best viewed with as little known going into it as possible because the experience is partially made by the introspective feelings you get reacting to the conversations between the characters on screen.
I can say that if you haven’t enjoyed any of Kaufman’s work prior to this, then you won’t find anything that you’ll like here. If a film is a painting then this film pulls its palette from the same paints that colored Kaufman’s previous work. There are shades of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synedoche, New York, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich all baked into the canvas that is I’m Thinking of Ending Things. It’s not world shatteringly depressing like much of his earlier work, but there’s a definitive air of philosophical pessimism that prevails through the entire runtime of the movie.
For fans of the book, you might have some apprehensions to this adaptation. The movie follows the book to a certain point, then decides to do its own thing with what remains of its runtime. Without giving away too much, it decides to take a more dramatic approach as opposed to a thriller, with some flourishes that only the film medium can afford it. It works in helping reinforce some character traits that were discussed earlier in the film, but fans of straight adaptations will definitely be left out in the cold.
It’s hard to not suggest a Charlie Kaufman movie to someone who enjoys his work, and I’m Thinking of Ending Things continues that difficulty. You know what you’re getting when you click play, and by the end of it, you won’t be dissatisfied. That being said though, it doesn’t feel fresh or new, it’s just Kaufman, laying himself out. It’s not exactly a bad thing as it’s been nearly five years since we’ve seen anything from him, but it’s also not nearly as profound as say Synedoche, New York. It’s less of a discussion and more of a lecture where you’re along for the ride.