Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Watch of the Week: I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Emily Shawcross delivers this week's pick of MUSE's Watch of the Week with Charlie Kaufman's haunting I'm Thinking of Ending Things.

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Image Credit: Netflix

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Running Time: 2hr 14mins
Rating: 15

“There is only one question to resolve.”

A word to the wise; whatever you expect from this film, you are bound to be confused. Even if you have read the book, you should know that director Charlie Kaufman is at the height of his weird and wonderful creative powers and puts his own spin on things. Don’t let this frighten you, however, for I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a sumptuous puzzle of a film, and its release amid such uncertain times feels somewhat profound.

Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Ian Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things follows a young woman (Jessie Buckley) as she accompanies her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to his parents secluded farm for a dinner party. They drive through miles of dreary, abandoned farmland through an ever worsening blizzard, punctuated by the woman’s thoughts about ending things with Jake. As she doubts her commitments to him, the world she reluctantly enters begins to unravel around her, with nothing quite being what it seems. All the while the narrative interweaves with scenes of a Janitor, following his daily routine working at a high school. Tensions build as her grievances about their relationship combine with the repressed trauma unearthed by Jake’s return home, cumulating in a bewitching, existential nightmare.

Kaufman’s eye for detail creates a beautiful yet deeply unnerving spectacle, as the house and the characters never appear to be what they seem. From the very beginning, this film instils a sense of creeping dread that hangs over everything; a sense of paranoia that something is deeply wrong, yet you can never quite work out what. It plays with you, little details changing from shot to shot, creating a striking sense of unease in the viewer as it is never clear what you should be looking for or feeling. It is as if once they enter Jake’s parents’ house, time becomes unstuck, no longer adhering to convention. Slight shifts in the stories the characters tell, subtle yet unsettling, make you question what is real and what isn’t. Do you root for the young woman and hope she escapes this nightmare? How can you when you do not know who, or what, she is? Is Jake hiding something? Why does everything seem so wrong? Who is this creepy Janitor?

For those having read Reid’s novel, some may find certain changes frustrating, but Kaufman certainly captures the tone of the book while bringing to life his own vision of an already somewhat confusing story. I’m Thinking of Ending Things attempts to capture the fact that it is impossible to ever truly know someone else, and therefore what we share with others about our lives and the way we present ourselves to others, is a story that we have constructed. We create our reality to hide from our fears, but sometimes there are cracks and things slip through; life is a constant performance of keeping up appearances, presenting ourselves in a way we believe to be attractive to others. We consume art and literature to feel seen and relate to something, we hide behind other people’s more profound ideas and recite them to seem interesting and knowledgeable, as if we know what is going on. This film depicts the chaos of when such perceptions unravel, when we become consumed by thoughts of  “what if…” This is Kaufman’s endeavour at visualising an existential crisis. There is so much going on, so many themes explored, that it could never be summed up as any one thing. While Reid’s novel adheres to a more conventional structure and has a slightly (only slightly) more straight forward final twist, Kaufman goes a step further in presenting the more subjective aspects of human experience, encapsulating all the beauty and horror and confusion that entails.

Buckley leads the film with a particularly stand out performance as the young woman, at once a mirror for the audience in her confusion and growing panic, while remaining a perplexing part of the film herself. Toni Collette and David Thewlis shine in the roles of the mother and father, seamlessly shifting mannerisms, expressions, and speech patterns, resulting in two genuinely creepy performances. Plemons, an actor who has carved a strong career of supporting characters (he has appeared in best picture nominations for 4 of the past 5 years), is unrelenting in his portrayal of Jake, fiercely intelligent yet deeply haunted by the world he brings Buckley’s young woman into. Thankfully, Buckley and Plemons have a natural chemistry as the film predominately revolves around their conversation, feeding off each other effortlessly. Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is beautiful and dreamlike, enhancing and emulating Kaufman’s twisting story. Tonally, the bleakness of the blizzard meshed with the eerie nostalgic warmth of Jake’s parents house gives the film a feeling of half-forgotten memories, at once both familiar and strange.

One of the most beautiful, disturbing and thought-provoking films of the year, Kaufman’s latest venture will inspire a myriad of polarising responses and conversations. The idiosyncrasies may prove too weird for some to stomach, but that’s the beauty of it. There is no pandering here, I’m Thinking of Ending Things knows it is bizarre and revels in it. There is much to digest here, therefore I’d recommend multiple viewings to truly examine everything that goes on. If pandora’s box were a film, it would look like this.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is available to watch on Netflix.

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