I would be lying if I say to you that I have fully worked out what is truly taking place in Charlie Kaufman’s new film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” I have ideas and suspicions and am on my way to building a full, all-encompassing, theory, but I’m not there yet. I would also be lying if I said that I didn’t love it. Yes, Kaufman’s film hits that sweet spot – I don’t understand exactly how all the timey-wimey bits and reality shifts work, but I love it anyway.
Staring Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons as a young couple off to meet the boy’s parents, we watch as Buckley’s character, perhaps never named (and certainly not given a name in the credits), offers up an inner monologue about the relationship, stuff like how new it is (she can’t remember, but roughly a month and a half); how the guy, Jake, is nice; and how she doesn’t think there’s a future for the two of them and she’s thinking of ending it. It’s not a great set of thoughts for someone to have as they’re going to meet their significant other’s parents for the first time, but it’s where we find Buckley’s character at the start of the proceedings.
From there, things get weird.
The farmhouse where Jake grew up is distinctly disturbing. It is full of unsettling tales; a disappearing-reappearing dog; an unnamed potential horror in the basement; and, most significantly of all, Jake’s parents. Played by Toni Collette and Jake Thewlis, this couple (also not given names), may be relatively consistent in their personalities over the course of the film, but they are not in their age (said personalities are, naturally, affected by the age at which we see them at any given point). They fly backwards and forwards through time, as, seemingly, does the farmhouse. Even Jake may himself be moving backwards and forwards as he goes from being roughly 30 (Plemons is in his early 30s) to, potentially, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd).
Well, I think that maybe he’s also the old janitor at the school, of whom we catch glimpses throughout the movie. Maybe he isn’t, but that’s my interpretation.
Confusing as it may be, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” offers the distinct feeling that it is all decipherable, that if the viewer only has the key—the one by which Kaufman has locked up all the mysteries—they will instantly understand all that is taking place. It is a film which is cryptic, yes, but which never feels unfairly so – there is a correct, achievable, understanding of all that happens.
I don’t have that key, I don’t yet possess that understanding, but someone out there does and you can be assured that after this review is posted, I will be spending some time googling to work it all out. You can also rest assured that I will feel like a fool once the truth is laid bare before me and it is clear just how wrong I currently am with my janitor nonsense.
The thing is though, even if one doesn’t have the correct interpretation of the movie, it is still accessible, and that’s one of the reasons it is brilliant. Buckley delivers these tremendous monologues during the movie, both internal and external (if indeed there is a difference and there very well may not be). Even when one has the sense that she is spouting nonsense, the nonsense sounds deep and Buckley has a way of delivering the lines which makes them almost hypnotic. Due to the nature of the story, the character is constantly switching between different areas of study/expertise, so one minute she’ll be talking about rabies and another delivering a poem and a third discussing painting, but no matter the topic, the delivery—and audience engagement—remains the same.
As for the parents, as they age and de-age, Thewlis and Collette’s characters only grow more interesting, offering a greater insight into Jake’s life and how he has become the person he is today.. whomever that actually may be and if today is actually today. Collette and Thewlis are astounding in the film, making the parents engrossing and off-putting at the same time.
And Plemons? He continually makes the case that he is amongst the best actors of his generation. He offers up these loose, relaxed, portrayals, that all of the sudden have a tightness and ferocity heretofore unimagined. In his hands, Jake is funny and charming and horrifying.
I have spent a lot of time trying to categorize the movie; trying to place it within a genre. Kaufman offers up so any different things here that attempting to put it squarely within one realm or another may not be the most worthwhile of endeavors (if indeed it ever is). However, if one chooses to not go with the terribly staid, boring, and overly broad “drama” as a choice, “thriller” would be most apt.
There is something distinctly unsettling beneath the surface of the movie, an unnamed horror (or six) which continually threatens to pop-up, exposing itself and changing the movie forever. It is, in a word, creepy, and I love it.
“I’m Thinking of Endings Things” is a treat. It is a bit of genius, one with incredible performances, crackling dialogue, and more than a little to chew on. I have been, purposefully, a little cryptic at moments in this review, shying away from delivering too many specifics or too much of my own (potentially wrong and undoubtedly incomplete) interpretation of that which takes place. To do so would ruin the adventure and the horror of the movie and be a tremendous disservice to anyone watching. And, you should be watching.
photo credit: Netflix