Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a dream- like, yet profound existential journey of loneliness and regret. It’s a work with a taste that’s best portrayed by mentioning Kaufman’s other work, such as “Being John Malkovich,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “Synecdoche, New York,”. This adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel takes an existential and a “Lynchian” approach to define human existence at its core. Well, what’s this movie about? It’s a pretty simple story of a woman, outstandingly portrayed by Jessie Buckley, who goes to see her boyfriend’s parents, played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis on a snowy day that turns into a catastrophic drive because of the weather. Well, that’s really it on the surface. But no Kaufman movie flourishes on the surface.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” mostly thrives on its long, absurd and funny cuts. These scenes possess the right amount of charm to make you cringe, wonder, and feel like it’s all a bad dream, all at once. These emotions are magnified by the 4:3 aspect ratio beautifully captured by Lukasz Zal (Cold War) which forces the viewer to pay attention to what’s in and what’s not in the frame. But it would all be a mere pretence if not for the brilliant performances of Buckley and Jesse Plemons, playing Buckley’s boyfriend Jake. The opening scenes of “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” feel pretty straightforward, however the woman (Buckley) narrates the story, which at first seems to be a mix of both her inner monologue and the action of the scene, the film then cuts to a high school janitor who seems to have no connection whatsoever to our main protagonist. Why? Does she know him? How is he linked to the protagonist? Or who even is the protagonist?
This film thrives on an atmosphere of unsettling dread. Buckley’s character’s name keeps changing, as well as her profession, a swing set seems to be everywhere, a dog constantly wags itself dry, it snows where it shouldn’t be snowing. These might be those usual metaphors for horror, but what they might be portraying is our fear of loneliness, regrets, and growing old. We might want to cling to our feelings and particular experiences to stop thinking about the fact that we all die alone. One line that stayed with me after weeks of watching this film is when Buckley’s character introspects that “Other animals live in the present. Humans cannot. So they invented hope.” This really hits you hard.
Throughout this film, Kaufman messes around beautifully with space and time (remember Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.?). The most appealing characteristic about how this film is directed, is that it doesn’t have a destination or, say, a big twist in the end, but rather a journey that is slowly, and beautifully unravelling. I think that is where it differs from the “Lynchian” cinema, especially Mulholland Dr. that I believe comes quite close as a comparison. It should come as no surprise that Kaufman has mastered the art of activating existential despair.