Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Stream on Netflix Netflix
With: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Hadley Robinson, Gus Birney, Abby Quinn, Colby Minifie, Anthony Robert Grasso, Teddy Coluca, Jason Ralph, Oliver Platt (voice)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman, based on a novel by Iain Reid
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references
Running Time: 134
Date: 09/04/2020

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Trappy 'Ending'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Charlie Kaufman has made only eight films in 21 years, five as a writer and three more as a writer/director, and few other filmmakers today have showed as strong and as vivid a personal vision. His vision often has to do with discomfort and fears of inadequacy, loss and eroding mortality. They're not easy to watch; I certainly underrated his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York when I first saw it (I need to see it again), mainly because of what a distinctly uncomfortable, and endless, experience it was. His new I'm Thinking of Ending Things, adapted from a novel by Iain Reid and premiering on Netflix, sunk its claws into me a little more easily, perhaps because of the pandemic (perhaps we're all seeing things more like Charlie these days). I confess the movie lost me, and I had to do a little research into the novel to pick up some final clues, but it will certainly be worth seeing again.

It begins as Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend, who either has no name or several names (Jessie Buckley), drive through the snow for dinner at the home of Jake's parents. Their conversations are brainy discourses on various topics. Occasionally, we hear the woman's inner thoughts, and, more confounding, images of a janitor at work cleaning a high school. When they arrive at the parents' house, things seem to slip from reality. The parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), as well as a dog, seem to be different ages, and food seems to be consumed and then not consumed. The trip home involves more conversation, including a lengthy diatribe on John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence, and a stop for some milkshakes. Then they pull off the highway toward Jake's old high school, where we get even more bizarre scenes, including a dance number!

There is an explanation, although I'd hesitate to call it "reasonable," and I don't wish to give it away. What haunted me about the film, however, is the way that Kaufman fully inhabits this shifting, twisting nightmare world, and the way that little existential clues seem to pop up everywhere. It's almost Lynchian, but warmer... not exactly funny, but at least with more humanity. The performances here are incredible, especially given what the actors had to work with, and they are everything. They grab us and pull us through this interior crisis. And it's all so fluid, that feelings of both curiosity and acceptance seem to drift around, finding each other, going hand-in-hand. If this review doesn't make much sense, then I hope I've done I'm Thinking of Ending Things some justice. Suffice to say: I'm not sure you will, but I loved it.

Movies Unlimtied