Based on the novel by Iain Reid
Starring Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Being John Malkovich in 1999, writer/director Charlie Kaufman has
grappled with awkward, anxious protagonists (almost always male) as they
navigate surreal worlds that orbit deep philosophical concepts like life,
death, memory, reality, identity, and time. After leaving these worlds, your
mind feels stretched like taffy through a labyrinth – not only from tangled narratives, but the confusing and existential toil he imposes
on his characters.
But Kaufman tends to avoid pulling too hard (if at all) on
emotional heartstrings. It’s rare to tear up at a Kaufman movie. His latest
film I’m Thinking of Ending Things, however, made this awkward, anxious
critic cry – and it’s hard to say why.
Jessie Buckley (right) stars as a young woman meeting her boyfriend's parents for the first time
film, adapted from the debut novel by Iain Reid, tracks a relationship on the
rocks. Jessie Buckley (Chernobyl, Wild Rose) plays Kaufman’s first
female lead in a movie, credited as ‘Young Woman’, as she embarks on a road
trip with her six-week boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). They’re driving to visit
his family farm and meet his parents.
Most of the film is watered with her
stream of melancholy thoughts, always returning to ‘I’m thinking of ending
things’. This thought dominates all the others – in her words: ‘It’s there when
I eat, when I go to bed. It’s there when I sleep, it’s there when I wake up. It’s
always there. Always’. Her interior anguish plagues every line in her mind, and
it’s in danger of slipping out.
car journey is filled with snow and slow conversation. They both scramble for
topics. Despite the story moving into a weird direction, these scenes push with
a natural rhythm. Jake and his girlfriend are familiar with each other, but they’re
dialogues still plod along with difficulty. That romantic connection is still unformed.
David Thewlis and Toni Collette star as Jake's peculiar parents (Image credit: Mary Cybulski/Netflix)
the family home – a small abode in a white desert of nothing – is akin to
entering a horror movie. But these ghosts don’t go bump in the night: they come
with smiles, with a confused sense of time that moves quickly and backwards and
forwards. A dog shakes too much. A basement door is taped shut. A framed photograph
hangs on the wall, and it may or may not be of the Young Woman. And then: the
parents. They’re played with uneasy charm by Toni Collette and David Thewlis,
the fear and tension rising from their son’s embarrassment.
Thinking of Ending Things
creeps with a slow, quiet sense of terror. As Kaufman has explored before, time
follows its own rules and the Young Woman has trouble keeping up. She could be
with the family one moment and in the next, they can disappear. Reality
peels away like dusty adhesive on a cheap sticky note.
This leads into the baffling
yet visually explanatory final act, ambiguously built via a
tired high-school janitor (Guy Boyd) – striking the tragic, balletic chord that moved this
critic to tears.
Image credit: Mary Cybulski/Netflix
pointless and deflating to attempt an explanation for I’m Thinking of Ending
Things, but the common theme is one of control and desire for control. The
film’s 4:3 Academy ratio framing (the standard in Hollywood’s Golden Age) is
composed by Cold War cinematographer Lukasz Zal, and speaks to that
sense of rigid command. It’s constrictive; vividly unreal.
It may affect
people in different ways, and some anti-absurdists will hate the ambiguity, but Kaufman
creates another bleak and brilliant world stuffed with ennui and regret. I’m
Thinking of Ending Things is a surreal, romantic tragedy; a shattered pattern
of melting possibilities. It's one of the most unnerving films of the year.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix from Friday 4 September
|What||I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Netflix review|
04 Sep 20 – 04 Sep 21, ON NETFLIX
|Website||Click here for more information|