I’m Thinking of Ending Things

“I’m thinking of ending things,” the female narrator (Jessie Buckley) tells the audience. At first I thought the young woman was contemplating suicide. She is instead referring to her relationship with boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). The couple has been dating for six weeks. The two of them are now on a drive to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) on their remote farm. A blizzard is brewing. It is a prolonged ride. Once they arrive, the foursome chat over the course of the evening. Then there’s the long trip home. That’s the story in a nutshell.

The production is adapted from the 2016 debut novel of author Iain Reid. The book has a pedigree. NPR selected it as one of the best of 2016 and it was a finalist in the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award. Charlie Kaufman obviously adored it because he adapted the tome and then directed the production. Ah, Charlie Kaufman! That inimitable talent is responsible for penning universally exalted works Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He also directed Synecdoche, New York, and Anomalisa. Those two have their high points also but I’m less a fan. Upon realizing he was directing, I had my guard up. I was open though because he was the screenwriter as well. I had reason to be cautious. The production is difficult to enjoy. The narrative is punctuated by protracted stretches of static dialogue. Unless you revel in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness. If that’s the case, then the film is a masterpiece. (Some critics have called it that)

Kaufman is an intellectual and he likes to show off his knowledge. The couple engages in a lengthy philosophical discussion during the car ride over. Pauline Kael’s negative 1974 review of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence is incorporated into the conversation. Not skillfully like humans talk, but lifted verbatim. She quotes Oscar Wilde to herself. Jake recites William Wordsworth. Then she delivers a poem she’s been composing. Later the woman discovers a book of poems at the parent’s home. Surprise! She didn’t write the verse. It’s taken from Rotten Perfect Mouth by Eva H.D. Before the movie is over, Jake will perform the climactic speech from A Beautiful Mind and sing “Lonely Room”— a tune from the musical Oklahoma!

There’s an undeniable sophistication to the atmosphere that some will champion as art. It’s the mildest of spoilers to suggest that things are not always what they seem. Throughout the chronicle, there are moments where Jake can hear —and respond to—her thoughts. Jessie Buckley’s character is referred to as Lucy, Louisa, Lucia, and Ames throughout the picture. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice her profession varies. Then her interests change too. Let’s not forget the surreal evening with Jake’s mom and dad. Confusion with the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit and the word “genius” is a discussion. His parents undergo several transformations. What exactly is happening here?

For the record, I generally “got it.” I’ve seen enough movies to spot stylistic devices that have now become cliches. I confirmed my suspicions afterward by consulting the internet. My dislike of the film isn’t bourne out of frustration. It’s simply a chore to watch — a simple concept that is unnecessarily rendered obtuse. This is not an enjoyable experience . The closing arc is particularly off-putting. We’ve already endured two long conversations in a car and a head-scratching parental visit. Then we encounter an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd) working at Jake’s high school. Why not throw in a ballet? Now how about an animated pig? You should be confused until the credits roll. Even after it’s over you still might be perplexed…and you’d have every right to be.

09-06-20

7 Responses to “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

  1. I hear some people seeing this and not liking it, then they research it afterward and say, “oh, I get it now”. “ It’s brilliant!” I can’t do that. I have to judge what I watched. This was pretty bad. Long, boring and confusing. I wasted over 2 hours of my time. 2 stars

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    • Agreed. Your first impression is the purest reaction. Hating a movie, subsequently reading another person’s thoughts on why they enjoyed it, and then retroactively convincing yourself that you now like it too is a curious way to enjoy movies.

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  2. I was not at all a fan of Anomalisa. I still have not seen Being John Malkovich. Synecdoche, NY was very depressing. But I LOVE Eternal Sunshine. So I’m like you, pretty hit and miss with Kaufman. This one sounds like it’s going to be a miss for me. As in, I probably won’t even bother haha

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  3. Being John Malkovich was an impressive movie for me. I want to see this even though it appears to be long and boring. Like Tom, some of his movies resonate, other films, not so.

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