Movie Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Drenched in Melancholy, Charlie Kaufman finds a drifting sense of meaning in a movie that conjures the ghost of French Marxist Guy Debord, and the Society of Spectacle
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Running time: 2 hrs 14 mins
Debuts on Netflix September 4, 2020
By Katherine Monk
Having just watched Chris Nolan’s Tenet, I’m realizing there are two ways of approaching the timeline stories in cinema. The first is slick and cinematic — an Edge of Tomorrow, Matrix-styled action film steeped in the imagery of science-fiction, which is sort of where Tenet landed. The second is far creepier, because it exploits the blur world between dreams and wakefulness.
The second technique fragments the everyday and splatters it across the screen — breaking up our understanding of linear storytelling, and the expectation that we move forward in time, like passengers sitting in a train car.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a Charlie Kaufman film that falls into the second category, and if anyone is good at cracking open the mirror world and reaching a bleeding hand to the other side, it’s Kaufman — the man who wrote Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Anomalisa and Synecdoche, movies that blew us away without blowing stuff up.
Kaufman uses language not pyrotechnics to make the mental rearrangements. He plants land mines all through the script, triggering characters and forcing them into trip wires. We can feel it’s all going to vaporize from the moment we see a recurring motif of a body lying in the snow. But we find comfort when we get in the car with a young couple — Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend of six weeks, played by Jessie Buckley. I didn’t realize the character didn’t have a name until well past the halfway point — when she wonders aloud what her own name is. But I’m getting ahead of myself, just like every character in this bizarre but strangely elegant little story.
Deep, but only in places. Kaufman’s gift seems to land in drifts. At times, the whole exercise feels a little shallow and silly…
Jake is taking this young lady to meet his parents who live on a farm outside town. From the car chat, we learn both Jake and his girlfriend have more than a passing knowledge of physics. They’re both highly educated, and they like exchanging interesting ideas. But as the young woman sits in the passenger seat, she’s edgy. Her mind isn’t in the car. It’s elsewhere. She is thinking of ending things…
She is thinking that the man driving the car is boring her now. She realizes she’s in this car because it was easier to give him her number than to decline. She just said yes because it was easier than saying no. Now, she wonders if we’re far more passive than we’d like to believe. She muses aloud: “People like to think of themselves as points moving through time, but I think it’s probably the opposite. We are stationary and time passes through us, blind like cold wind stealing our heat leaving us chapped and frozen.”
Deep, but only in places. Kaufman’s gift seems to land in drifts. At times, the whole exercise feels a little shallow and silly — like when Jake’s parents (played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis) verge toward horror cliche. Yet, there are moments that stop you in your tracks — when he finds the right philosophical blurb to make the blur of life crystallize.
He quotes French Marxist Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle: “spectacle cannot be understood as a mere visual deception produced by mass media technologies. It is a world view that has actually been interior-ized… watch the world through this glass, pre-interpreted for us, and it infects our brains… like a virus.”
I’m Thinking of Ending Things doesn’t make it easy, but thanks to Kaufman’s gentle touch, the film never wounds or offends. There is no violent force because the whole movie feels untethered, a floating thought bubble filled with interesting and well-spoken people searching for something solid to latch on to — only to disappear in silence the moment it lands.
THE EX-PRESS, September 4, 2020