i'm thinking of ending things
(***1/2)-VITO CARLI

"...designed to be a cultural studies grad student’s wet dream..."

Kaufman's Meta Film Will Baffle, Perplex & Delight

(112820) “i’m thinking of ending things” is a wickedly clever psychological dramedy/road trip film, but not a psychological horror film as some sources say. The story is filtered through one disturbed mind and it is chock full of literary and cultural allusions , and the film makers seemed to have aimed it at highly literate viewers.

The film’s title is intentionally all in lowercase letters, and this is also the first line of dialogue in the film. The title probably refers both to the lead character wanting to end a relationship and also to suicide which her boyfriend may or may not be considering, but it never made me want to end things (in terms of watching the film or ending my life).

The film alludes to everything from Guy Deborg’s Society of the Spectacle to Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations on Immortality to the poetry of Eva H.D. to Leo Tolstoy to Oklahoma to John Cassavetes’ Woman Under the Influence. It seems like it was designed to be a cultural studies grad student’s wet dream, and there is so much intellectual talk this film makes My Dinner with Andre look like Die Hard II. Sometimes I think the film is really about two people in love with the sound of their own voices,

The film was written and directed by Charlie Kaufman who is widely known for his intelligent, meta-fictional screenplays for films such as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Synecdoche New York and Anomalisa. His screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is considered by many critics (including me) as one of the best of the last 20 years. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” has a shot (it is by no means a lock) an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.

“i’m thinking of ending things” is about a young, literate woman named Louisa or Lucy (Jessie Buckley) who considers leaving her older, bookish boyfriend, Jake (played by Jesse Plemons) who seems to be a teacher or maybe not, while they are on a bizarre road trip or is the whole thing imagined? She may have at some point been his student, but we never find out definitively.

She’s a student studying quantum physics or film theory or perhaps painting. The boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons) is nerdy and insecure and at one point she (Louisa?) says she was attracted to him because “he had no game.” The couple met at a trivia night event at a bar (we don’t know if she was just another bar patron or a waitress.) After a month’s (or maybe it’s just been a few weeks), it seems that their relationship has run its natural course-at least for her. The details of the film and the character’s past shift continually as if the screenplay is being written and rewritten as we are watching it.

Jake and Lucy or whoever she is and her boyfriend drive to his parents’ house through a blizzard. At one point, Jake gazes at Lucy during her voiceover and her lips are moving so we are apparently in her or his head, but he hears and responds to the words anyway. This seems to suggest that he (or she or both) might be imaginary or just a character in her mind and she is in a conversation with herself. Or maybe both are in the mind of an unseen narrator.

Eventually the lovers end up at Jake’s childhood home. His mom and dad (wonderfully played by Heredity’s Toni Collette and The Theory of Everything’s David Thewlis) worry incessantly trying to please the younger couple and awkwardly try to connect with them but they fail in a monumental way.

The older couple constantly make inappropriate jokes (including ones about their sex life) which are followed by awkward silences and/or overly long nervous laughs Seeing the couple in their natural setting at home, you can understand why the son is troubled and emotionally scarred. This “getting to know the family scene” reminded me of nothing else in cinema except perhaps the disastrous dinner scene in “Eraserhead “ where a family sits down to eat when the turkey comes to life and starts flapping its wings.

The filmmaker seems like he wants to deliberately undermine the audience’s preconceived notions about the film and what they think is true. Some pictures on the wall change periodically, one person has bandages that jump from one side of his face to another, and the ages of some people change back and forth,

There are all kinds of other bizarre going-on's in the film . At one point, Jake asks Liza to recite one of her poems, but later the poem appears almost by magic in a book of poems by Eva H. D. Also, Also Jake’s mom presents a painting as her own, but later on they find the images in posters of the same images by real life artist, Ralph Albert Blakelock. It is not likely that the people lied about the authorship of the work, but rather the fictional reality shifted (perhaps the author writing changes his or her mind). The movie has the feel of a rough draft or cut of a film that is being altered as it goes along.

There is also a mysterious character who is a school janitor (Guy Boyd) who always watches a woman from a window, and the camera keeps cutting back there for no apparent reason. Some of the plot threads are never resolved, and the film does not give us formulaic plot resolutions or predictable plot twists. Just when you think you know what the story is going the plot shifts.

The film either peaks gloriously or completely goes off the rails (I haven't decided yet) in a long hallucinogenic, illogical sequence involving a giant maggot ridden pig that talks and a naked elderly man. It will be a very long time before I or anyone else forgets this sequence, but the less you know the more likely you are to enjoy it or be repulsed by it.

While watching the film, I considered whether I was an imaginary character in a film or novel writing a review on a film that I either hated or loved that I only thought I saw that may never have existed. When the film ends, it may make you uncertain of all objective reality and everything including your own life. I guess that is how you know if it worked for you.

This is a perfect example of what I call a mind__ _ _ _ film (I’m not supposed to swear here) which delights in dashing audience expectations and pushing them to their limits. These films are often even more fun to think about or write about than to actually watch. I would also put “Memento,” “Wild at Heart,” “Prospero’s Books,” “Southland Tales,” and “Being John Malkovich“ in the same category.

I am sure most will not appreciate the eccentric, surreal pleasures of the film. I’m not anticipating a big hit here. “i’m thinking of ending things” is great brain candy, but it provides more nourishment for the mind than for the heart, and it may leave you cold. It’s also possible that you need a PhD in literary theory or to see the film several times just to begin to understand it. Also, sometimes the film seems like it is being clever and unconventional for its own sake.

But I found much to admire in the film, and it deserves credit for its reckless originality and its brave rejection of many traditional cinema’s tropes and conventions. I think I will watch it again now or maybe I only think I will.

Directed by:   Charles Kaufman
Written by:   Charles Kaufman. Based on the book "I am Thinking of Ending Things" by Ian Reid
Starring:   Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette
Released:   090420
Length:   134 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for language including some sexual references
Currently Seen on:   Netflix

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

i'm thinking of ending things © 2020 Likely Story
Review © 2020 Alternate Reality, Inc.