I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
★★★ OUT NOW / NETFLIX CERT 15 / 134 MINS
DIRECTOR Charlie Kaufman CAST Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
PLOT A young woman (Buckley) embarks on a road trip with her new boyfriend (Plemons) to meet his parents (Collette, Thewlis) — while she considers ending the relationship. But when they arrive, her grip on reality begins to falter.
THE LAST TIME Charlie Kaufman attempted to adapt a book, the 2002 meta-mindfuck Adaptation, he was hit with such brutal writer’s block that he placed himself into the movie as a character, and invented himself a twin brother, too. There’s no sign of him as a character in this, his eighth film as writer and third as director, so we can presume the writing process went a bit better. But Charlie Kaufman is all over it.
His hallmarks are everywhere: an anxious, despairing outlook on relationships, self-worth, and humanity; a withering critique of Western culture; a fourth wall that doesn’t so much break as implode; and a huge appetite for the surreal. Like his 2004 film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, it begins near the end of a relationship: Lucy (a beautifully understated Jessie Buckley) considers her “unfixable” problems with Jake (Jesse Plemons, channelling Philip Seymour Hoffman), on their way to meeting Jake’s parents. But, as Lucy (or is it Louisa?) says, something is “profoundly wrong”.
As incisive a director as he is a writer, Kaufman makes hay with his limited budget with economical, artful filmmaking, using smart visual devices to foster an accelerating sense of confusion and reality-bending. Lucy’s internal narration is sometimes interrupted by external dialogue; camera angles are disorientating; the action occasionally and inexplicably cuts to shots of a janitor mopping a school corridor, for reasons that only become clear (or not) later on.
When they finally arrive at Jake’s family farm, the film starts to play like a surrealist farce — as if Alejandro Jodorowsky directed Meet The Parents. Mum (Toni Collette, making her Hereditary matriarch look homely by comparison) is frantic, always pulling at her ears, and deranged. Dad (David Thewlis) is a literalist farmer with a full-on Lancashire accent who thinks “Billy Crystal is a nancy”. Both laugh a little too long for comfort at terrible jokes. Neither seem to age in a linear way.
“There is no objective reality,” Jake notes at one point, which feels like a manifesto for the film, as eventually everything that might be considered ‘plot’ crumbles. Kaufman seems uninterested in neat narrative closed loops, and the third act offers none of the jaw-dropping big reveals of the book, ending on somewhere between a startled bang and a confused whimper.
What to make of a film that quotes Tolstoy and Wordsworth, and ends with an interpretive dance, an animated ghost pig, and a naked old man crying ? How do you review a film which itself contains a film review (a scathing ’70s Pauline Kael diatribe)? I’m Thinking Of Ending Things feels as much a take on disappointing men and their worthless lives as it is an indictment of Hollywood, Kaufman included — but then trying to fully understand it, in traditional narrative terms, is surely just a wasted effort. It’s possibly Kaufman’s most challenging work yet. Whether that challenge will reward you depends on your taste and tolerance.
Bleak, bewildering, and a bit bonkers. Kaufman’s uncompromising originality is always welcome — but you’ll need time to let this one percolate.
The parent trap: Lucy (Jessie Buckley, second left) meets her boyfriend’s folks for the first time.