Before I say anything, it’s important to know that this film is an ACQUIRED TASTE. You have to venture into the world of Charlie Kaufman before watching this film. It’s one of those films where you’d literally rub your eyes to understand what’s happening cause it seems like nothing but everything is happening at the same time, and this feeling will last throughout the film.
There’s really no other way to describe this film other than Kaufmanesque; the meaning of this would vary from person to person: for some it may be positive, for some it could be ‘what the hell is going on?’ but for me, personally, it’s pure genius but only and only if you have previously ventured into Kaufman’s world. Kaufman is a screenwriter and filmmaker who has his own, extremely unique style, which for some may make no sense but for others it’d be an indulgence, quickly evolving into an addiction, to get lost into his perplexing, distressed world; a world that offers a realistic depiction of human emotions in the most abstract way possible. As like Kaufman’s previous ventures too, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things,’ is an acquired taste, which if you understand and immerse yourself in will prove hugely entertaining. Yes, this film may not be Kaufman’s best but it is definitely a great piece of art.
The film revolves around a young couple, Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend who ‘might be’ named Lucy (Jessie Buckley). After a quick montage of a lonely house, we’re introduced to Lucy who, after dating for six weeks, is ‘thinking of ending things’ with Jake. For majority of the film, the couple finds themselves on possibly the strangest road trip through a snowstorm toward the farm Jake’s parents live. But the real deal awaits them when they arrive at the house. You have to really immerse yourself, paying attention to each line to understand what the film is trying to tell you or rather trying to make you feel. In ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ the effects arrive before our understanding of their causes. The writing, the atmosphere, the performances all create certain emotions, evoke curtain thoughts: we know exactly what we’re feeling, but we have absolutely no reason why and that suspense that’s created is what keeps you glued to the screen.
The film is perplexing to say the least. As far as we can guess at the beginning, we are in Lucy’s head, if that’s what’s her name. The conversation through the car ride largely revolves around Lucy’s interests and background. She seems to be studying physics, or painting, or gerontology and despite not being interested in poetry she suddenly recites a touching lyric she claims to have written herself. The exchange is strange to say the least but the somehow this ambiguity, this confusion brings forth the inner desires or anxieties of human nature that we seem to project. At times her peacoat is pink, until it becomes blue, every character seems to have some inconsistency, some quirky trait that eventually ends up being uncomfortably creepy, even the dog. The movie is full of questions (all of which aren’t quite answered): are those around us simply mirrors of our own narcissism, what do we actually desire from life, what are we scared off, are these fears simply created by the mind, are we even real to one another? Honestly, it’s just not that easy, it’s too complicated to simply put into words.
If you thought the road trip was ‘weird,’ the graph just seems to accelerate from there on, exponentially. Jake’s parents (Toni Collete and David Thewlis) grow older and younger every time they enter a scene, the dog’s peculiar movements(?), the awkward table-talk, the random interruptions of the of the scenes of the old janitor in the school, the dead lambs in the barn everything creates a certain sense of ambiguity, augmented by the camera movements, Molly Hughes’ strange production design and jay Wadley’s soft but intense score which slowly, eventually begins coming together as the movie progresses but is never really completely answered. All this along with Lucy finding herself so puzzled so often creates the sense that possibly her perspective isn’t the one we should trust, maybe she’s the odd normality in a crazy world because she’s faking her thoughts. This foreshadows the end but doesn’t ever give out anything.
This film is possibly Kaufman’s most daring yet creative piece of work yet (not his best – still a ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ guy) and just goes to show how films can be parasites that sit at the back of our minds and infect it with emotions and sometimes misleading ideas that shape our thoughts and ideologies. The amount of detail that he puts into his films – from the change in colour of Lucy’s peacot to the animated pig, the awkward camera angles, the blood streamers in the almost poetic ballet in the school gymnasium and the fake ‘old’ makeup – is really highlighted in this film. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the film in terms of symols, metaphors and plethora of stylistic devices which would be great to sit and analyze (but I guess not in this review).
The cast is nothing short of brilliant. Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley play their characters, entangled in this abstract mystery, with great care, detail and trickery, forcing the audience to believe their innocence but then leaving just enough room to doubt their intentions. Toni Collette and David Thewlis brilliantly bring out an almost disturbing feeling among the audience with their awkward actions and their strange dinner table conversation. There’s great amount of thought before the delivery of each line and the credit goes equally to the actors and Kaufman.
All in all, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a great film about the perplexities of human nature, filled with Kaufman’s originalities but will definitely take some time to percolate. Yes, the film does tend to drag a bit by continuously introducing new questions in each scene without providing any answers whatsoever but you cannot deny the fact that it is a great example of Kaufman’s pure genius. If you aren’t completely pre-invested in watching the movie you may find it difficult to watch it in one sitting but it’ll constantly exercise your brain, trying to look at the smallest of things in search of answers. The details really stand out and combined with the writing there’s an unusual sensation where you feel certain emotions towards the characters and the plotline, without really knowing why and that is the unique feeling I was drawn by. I personally am a huge fan of Franz Kafka and his oppressively strange and nightmarish style of storytelling. From him, we’ve developed the adjective of something being ‘Kafkaesque’ and I won’t be surprised if we soon have a new adjective in the dictionary: Kaufmanesque.
P.S. Before you try watching this film, I’d recommend watching a few other Charlie Kaufman films other wise it really won’t make sense. Another director who has a slightly more similar but more subtle style is Yorgos Lanthimos and I’d definitely endorse watching a few of his films if you enjoyed this one.
By Aryamaan Dholakia
Aman’s Score: N/A Aryamaan’s Score: 79/100