It’s been a difficult year for movies with the worldwide closure of cinemas due to public safety, this being said, we haven’t been completely void of new releases. Thanks to VOD, as well as, streaming giants Amazon Prime, Netflix and the new Disney Plus, we’ve had our lockdown fever eased with such films as Trolls World Tour, Mulan, The Vast of Night and now, I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Adapted from Ian Reid’s existential novel of the same name, I’m Thinking of Ending Things tells the story of Lucy, a poet and quantum physics student who, despite being on the way to meet her new boyfriend’s parents, is questioning why she is even with him in the first place. I’m Thinking of Ending Things finds Hollywood’s most existential filmmaker, Charlie Kaufman, exploring the human condition in a brand new and incredibly atmospheric way. It is unfortunate however, that in doing this, Kaufman loses touch of what makes his cinematic voice so unique.
I’m a huge fan of Charlie Kaufman’s work. Anomalisa, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich are some of my favorite all time movies. What makes Kaufman’s cinematic voice so resonate to me is how he uses intelligent narrative structures and his own bizarre personality to tackle emotionally complex themes surrounding the human condition. Kaufman manages to make the weirdest movies you’ll ever see, but also the most human ones. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things finds Kaufman on familiar ground once again, however, this time Kaufman has cranked the atmosphere, oddity and cynicism to 11, making a film that feels very akin to a Lars Von Trier and/or David Lynch film in the best and worst ways possible.
Although adoring them as filmmakers, a common problem I find with Lynch and Von Trier’s work, is the lack of characterization for the sake of their own thoughts and opinions. They tend to use their characters as more of an overt mouthpiece for their thoughts on the world as opposed to living beings the audience should be interested in. It therefore saddens me to witness Kaufman commit this sin, as he spends about half the films runtime with Lucy and Jake in the car debating a variety of existential concepts that are vaguely relevant to the film. It is perhaps when Lucy goes on a 5 minute rant about the John Cassavetes film, A Woman Under The Influence, when it becomes apparent that Kaufman is being uncharacteristically self-indulgent. What separates Kaufman from Von Trier and Lynch is his humility and that is what has endeared me to him as a filmmaker and what has been upsetting to see lacking in I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Despite, Kaufman’s growing ego overshadowing his endearing personality, I’m Thinking of Ending Things does however continue to prove Kaufman to be a talented director. Kaufman dabbles in the horror genre to explore his deeply unsettling themes, creating an incredibly eerie atmosphere that is maintained throughout the film. But, it is at Jake’s parent’s house where the film peaks, thanks in large part to exceptional performances from Toni Collette and David Thewlis. The farmhouse sequence channels Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! In the best way as it unnerves you through its creepy décor and subversive sense of space and time.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things may be a dense film to follow and overly self-indulgent, however, when the protagonists aren’t bogged down behind the wheel of a car, the film is nothing less than gripping. Although it is a shame to watch Kaufman lose a little of what makes him so original, I can’t help but feel that his Von Trier/ Lynchian approach to this film echoes the movies core theme. Nevertheless, with a strong cast, atmosphere and some of Kaufman’s best direction to date, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a movie that sticks with you and gets better and better the more you attempt to unravel its many dark secrets.