Image Courtesy of IndieWire
By Katie Van Lew
Netflix recently released I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a film adaptation of the novel by author Iain Reed on September 4, 2020. Director and screenwriter of critically acclaimed films such as Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman’s work is characterized by its meta elements, often leaving viewers re-examining their own lives.
The movie opens with an unnamed woman describing how she is thinking of ending things with her boyfriend Jake. These thoughts, incessantly intruding on her thoughts, are often interrupted by Jake’s attempts at making lighthearted banter. During the long car ride to Jake’s parents’ house, the pattern of the young woman’s authentic thoughts interspersed with rather abrupt questioning from Jake continues. At Jake’s parents’ farmhouse, the interactions between the woman and Jake’s family become unsettling as his parents display robotic mannerisms that are seemingly in tune with Jake’s facial expressions. Kaufman incorporates eerie imagery and sounds, such as the perpetual shaking of a dog’s collar to elicit feelings of impending doom.
The aura that the cinematography exudes is comparable to a lonely and nostalgic Christmas Eve. Surrounded by the snow on their long drive, the cinematography of the blizzard is enticing yet inhibits the characters, causing them to feel trapped.
The two are alike in intelligence yet differ in ambition. It seems as though the young woman is decorated in accomplishments whereas her boyfriend Jake falls short of his potential and almost of his life. There is a particular uneasiness about the similarities between the couple that first begins with their mutual love for art and poetry, but later manifests into a physical form. As the young woman pursues her boyfriend’s family portraits on the wall, she stumbles upon a photo that looks exactly like her from her childhood; however, Jake quickly claims that the photograph is of himself.
The backbone of this movie is constituted by conversations between the young woman and Jake. Kaufman leads viewers through a series of past and present moments, creating a psychological torment that provokes an existential crisis among the audience. The movie provokes thoughts about the finiteness of life while examining the potentials that life offers.
Actress Toni Colette, featured in Ari Aster’s chilling film Hereditary, stuns the audience with her performance as Jake’s mother. Amidst the madness that ensues during the film, Colette contributes to the unsettling atmosphere that Kaufman curates. Her hysteria, displayed both in moments of excitement and despair, is invigorating, keeping the audience on edge.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not the stereotypical gore-fest that would traditionally satiate a horror fanatic. There is something about the attentiveness to detail that Kaufman uses that forces the viewer to pay close attention. The movie, in its entirety, is essentially an elaborate mind game with Kaufman feeding the audience the most minuscule of hints necessary to unearth the purpose of this movie. By the end of the movie, it seems as though Kaufman gives the audience enough to piece the movie together, but the ending is somewhat ambiguous and dissatisfying. In contrast, the book delivers a more complete and coherent ending that gives the audience closure.