Netflix might be suggesting you Charlie Kaufman’s newest film for a few days now. I am writing this post for you to take the suggestion tonight!
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is based on Iain Reid’s 2016 novel with the same name. It is adapted for the screen by one of my favorite filmmakers, for whom I had expressed some fandom in my review for Adaptation. The plot is simple: Jake (Jesse Plemons) takes his girlfriend (Jesse Buckley) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). The way the story unfolds is precisely what we call “Kaufmanesque.”
At first, the main character seems to be the young woman whose name might be Lucy or Louisa, or she might not even have one. She is thinking of ending things, but the weird thing is Jake seems like he can hear her thoughts. This becomes less weird when you notice that the young woman exists in Jake’s imagination, and everything she is is a projection of what Jake surrounded himself within his lonely life.
Accordingly, there are plenty of references to certain literature and media, which I’m sure I missed a lot because I am not familiar with them. For instance, Jake mentions Anna Kavan’s 1967 novel “Ice,” which is similar to the film regarding setting and pursuing an unnamed woman. The final sequence is an homage to A Beautiful Mind after seeing its DVD in Jake’s room. The two engage in critical conversations over a John Cassavetes film and quote from Pauline Kael before seeing the book of her collected reviews. With many other references, the film allows you to get new meanings in case of multiple viewings.
Jake probably was a lonely child raised by weird parents. That’s why he created a woman out of books, musicals, and movies. Not only her name, but her occupation and characteristics keep changing throughout the film. She is an idea of a woman rather than a human. The sad thing is, Jake doesn’t let the woman love him thoroughly, even in his imagination. He is the lonely janitor we see daydreaming, intercut with the family dinner scenes.
“I really liked the idea that even within his fantasy, he cannot have what he wants. He’s going to imagine this thing, but then he’s going to also imagine how it won’t work, how she’s going to bored with him, how she’s going to not think he’s smart enough or interesting enough,” says Kaufman.
We are totally in Jake’s psyche, and his past and future. In a way, I interpreted the young woman as time itself, passing through Jake’s understanding of life. She exists to show how Jake experiences things he encounters while also digging out his buried secrets and insecurities.
The film stands out with Kaufman’s unconventional storytelling and outstanding performance by the two leads, and especially by Toni Collette as the unstable, weird, creepy mom. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is unpredictable, mind-bending, and everything else we would expect from the award-winning screenwriter.