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Friday, September 25, 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things review: Charlie Kaufman film is profoundly laborious

All traditional conventions of storytelling has been upended by Kaufman in I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Instead, we get episodes and snippets of conversations which might trigger individual responses from people who relate to the said occurrences.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Written by Ektaa Malik | Updated: September 5, 2020 8:46:59 am
I'm Thinking of Ending Things reviewI'm Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix. (Photo: Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things movie director: Charlie Kaufman
I’m Thinking of Ending Things movie cast: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemmons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
I’m Thinking of Ending Things movie rating: Three stars

From the trailer, it was evident that I’m Thinking of Ending Things will not be an easy watch. It rather gave the sense of a tough literary essay, that everyone in grad school raves about, but no one has actually read. And with a name like Charlie Kaufman behind it, the readings on the surreal and vague scale only went higher. Divided in three parts, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is essentially about ‘Young Woman’ (Jessie Buckley) who is in a relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemmons), and seven weeks later, they both embark on a road trip to meet his parents. But right before the trip begins, we hear the young woman’s inner monologue, beginning with the rather ominous phrase, which is heard several times over the course of the film — I’m thinking of ending things. That long road trip is punctured by forced conversation, and the distance between the two widens as they approach the destination. He explains Wordsworth to her, in an almost patronising tone, and she tries to blend further into the upholstery of the car seat. With a snowstorm blazing outside, they have no one else to turn to, and melancholy weighs them down. But what else did we expect from a Kaufman film, he gave us films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and he directed Synecdoche, New York. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is based on a novel by Iain Reid, and well Kaufman has adapted it in his own style.

The dynamic between the couple is the core of the film. Ever seen a couple on the brink of a breakup? One of them — usually the chief architect of the breakup — has checked out the said relationship, and everyone can see it, except the unaware party. That is what it feels like when we see ‘Young Woman’ and Jake. One wants to hold on to the frayed ends of a dissipating dynamic, and the other couldn’t care less.

There is a sense of heightened foreboding, as we meet the ageing parents of Jake, played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis. We gather that Jake doesn’t like to be touched, or shown affection by his mother, and he also feels slighted. He strongly feels that he should have got the ‘acumen’ pin in high school, and not the ‘diligence’ one. After a highly dramatic dinner, which featured some sporadic outbursts — there is some back and forth in time, when ‘Young Woman’ encounters the aged, bedridden versions of Jake parents, and a rather young one too — the couple make their way back to the city, aided by tire chains as the snowstorm has grown to a full-fledged blizzard. The narrative is often cut by scenes of an elderly janitor cleaning up the local high school, apparently its the one which Jake attended. There is a fantasy scene where Jake makes a speech and sings when he accepts a Nobel prize.

All traditional conventions of storytelling has been upended by Kaufman in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Instead, we get episodes and snippets of conversations which might trigger individual responses from people who relate to the said occurrences. We see the change of colours: the bright tangerine red jacket sported by ‘Young Woman’ turns to a sedate navy blue, the tapestry in Jakes’s parental home shifts hues from a heady turquoise blue to a warm burnt sienna. Its surreal, its engaging and it is at times laborious. But, everything is not supposed to be easy nowadays, especially films which cater to the inner workings of the mind. There are references to David Foster Wallace, and ‘Young Woman’ recites lines from an Eva H.D. poem. The film demands to be interpreted from our own experiences and perspectives. While the narrative flows linearly, the take away is hardly linear. One feels uncomfortable with the scene where Jake and ‘Young Woman’ keep talking at each other, or the one where ‘Young Woman’ keeps insisting on ‘going home’, even when Jake’s tending to his rather ill and elderly mother.

Maybe the second viewing will make more sense for me, and maybe the mysteries that lie hidden in the film will be unlocked then. For now, I am reeling from the impending heartbreak that the couple will eventually deal with.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is streaming on Netflix.

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